A week ago, we were ringing in the new year and singing Auld Lang Syne, an old Scottish song about remembering friends from our past and not letting them be forgotten.

Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind? Should old acquaintance be forgot, and auld lang syne.

I’m often asked for advice about how to let go of sentimental things – things from auld lang syne or times gone by. It’s something that’s easier for some than others.

In my book Secrets of Professional Organizers (Volume 1): Leading Experts Talk About Chronic Disorganization and Hoarding, I interviewed Judith Kolberg who’s known for her work with people who are challenged by disorganization. She explained how the people she works with tend to have more of an emotional attachment to their stuff than other people do. And then she told this story of a woman whose house was overrun by things she had collected that far exceeded her need.

She just couldn’t seem to part with anything, especially since much of it was still in pretty good condition. Together, we went through her cabinets. I asked, “Is this container a friend? Is it an acquaintance? Or is it a stranger?” Friends, as people would know in their gut, are the best containers – the ones that have been by their side for a long time and are very serviceable, very handy, however you want to describe them. She isolated the containers she thought were her best friends.

Acquaintances, as I reminded her, come and go. They visit and then they move on. They don’t linger in your home. They might come back another time, but they don’t stay. These are the things that you keep moving along. Then we have things you could call strangers. You don’t know why they are in your home. In this case, they are the containers that are stained or warped and the ones you never use, because you can’t find the lids.

So we sorted things as friends, acquaintances, and strangers. We kicked out the strangers. The friends stayed. The acquaintances passed out of her life; they went to the local women’s shelter and were given to women who were moving into their first homes and didn’t have containers or the means to buy them. 

What worked was giving her different categories to use other than the traditional “do you want it or do you need it” approach.

I was reminded of this story a few days ago when one of the members in my free organizing support group on Facebook posted: Advice please. How do you get rid of sentimental items? When I asked if she could give an example of a sentimental item for her, she told me she had a lot of stuffed animals that had been given to her over the years. Following are some of the responses from other members who shared the wisdom of their experiences:

Take a picture of the item. Or write up a memory about each item and put it in a scrapbook. Don’t think of it as “getting rid of” but more like “re-homing” – sending the item off to a new home where it can give joy to someone else.

I keep these items in a box; now and then, I peek in the box to enjoy the memories, and one day, the item does not tug at my heart and I can finally let it go.

I kept a few pieces of my grandmother’s china and the rest was gifted to those I thought would appreciate it. I took the plaques off my husband’s high school and college trophies and put them in a shadow box. I am the keeper of family pictures so I had them all scanned and returned the originals to all my family members (without frames which I donated). I made a keepsake box for each of my kids with baby clothes, special toys/books, report cards, artwork, etc. and that was one of their Christmas presents so they had to take them home!

One thing that has worked for me on a couple of items was to create a new sentiment as the item gets a new home. My mothers Krum Kake Iron (for making a Norwegian Christmas cookie) is now in my niece’s possession following a hands-on cooking class on how to make them at my house. Now when I think of the item, it is with good thoughts.

We think it has to be all or nothing sometimes. Or we stray to more than less. If you have 50 stuffed animals, can you think about an appropriate ratio to keep? Maybe 5-10 of your most appreciated?

Konmari method helped me with this. She suggests thanking it for its service and moving forward – not living in the past. Reading it made sense to me and helped me get rid of some things. It seems like you want to get rid of it so acknowledge the place it had in your life and let it go.

I, too, take photos. It is odd but once that decision is made to give it away and the photo is taken, I feel much better. Amazing how “out of sight out, of mind” is true. Sometimes when I look at photos of stuff I agonized over getting rid of, I can’t even remember them! I have yet to regret giving something away.

When I really am in doubt about getting rid of something, I’ll re-home it by giving it to a family member, relative or friend who expressed interest in it. Then I feel I can visit it if necessary. For me it takes away any guilt I had because the item was given to me by someone I care about, and now it is being passed to another person I care about.

I encourage you to look at this new year as a fresh beginning to the rest of your life. Hold fast to your good friends, allow acquaintances to move on, and find the courage to kick out those strangers! If you need some support and encouragement from others who have resolved to declutter their homes, join us on Facebook!

Here’s to your happy home in the new year!