618 – Decluttering Sentimental Items: A Step-by-Step Guide

Do you have a box (or two, or three) filled with sentimental items that you just can’t seem to let go of?

In this episode of Clutter Free Academy, Kathi Lipp, and Tonya Kubo tackle the challenge of decluttering sentimental items. They discuss the various categories of emotional clutter, from childhood memorabilia to inherited items, and share their personal experiences with letting go. Together, they offer a step-by-step decision-making process to help listeners navigate the emotional decluttering journey with confidence and clarity. Listen in as they how to ask questions and set limits on sentimental items in the decluttering process using:

  • Kathi’s “Five Item Rule” for curating sentimental objects, and
  • Tonya’s “Decision Tree” process for making decluttering choices

Click here to be notified when part 2 of this series, where Kathi and Tonya will dive even deeper into the art of curating and displaying sentimental items in a meaningful way, goes LIVE.

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The Accidental Homesteader: What I’ve Learned About Chickens, Compost, and Creating Home

Homesteading [hohm-sted-ing]
1. an act or instance of establishing a homestead.
2. the act of loving where you live so much that you actively ignore the fact that your house is trying to kill you on a regular basis.

For Kathi Lipp and her husband, Roger, buying a house in one of the most remote parts of Northern California was never part of the plan; many of life’s biggest, most rewarding adventures rarely are.

Kathi shares the hard-won wisdom she’s gained on her homestead journey to help you accomplish more at home, gain fresh perspective, and give yourself grace in the process. Here’s a handful of the lessons Kathi shares:

  • Prepare before the need arises
  • Everything is always in process, including us
  • Your best household solution is time and patience
  • You don’t have to do everything the hard way
  • Be open to new and better ways of doing things
  • A lot of small changes make a huge difference.
    Highly practical, humorous, and inspirational, The Accidental Homesteader will encourage you to live with more peace, joy, and contentment.

Order your copy of The Accidental Homesteader: What I’ve Learned About Chickens, Compost, and Creating Home here.

Links Mentioned:

Click here to subscribe to our newsletter and access a copy of the Decision Tree for Letting Go of Emotional Items Kathi mentions in this episode.

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How do you personally navigate the emotional challenges of letting go?

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Meet Our Guest 


Tonya Kubo

Tonya Kubo is the illustrious and fearless leader of Kathi Lipp’s Clutter Free Academy Facebook group and the Clutter Free for Life membership program. A speaker and writer, Tonya makes her home in the heart of California with her husband, Brian, their two spirited daughters, and one very tolerant cat. Visit her at www.tonyakubo.com.


Tonya Kubo Picture

Kathi Lipp [00:00:08]:
Well, hey, friends. Welcome to Clutter Free Academy, where our goal is to help you take small, doable steps to live every day with less clutter and more life. And today, I am back with my favorite clutter free co conspirator. It is Tonya Kubo. Hey, Tonya.

Tonya Kubo [00:00:26]:
Hey, Kathi.

Kathi Lipp [00:00:28]:
Uh, I I’m excited about today’s podcast, and also, I don’t know, I feel prejudged. Let me just put it that way. I already feel like this is where I’m failing. This is. You know, I think we all have different areas of clutter that we struggle with. And weirdly, I’m not a very sentimental person. I don’t have a lot of, like, things from my kids childhood, things like that. But when there is something and I struggle to get rid of it.

Kathi Lipp [00:01:05]:
And I know that when we were doing our interviews with members of our paid group clutter free for life, you found that the majority of people are just like me. We’re all just like each other, that we struggle. So I would love to hear from you what people’s struggles were with these emotional and sentimental items and kind of the things that. That brought up for people.

Tonya Kubo [00:01:31]:
Yeah, well, so the struggles are. I mean, they’re varied, right? Just because we all have the same. The same core challenge, how it. The symptoms of that challenge are not always similar. So the sentimental items, something we’ve talked about a lot, right, are just like the ghosts of our past lives. So that’s the childhood memorabilia, whether it’s our own childhood stuff or our children’s stuff from when they were babies and such. There is the stuff that we have inherited. Right?

Kathi Lipp [00:02:06]:
So the.

Tonya Kubo [00:02:07]:
The ghost of past lives is both like childhood, but it’s college, it’s former professions. It’s the empty nester who used to homeschool, but they don’t want to let go of the homeschool curriculum because maybe their grandchildren could use it.

