Streamlining Sentimental Clutter

Photo by Yulia Ilina on

As a professional organizer, I know there are many definitions of clutter: useless trash taking up space, delayed decisions fueled by procrastination, or anything you just don’t need or love.

However, sentimental clutter includes things you may love but don’t really need. Photographs, yearbooks, children’s art, grandmother’s China, collections, and vacation souvenirs are taking up space in your home. And sentimental clutter is often the hardest to let go.

your home is a living space,
not a storage space.

Here’s my three-step process for eliminating clutter: analyze, strategize, and attack.

In the analyze phase, ask yourself a lot of questions. What does this represent to me? Which items mean the most to me? Why am I the family archivist? Would I keep this if I moved? Will this object bring happiness to anyone I know?

Next, strategize how to move forward. Visualize the end goal (like more room in your closet or attic), schedule time on your calendar, and gather boxes, garbage bags, bubble wrap, camera or smart phone, stickers, markers and a timer. If you have things to donate to charity, call the pick-up van in advance. Also consider other ways to purge like yard sales, consignment shops, or online marketplaces. Line up a buddy to help, if possible.

Then, attack the clutter. Put on some music, pour your favorite beverage, and just do it.

Take photos of special items you no longer need but love. Use the timer to start small, like 30 minutes each night/every other night, and you may even find yourself so pleased with the progress that you continue for another 30 minutes or more.

The key is to keep a few treasured things that bring back quality memories- from a bigger collection, from specific moments in your life, that can be made into the more useful things, or that you want to keep. Remember, value experiences over things.

This trip down memory lane can be emotional but you will feel more at peace when the clutter is gone.

Keep in mind that your home is a living space, not a storage space. In closing, I offer a little tough love advice: If things are not “paying rent,” evict them!

Barbara Graceffa owns Secretary of the Interior in Quincy, MA offering creative solutions at reasonable rates. Learn more about her decorating, decluttering, and home staging services, workshops and quilt shows at, and follow her on Instagram @secretaryinteriordecorating. New clients can reach her at 617.921.6033.

By Barbara Graceffa

Barbara Graceffa, CEO of Secretary of the Interior, serves decorating clients; assists with professional organizing, home staging and moving assistance; teaches on these subjects; and delivers quilt lectures and trunk shows.

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