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How to Use a Memory Box to Declutter Without Guilt or Anxiety

How to Use a Memory Box to Declutter Without Guilt or Anxiety

Decluttering, especially decluttering sentimental items, can be tough. In this article I share some personal thoughts on how to use a memory box to declutter without guilt or anxiety.


Decluttering can make us feel guilty and anxious, particularly when it involves letting go of our child’s belongings, or those of a partner, parent or loved one that’s no longer with us.

We worry that we’re making the wrong decision, that getting rid or letting go of their stuff means we’re getting rid or letting go of their memories too. And once they’re gone, they’ll be gone forever.

I have kids who are growing up (too fast!) and a mum and dad who have both passed away so I more than understand how tough it can be knowing what to do with their belongings.

However, I’ve found a way to reduce any negative feelings whilst decluttering these precious and very sentimental items and in this article I’d like to explain how I use a memory box to declutter without guilt or anxiety.

If this is something that you’re currently struggling with, I hope sharing my own thoughts might help you in some way.


Before we look at how a memory box can make decluttering sentimental items easier, I wanted to explore a little bit about the relationship between our stuff and our memories. Your experience may be different, but the notes I offer below are what I’ve learned through my own experiences.

1. Memories are more than just what’s in your stuff

First off I’d like to encourage you to reframe how you think about your loved ones and their stuff. There is a distinction between the person or people you are remembering and the memories you have about them vs the stuff that they’ve left behind. In a very simple, purely practical way, disassociate your memories of your loved one from their physical belongings.

For example, my mum means more to me than the clothes she wore or the books she read. She is the person I looked up to, who taught me to be who I am, who guided and supported me through life, and the inspirational wise woman who still speaks to me in my head and heart whenever I need her.

2. Acknowledge the emotional connection with stuff

Secondly, whilst there is a difference between the person and their stuff which I mentioned above, there is sometimes an inevitable huge, emotional overlap. Honestly, I could never say that I don’t remember my mum by looking at or touching some of her stuff. Of course I do.

My mum always sat in the same chair when she was reading, she always wore the same wristwatch and wedding ring, and she always arranged a bunch of cut flowers in the kitchen in the same vase. These are physical things which, to me, are synonymous with my mum – and which I have kept close by me or use in my own home today.

How to use a memory box to declutter sentimental items

3. It doesn’t mean you have to keep EVERYTHING!

However, I don’t want to keep ALL my mum’s stuff, or that of my kids, because I would be buried under stuff. And, it’s not even directly MY stuff, or that I can or would like to use in the here and now.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t want to keep the memories of my loved ones or some of their stuff that really pulls at my heart strings and has strong emotional connection, but I recognise the relationship between wanting to keep some and being ok with letting some go. The two do not work against each other and they aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s not a case of all or nothing.

4. Life is ever-changing

Life is transitional. Seasons of life come and go, just like the changing seasons of nature. Although there is grief through loss and it’s heavy and painful, I’ve found that it’s helpful to learn acceptance that we are just tiny pieces of a much larger jigsaw puzzle.

Holding onto grief through holding onto stuff and clutching onto the past with rigidity doesn’t support us in the life we still have ahead of us, however long that might be. Therefore, holding onto sentimental stuff can actually hold us back from thriving in the future. I know that thriving might not feel a possibility in the face of grief and loss, but with time, anything can happen.

5. Take your time

Decluttering is not about getting rid of stuff for the sake of getting rid of it. It is about doing something with the space and ease it opens up. I don’t want to get rid of my daughter’s early artwork (aka paint splodges) or my mum’s scarf collection just for the sake of it or because I have to. I want to get rid of it when I’m ready and on my terms.

There is no timescale for decluttering and no pressure to declutter if you’re not ready. The space will open up for you when you feel able.

6. Letting go of everything might feel scary

Letting go of a few things feels much less scary and you can always declutter again when you feel ready. Decide how much to declutter at any one time, listen to your intuition but still be mindful of what your goal is with decluttering. Is it to make space, make it easier for the next generation not to be lumped with extra stuff to deal with, to downsize?

Keeping in mind these points and defining your decluttering goals might help you feel more in control of your stuff, you get to call the shots and make the choices – instead of your stuff holding power over you.

Memories are more than your photos, journals and other stuff, but sometimes stuff gives us a focal point for those memories. Ask yourself this, how many focus points do you really need though? Maybe you could even take a photo of the thing, rather than keep the thing itself. Photos often take up less space.

How to use a memory box to declutter sentimental items


Bearing in mind the points I’ve raised so far, I know it sounds easy in theory to declutter sentimental items whilst tough in reality.

And, I know this is true too because even I, who runs a blog about decluttering, struggle to find the balance between clearing stuff that holds memories whilst still wanting to retain the amazing benefits of a decluttered home. I loved my mum and want her back but holding on to all her stuff as a way of holding on to her memory is not the solution for me.

The honest answer is that there is no perfect formula, or time, to do this. It is a question of doing what you can, when and if you can. And, getting into a decluttering mindset, helps too!

However, I have found one very simple but effective way of decluttering without guilt or anxiety and I’d like to share it with you here in case it helps you too. And that is to use a memory box.


In very simple terms, a memory box is a container for the sentimental items you want to keep. I have large clear 80 litre plastic boxes with lids in my shed. I have one for each of my kids, one each for my mum and dad, and two more for my husband and I.

Memory boxes don’t have to be this big. We’re just lucky with available storage space for them, but you could use an old shoe box if space is limited.

The boxes are sturdy and will protect the contents. They are clear plastic so I can see what’s inside them but I’ve also labelled them for ease. I went for tough, sturdy plastic so two or three can stack on top of each other.

I use the size of the box to help define how much stuff to keep. When the box becomes full, it’s time to sift through the contents and declutter anything that I don’t want to keep. I keep only my favourites. Using the box to decide how much I keep removes some of the decision-making from me. So, all I have to do is work out what in the boxes I want to keep and what I don’t.

In my daughters’ boxes I have some of their artwork, certificates, letters and cards they’ve written to me. There are some photos and a couple of pottery projects and craft projects they’ve made. I’ve still got plenty of room in the boxes but when they start to fill up as the years go by, I’ll sort through the contents.

In my mum’s box I have some of her favourite, well-loved books, her favourite scarf, photos, ornaments (she loved collecting ceramics), an old wooden boat she played with as a child, a straw hat that she always wore whilst gardening plus some other personal items that just make me feel mum’s still around and present!

These memory boxes work perfectly for me because they give me a space to collate these special items, particularly if I don’t want them cluttering up or on display in my home, but that I still want close to me. I don’t worry that I have to get rid of everything, I can keep the most important. I can also put items in these boxes that I’m not yet ready to make a decision on. Maybe, in time, I’ll get rid of a few more things in the boxes, but I can decide later on. They’re safe, dry, tidy, looked after and will wait until I’m ready to deal with them.

When I miss my mum, I take a look in her memory box and find comfort from looking through the stuff. It’s definitely not a case of out of mind, out of sight, but rather a little treasure trove where I give myself time and space to remember and think – without the stuff being stored in my home. That being said, I do still have some of her favourite pieces on display or in use in my home too!


I hope this article has been helpful to you. Do you have a memory box and do you find it helpful in knowing how to deal with sentimental items that it feels too difficult to declutter? What other tips could you share that might help others dealing with decluttering stuff with memories?


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