What to Do With Sentimental Belongings When Downsizing to an RV or Smaller House
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Ashley Mann spent three years living full time in a 38-foot, 5th-wheel RV with her husband Josiah and their cat, Kitty. Her favorite thing about RV life is the challenge of finding the perfect way to organize a space, and she loves seeing all the creative and clever ways people come up with to customize their RVs.
Are you considering (or in the process of) downsizing to an RV or smaller home? One of the hardest parts of the journey toward minimalism and freedom from clutter and excess “things” is figuring out what to do with sentimental belongings that are attached to precious memories and feelings of familiarity. Here are some suggestions that helped me when I preparing to live in an RV full time.
Idea #1: Use.
Rather than keep a special quilt or box of china in storage, why not use or display it? Sure you run the risk that it could be broken or or stained, but what exactly are you preserving it for, anyway? Use sentimental items you love while you can still enjoy them!
Idea #2: Reduce.
Sometimes it is nice to keep a physical item that reminds you of a special person, but how many of those things do you really need?
Rather than keep every single item associated with that person, choose a few special items that will fit in a memory box and let go of the rest.
When we were selling our unneeded possessions in preparation for living in an RV full time, I made keepsake boxes out of books I purchased at a thrift store that wouldn't take up much space.
Idea #3: Digitize.
Often it's the memory we cherish rather than the item itself. In that case, you can preserve the memory just as easily with a photograph.
Perhaps you could even make a scrapbook of photographs of cherished items that you could look for whenever you want to relive precious memories. Got a box of old cards and letters? Scan them! You can always save out one or two if it's important that you be able to hold a physical item.
Idea #4: Gift.
It can be a lot easier to let go of sentimental items when you know someone else is enjoying them. Do you have a friend or family member who would appreciate a particular item? Give it to them, and then you can see it when you visit! This can be an especially good way to get rid of old Christmas decorations. If you have grown children, give them the Christmas ornaments that belonged to them as kids for them to hang on their own trees, and enjoy those memories when you visit for the holidays.
Idea #5: Repurpose.
Turn sentimental items into something new and useful!
When I was young, I had an aunt who made stuffed bears for all the kids in the family out of antique quilts. My mom used pillowcases hand-embroidered by my grandma as curtains for her kitchen windows. A friend of mine turned her mother's antique cheese grater into a wall-mounted utensil storage caddy. I've also heard of people turning an old t-shirt collection into a quilt, or cutting up a wedding dress to make a baby's christening gown.
Pinterest can be a great source for ideas of this sort!
Idea #6: Release.
This might sound kind of cheesy, but it really can work.
As you're sorting through sentimental items, hold each item and think about every memory associated with that item. Take a moment to enjoy the memory and appreciate its impact on your life. Then, release the memory. Accept that it's a part of your past, and choose to focus on creating new memories instead of dwelling on old ones.
I know everything on this list is easier said than done, so I'll share the words of real people who have gone through this process and were glad they did:
“I had nearly all of my mother’s things in boxes and stuffed in closets because I couldn’t bring myself to let it go. I pulled it all out one day and realized I wasn’t doing her memory any favors by having it all hidden. So I decided the best gift would be to let someone else love it as much as she did.
I chose a few things to keep for myself but my rule was that it had to have a special memory to me in particular or it had to be a multi-tasking piece if I wanted to keep it just because. Letting it go for someone else to love and share keeps the memories going.”
“I started thinning things out about 3 years before I retired. I gave family items to sisters or my daughter. In the end there was still a garage full of things I could not recoup the finance or feelings from. I gritted my teeth and called the charity truck to come pick it up.
So far there have been no regrets. Discovered that the emotional attachments do not carry over to others. Once the item is gone the attachment fades. If you need to remember those things, take pictures with your phone and file the pics in a special folder.”
“I am in the process of downsizing waaay down, too. I also have so much art stuff and tons of sentimental items that I have been dragging around with me for years and years.
Just today I forced myself to dump a ton of photos, albums, and letters…and you know what? It was okay. I did have my daughter with me and I actually asked her permission to toss…not that I needed it…but it seemed to really help me let go. I did keep a few pics and items, but no more than what fits into a small storage box.
I think that today was the hardest, and really do feel that after purging all that sentimental ‘stuff' it will be a whole lot easier to tackle the rest. I know I (and anyone else who purges) will feel sooo much better when it is all said and done. It's weighing us down! (And no, our kids don't want it and shouldn't have to deal with it.)”
If you're interested in reading and learning more about downsizing and decluttering, I invite you to visit my blog InspiredToDownsize.com.
Great tips! It’s harder to downsize than people think…especially that last little bit that you’ve been holding onto hoping that it will fit in the RV with you.
For those treasures, I’ve tended to photograph them, and then let them go, usually to a family member or someone else who knew the giver. That way I can 1) keep and treasure the memory of the occasion and the giver of the item and 2) see it occasionally, as the photo rotates through my digital photo frame.
Special things deserve special treatment–but there’s more than one way to show the honor you want to show.
Those are excellent ideas!
Thank you, Ashley. I’m ashamed to admit I’ve neglected my blog for the past year; however, I’m back on task. And I thank you again.
Blogging is a journey! 🙂 I started a second blog this year and haven’t been able to write for it for several months, so I’m eager to get back to it, but I know I will eventually!
My biggest lesson: sell the vintage goodies on Etsy! So many things I’d given to Goodwill that I didn’t realize I could sell as vintage items on Etsy, and I’ve literally made in the 4 digits selling sentimental items (we had a ‘memory trunk’ at home with random things from our past, from my Swatch watch in the 80s to old Dr Martens I never wear to things passed down from my grandmother that never were used, or worse, stayed boxed up. We’ve used the funds to finance home repairs that were much needed – so worth it and I don’t miss any of them like I thought I would!
Thank you for this tip! Ebay has always been my go-to – I forget to check Etsy!
Letting go is so hard to do sometimes. It’s liberating once you separate practicality from emotion, but I still struggle.