How to Release Other People’s Stuff (without Guilt!)

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release other people's stuff
Does any of this sound familiar?

The kids are long out of the house … yet their childhood stuff is still stashed in the attic. Mom’s Lenox china and silverware for 16 never make it out of your dining room hutch. Grandpa’s beer steins and National Geographic collection are hidden deep in the basement.

What’s wrong with this scenario? If you love all these things and cannot imagine life without them, then absolutely nothing! But if thinking about these examples creates tension in your body, then perhaps it’s time to reconsider what’s occupying valuable space in your home!

Consider this 4-step decluttering approach so you can release sentimental stuff left behind from your loved ones. Retain only what matters most to you and revel in the space between those things!

release other people's stuff
Love them but not their stuff?

Step 1: Begin with Why

Always start at the beginning: ask yourself why you have the things you do. If it’s a temporary situation, put a time limit on how long the items will be tenants in your home. It’s universal that our kids leave stuff in our home when they depart the nest. And it’s easy for us to hang on to the remnants of their youth. The memories are deep and heart-filled.

We have the space to store their sentimental mementoes … or do we? Is it possible their stuff is occupying space you could use for your next chapter? In fact, on a larger scale, is their stuff holding you back from making your own physical move? In other words, determine if other people’s things are preventing you from forging ahead!

release other people's things
Living in a house? Or a warehouse?
Time to go?

If you don’t want to function as a storage facility, then now is the time to have the convo. Understand that there is benefit for both sides. Your adult children can adopt the lifelong habit of identifying what matters most to them, too! To be honest, most Millennials live in smaller spaces and seek to travel lightly with their possessions. So the timing for this dialogue is spot on! It can be a session of recalling happy times, which, in turn, leads to deliberate choices of what items to keep and what items to release.

Now on to the “permanent” guests in your home: these would be inherited items or gifts from family members or friends. They are often languishing in boxes, out of sight. You know logically these things have an “expiration date” with hanging around. Either they aren’t to your own taste or or they are not useful or necessary for your lifestyle. They may be something you do appreciate, but you truly don’t have the physical space now or where you may be heading next. Even harder, they may evoke bittersweet or difficult memories of a particular time in your life. Ask yourself: Do I truly need or want these in my home?

release other people's stuff
Are they a match for your style?

Step 2: Group sentimental items by donor

Next up is staging the items so that you can see exactly what you have from whom. For example, everything from your Mom could be gathered in the spare room. You can then see at a glance what you have from one person. This may be challenging if your house has things from Mom in every room! If that’s the case, then just segregate her things in each respective room and take a picture. In this way, you can review the entire collection at once or within a few images.

The purpose of this activity is to understand exactly what we have from Mom, Dad, Grandma, etc. Often we balk at releasing something simply because it belonged to someone in particular (and I get that, really). But we get bogged down when we assign high value to each and every item. Is this realistic?

I think about it this way: “How do I want my son to remember me?” I am passionate about 3-4 things and so he’s welcome to keep just a few items that define those interests. He doesn’t need to curate a Mom shrine with everything of mine! In other words, be selective with how you decide to honor your beloved family member.

release other people's stuff
What embodies her core?

Step 3: Select the items to keep

Since no one has  unlimited space, now you make deliberate choices based on what truly epitomizes your dear family member. If your Grandma was a tea drinker, a gardener or a deeply religious person, then keep her favorite tea cup, her cut glass flower vase or her rosary beads. This makes it easier to let go of her ceramic knickknacks or crocheted afghans. You get the idea! Certainly, you can increase the number of items if they take up less physical space, like pictures in a photo album or a digital picture frame. But consider truly narrowing down to the essence of that person… because you want to leave space in your home for you!

Once you have your choices defined, you can have fun with how you’re going to display the items. They won’t need to be hidden out of view any longer. Perhaps you’ll create a gallery of framed photos. You might use some glassed shadow boxes to showcase costume jewelry or prized medals. In other words, incorporate the treasures into your present decor. Paring them down to a select few will truly let them stand out as a testament to your family history.

release other people's stuff
Gifts shouldn't come with strings attached!

Step 4: Release all other items with love.

Understand that gifted items from our family were given in the spirit of love. The intent was never to bog you down with something that didn’t bring you joy. Acknowledge the kind gesture but let go of what doesn’t suit your taste. 

Figure out the highest and best use of the things you will not retain. Start with your own family, in the event your children or siblings would appreciate and welcome any of those items. The key is this: ask what they want!

Don’t assume you know what others will want. Listen and then accept their decisions. After all, it’s their home and so it’s their choice. From there, it’s entirely up to you if you would prefer to realize a monetary return. Yet know that any selling activity will take time and effort, depending upon the demand for that item.

Of course, antiques and collectibles can bring in significant cash. But start with some homework. Research what items are in high demand now. Review the selling options, since some are more suitable than others for certain things. By investing a little time up front, you’ll realize if going the re-sale route is worth your while.

Sell or Donate?

If you decide to bypass the resale step, there are so many local charities that can deftly route your donations to the highest needs in your community. I tend to favor the small groups who allocate items freely but certainly, large secondhand stores such as Goodwill also serve a role. You choose!

Please don’t overlook the value of donating. It in no way means you are throwing money away or dishonoring your family member! The money has already been spent when the item was first acquired by your relative. There was joy and use of the item until it was passed along to you. Now, you’re simply “paying it forward” when someone less financially fortunate eagerly and gladly accepts the item for their own use. Isn’t that a better outcome than having it collect dust on a shelf or hide in a cabinet?

release other people's stuff

The Wrap

Are you ready to dig in? Remember, always work at your own pace. This is not a race! You are in control of the process and no one is judging you. Even 15 minutes a day will have you ahead of where you were before you started. Sentimental clutter is the hardest stuff to deal with…but it provides the biggest emotional release when it’s moved out so you can move on!

For more ideas and support, check out these additional resources:

  • A recap of how we accumulate too much stuff is over here!
  • A five-minute video on releasing sentimental stuff is right here!
What’s your sentimental clutter status? 
  • Have you already started? How’s that going? 
  • What will be your biggest challenge to release?
  • What tips can you share with us?
Drop your thoughts below … and thanks for stopping by! 

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