Kathi Lipp [00:02:19]:
What is it about homeschool curriculum?

Tonya Kubo [00:02:23]:
It’s expensive. That’s what it is. Kathi, as a former homeschooling mom.

Kathi Lipp [00:02:29]:

Tonya Kubo [00:02:29]:
You know.

Kathi Lipp [00:02:30]:
Yep, you’re right.

Tonya Kubo [00:02:31]:
When I was homeschooling, we had, you know, in our state, we had a thing called public charter schools that would help offset some of the expenses. But if you were homeschooling in the eighties and nineties, you were on your own, and.

Kathi Lipp [00:02:46]:
Yeah, no, that’s true. Right.

Tonya Kubo [00:02:50]:
So there’s that.

Kathi Lipp [00:02:50]:
So that’s true. I remember that. Yeah. Because we, you and I have both dipped our toe into homeschooling. And even though I bought a lot of curriculum used. It was not cheap.

Tonya Kubo [00:03:02]:
No, no. I mean, I remember there was one curriculum that was touted as the best for working families, and it was like $2,000 a year.

Kathi Lipp [00:03:12]:
So you just think, holy cow, right?

Tonya Kubo [00:03:16]:
If that’s you, Kathi, wouldn’t you want to save that just in case the off chance is that, a, you had grandchildren and, b, those grandchildren would be homeschooled maybe one day, kind of.

Kathi Lipp [00:03:28]:
I would want to save it in case I got pregnant at 56, like.

Tonya Kubo [00:03:32]:
Yeah, exactly.

Kathi Lipp [00:03:34]:
And, Tonya, I have to tell you, I was talking with our friend Sherry Gregory recently, and I remember one of the things she had the hardest time decluttering was one of these programs that you got in the box. And, like, here was lesson number 42, and here’s lesson number 78. And I saw somebody post about that and say it was Pokemon for stay at home moms. Gotta catch them all. And just about died when I heard that. And I finally realized I was never going to get lesson number 37. Like, they were never going to put that out. They were just going to add more and add more because I kept buying.

Kathi Lipp [00:04:18]:
Yeah. It is such a pit of despair. Okay, so.

Tonya Kubo [00:04:23]:
So back to the point, right? So past lives, and then there’s the inherited stuff, which I think you see a lot more, you know, but we’ve seen that from the beginning with clutter Frey Academy, that inherited stuff is really tough.

Kathi Lipp [00:04:40]:
It’s really, really tough. And I think, yeah, past lives and future lives. Like, I bet someday, you know, like, I’m gonna keep my wedding dress because I bet my daughter’s gonna want to wear this. No, probably not. Unless your daughter has said, oh, I want to wear that, it’s probably not gonna happen. Right? Yeah. So I understand that there is a lot of angst around this, and so how do we get rid of this stuff? And I think one of the things, we know the challenges, but I have had to approach it with a very systematic approach to take some of the angst out of it. I am not.

Kathi Lipp [00:05:29]:
I lose all logical thought when it comes to some of these things. And I give myself one box for each kid where I don’t have to explain why I’m keeping it. It’s just. But I can’t keep ten boxes for each kid. I keep these boxes because right now the kids don’t want the stuff. And these are small boxes. We’re not talking huge things. But, like, my son, he’s not in his forever house.

Kathi Lipp [00:06:02]:
He lives with a bunch of roommates. And I have a ring from my grandfather. That he wants. He goes, but I don’t feel like I’m in a good position to hang on to. I’m like, I can hang on to it. And I’m also hanging on to his boo bonkie because I think everybody has a version of Boo Bonkie, which is his blue blanket that he couldn’t live without. And I don’t know that he ever cares about it. But, like, about once every couple of years, I go into that box and I’m like, oh, blue blankie.

Kathi Lipp [00:06:32]:
So you came up with some ideas about a decision tree, and I love this. It’s kind of an emotional sorting system for making these decisions. Right. So I’m going to take. And let’s talk about. We’re not going to talk about Boo Boinke, but we’re going to talk about. I’ve got an item right here, and I’ll take a picture of it to show everybody. My dad, his first paycheck at the library when, you know, he.

