6 Things Almost Everyone Has Trouble Decluttering—Plus How to Let Go

Saying goodbye is hard.

book shelf in London terrace
Photo: Andreas von Einsiedel/Getty Images

Somewhere along the way, we all got the impression that decluttering our homes should be easy. If you don't need something you simply...let it go—right? Well, if you're anything like me (a bit of an emotional peach with a very strong sentimental streak), that is much easier said than done, especially when it comes to items that tug at your heartstrings like photographs and letters.

Still, chances are there are at least a few things that you're looking to streamline at home, and we're here to help. As it turns out, your options aren't just to keep or trash something—at least, not that literally. There are tons of ways you can get a handle on your clutter and keep a close hold on your favorite pieces and most sentimental items. We've outlined six things people tend to have the hardest time saying goodbye to—plus how to let them go.

Study Notes, Schoolwork, and Old Notebooks

We get it. You're really proud of that A you scored in your college lit class (fair)—but do you really need to save the paper that got you that grade? Probably not. We all fall into the trap of hanging onto schoolwork and notebooks with the idea that someday, at some point, we may need to have the information held within those pages handy. Well, I'm here to tell you that, spoiler alert: you probably won't. Do a quick skim of any notes or essays you've been saving for truly useful information, then bid them farewell. If there is anything you really want to keep (hey, maybe you do have use for the notes from chem class), use an app like Evernote to scan the document and store it virtually. That way, it won't be taking up precious space in your basement and you can actually access it when you need to.

Books

If your book collection is numbering in the hundreds—and you don't have a home library straight out of Beauty and the Beast—then you may want to start narrowing in on your favorites. Start by sorting your reads into three piles: books you want to keep, books you want to donate, and books that could be repurposed for styling around your home (anything with a pretty, colorful spine is often useful for filling open shelving, even if you don't necessarily reread it). Keep anything that has a sentimental inscription, priceless vintage finds, and favorites that you love to read again and again. If dropping a box of your well-loved novels in a donation bin feels too impersonal, purchase a little free library instead. You can set it up outside your home to give neighbors and local book-lovers a chance to "shop" your shelves—plus, you never know what new favorites may be awaiting you inside, left by others.

Photos

Pictures are one of those things that we all find ourselves hanging onto, and I'm inclined to just tell you to keep everything. After all, we all rarely print out photos anymore, so any that you do have laying around are probably old and special. That being said, there are a few ways to organize your photo collection, weed out any unnecessary shots, and protect your favorites. For any pictures that lay unprotected in a box, there's EverPresent and ScanMyPhotos. EverPresent can scan and digitize everything from old photos and scrapbooks to letters, film reels, and audio files, guaranteeing that if it's special to you, it can be saved. Keep the digital files safely online, or share them with loved ones by making a tangible book using a company like Artifact Uprising or Shutterfly.

Appliance Manuals

When we moved into our first house this past year, my husband and I were met with a folder at least 14 inches thick, filled with manuals and documentation for every gizmo and gadget in our new house. While I totally appreciated the thoughtful (and insanely organized) gesture, the pounds of paperwork quickly became overwhelming. My solution? I created a folder on Google Drive dedicated to manuals and warranties, then went through the files one by one to determine our needs. Anything that I could find online (like the manual for our washer and dryer) was downloaded digitally, saved onto my drive, and trashed in real life. Anything that I couldn't find a virtual copy for was scanned and added that way. It definitely took a bit of work, but the end result is much easier than leafing through a pile of manuals every time our refrigerator fails to make enough ice.

Heirloom Items

While heirloom items (think: World War II mementos from grandpa or your great aunt's silk scarves) aren't necessarily something you need to get rid of, they are yet another place where your home could benefit from a bit of smart organization. Instead of stashing delicate items in a box in the attic never to be seen again, opt for a solution that keeps them protected, organized, and on display. Companies like Framebridge can expertly highlight your sentimental items with shadowboxes and frames meant to protect your pieces with museum-worthy precision while making for a gorgeous piece of home decor. Bonus: this could even be a solution for those art class masterpieces from your mini Picasso that you just can't bear to part with yet.

Greeting Cards

I truly delight in giving (and receiving) written cards and thus have saved nearly every birthday, wedding, anniversary, and 'just because" note I've been sent over the years. However, as you can probably imagine, my collection was growing a bit, ahem, out of control. That is, until I picked up this charming card box from Rifle Paper Co. Not only did it allow me to seamlessly stack my cards together in one container, but it also forced me to weed through my collection and narrow it down to only the best of the best. My suggestion: keep any cards that boast a sweet handwritten message from a loved one, and part with the ones that only have a signature and nothing more. The thought was there, but Hallmark doesn't need to take up any more room in your home.

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