Kathi Lipp [00:07:07]:
I think he was probably 17 at the time. And my son’s been a librarian. Well, he’s worked at a library. He hasn’t been a librarian. That’s a very specific role.

Tonya Kubo [00:07:17]:
That’s a master’s degree right there.

Kathi Lipp [00:07:18]:
Yeah, exactly. Um, and we used to call him the guy Brarian. But we’re going to take this paycheck that I have sitting behind me that’s laminated and everything like that on a piece of wood. And I’m going to take it through. I want to take it through the decision tree process. So, um, let’s start with my dad’s paycheck. And you know what? We’re going to do that right after we take a quick break. We’re going to take a quick break.

Kathi Lipp [00:07:43]:
We’re going to listen to some sponsors who keep this podcast free, and then we’ll come right back. Okay, guys, I am back with Tonya Kubo, and we’re doing the emotional, sentimental item decision tree. So what is the first question that I am going to ask myself, Tonya?

Tonya Kubo [00:08:03]:
So for me, it is, how do I feel? Like when I’m holding this and I’m just holding something random because nobody listening can actually see what I’m holding. But when I hold this, what are the emotions that instantly bubble up? Am I feeling angst? Am I feeling hurt? Am I feeling happiness? Am I feeling joy? Like, that’s the first thing that I think needs to happen. You got to label that emotion. So how are you feeling about that paycheck, Kathi?

Kathi Lipp [00:08:34]:
It makes me happy. It just. It. You know, I’ll be honest. My dad and I didn’t have a super close relationship. He was definitely on the spectrum. Hard for him to connect engineer. But this makes me feel connected to him.

Tonya Kubo [00:08:52]:
Okay, so it makes you feel connected because that’s the. You know, the second question I would ask is, you know, why do you feel happy? So it makes you feel connected to him. He’s not here anymore. So the next question, like, absolutely doesn’t apply to this item, but it’s. But it will apply to some of our listeners items that they are evaluating, which is, you know, what is the frequency in which you use it? Like, how often are you using it?

Kathi Lipp [00:09:18]:

Tonya Kubo [00:09:19]:
And I’m gonna say, what’s the practicality of using it?

Kathi Lipp [00:09:23]:
Zero practicality, but it is displayed. So I feel like that’s a use. That’s. That’s a form of use for me, that it’s not just on a shelf that I’ve ignored. It’s like, no, it’s in a place that when I see it, it makes me happy.

Tonya Kubo [00:09:41]:
Well, what I would add for consideration, because that’s the other thing we know, is our listeners are great rule followers, but this decision tree is a wonderful framework for evaluating whether to keep or not keep your sentimental item. But there’s nuance to it. So, in this case, you’re not using it, but it’s displayed. It’s not taking up a ton of space. It’s a first paycheck.

Kathi Lipp [00:10:07]:

Tonya Kubo [00:10:08]:

Kathi Lipp [00:10:08]:

Tonya Kubo [00:10:09]:
We’re not talking about a china hut chair.

Kathi Lipp [00:10:11]:
Yes, exactly.

Tonya Kubo [00:10:13]:
So I think that’s important to point out, too, we might feel a little differently if we’re talking about this gigantic china hutch that goes floor to ceiling.

Kathi Lipp [00:10:21]:

Tonya Kubo [00:10:21]:
But next, whether it’s a china hutch or it’s your dad’s first paycheck, the next question is, what’s the sentimental value associated with. Of that item? Is it because it’s attached to irreplaceable memories? Is it attached to an irreplaceable association?

Kathi Lipp [00:10:40]:
Yeah. Well, I have not kept a lot of my dad’s stuff because, you know, honestly, it wasn’t his. His rock collection. There were other people who were more connected to that. His cameras, other people more connected to that. But this one, I have very few things of his because I. I remember my dad, and I remember him with love and fondness. So I don’t need a lot of stuff around.

Kathi Lipp [00:11:09]:
But this paycheck, it’s not that it’s associated with a particular memory, but it’s associated with goodness. In my dad.

Tonya Kubo [00:11:18]:
Right. And for most of our folks who are evaluating sentimental stuff, they’re probably not looking at something that’s already displayed. They’re probably going through boxes in their garage, in a spare room, in a drawer. So what I would say if they had the same answer, though, right? Like, it’s associated with good memories. I feel good about this. I have very few things that have similar associations. Then I would say, okay, so let’s think of ways that you can preserve the memory if that item is not practical in your home. If the item is practical, then let’s talk about clever ways of displaying it.

Tonya Kubo [00:11:56]:
Like, how do we make it part of the actual intentional design of your home? And if the answer is no, like, it does not have any, you know, irreplaceable memories or associations, you know, it’s one of 22 of a similar item, then, you know, it’s. It’s time to make the hard, that hard decision about, do I really need to keep this? Do I need to keep this now?

Kathi Lipp [00:12:22]:
Yeah. So this is not part of the decision tree, but what I. A kind of rule that I’ve made for myself. Not a rule, a guideline is for somebody who is close to me. I. I can keep up to five of their items. So, you know, and obviously, if something happened to Roger, that would be blown out the water. But, you know, I’ve lost my dad in the past ten years.

Kathi Lipp [00:12:51]:
A year ago, I lost you and I lost our good friend Jen. And I have a couple of items around here that remind me of her. She sent me one time a towel that says fold in the cheese, which is from Schitt’s Creek. And it’s a little joke. And so I have a couple, but, you know, and that was a significant loss in my life. But five items is enough for anybody in my life. And I have people in my life that are very precious to me, but I haven’t lost them. And so things of my kids, that kind of things.

Kathi Lipp [00:13:32]:
Five is a good guideline for me. It doesn’t feel overstuffed, it doesn’t feel crazy, and it forces me to make decisions. So everybody has to have their own number, right?

Tonya Kubo [00:13:44]:
And what I was going to say is, I want to speak to the person right now who is like, five is not enough. Damn. I get five does not sound like very many. And, you know, you already said it’s an arbitrary number. It’s a number that works for you. It may not be the number that works for me. Maybe I need four, maybe I need eight. But the reason five is a good benchmark number is because we don’t just have one special person in our life.

Tonya Kubo [00:14:12]:

Kathi Lipp [00:14:12]:

Tonya Kubo [00:14:13]:
So you think about it. If you’re keeping five items from mom, five items from dad, five items from mom in law and dad in law, now we’ve got 20 different items that we’re having to find space for. So that’s why.

Kathi Lipp [00:14:28]:
And Tonya, let’s talk about our dog, too. Like, we’ve got all these grand. And then. Yeah. And then the things from your dog, like, it can get out of control.

Tonya Kubo [00:14:37]:
Right. So for some people, I just want to clarify that because I think for some people, they’re thinking like, five is so many because they have, you know, I don’t know, six sets of parents because of in laws and steps and all of that. And other people who might be an only child of only children is like, no, I need 20 because that just.

Kathi Lipp [00:14:56]:
Gives me 40 items. Right. So I think it’s good to have a number because then you say, am I keeping this just because I love the person, or am I keeping this because there’s significance to this item in that person?

Tonya Kubo [00:15:13]:
Right. Well, and you know me, like my latest thing that I’m all about, and I talk about this in Clutterfree Academy, and I’m talking about in clutter free for life, which is our private membership program, is I’m all about the freedom of constraints. It doesn’t matter what the number is when you set a limit, it’s clarifying because it either takes the place of one of the five items or it doesn’t.

Kathi Lipp [00:15:37]:
Right. Exactly. Exactly. And, you know, I think about the, I’ve done the, the five for our dog Jake, and one way I keep his sentimental, you know, I do this for some of our pets, is I have a picture in the house. So for pets, it’s the. The number is three. And so I keep their collar around a candle. So it’s around a can, a glass candle.

Kathi Lipp [00:16:07]:
And so I have that collar. I have a picture, and then I have an item that was important to them and that feels like enough. And by having more items, it doesn’t prove that I love Jake more. There’s no way I could have loved Jake more. But these are the things that are comforting to me. Tonya, this has been such a rich conversation, but we’re not even close to being done. Can I have you come back next week and we’re going to talk about how do you curate the emotional and sentimental items in your life? Are you willing to come back?

Tonya Kubo [00:16:40]:
Definitely. I would love to thank you, Kathi.

Kathi Lipp [00:16:42]:
Okay, friends, you’ve been listening to Clutter Free Academy. I’m Kathi Lipp. Now go create the clutter free life you’ve always wanted to live.

Clutter Free Academy Team

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