Friday Fix: What the Sentimental Items You Keep Say About You

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Verywell / Julie Bang

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The Verywell Mind Podcast's “Friday Fix” is a short episode that features a quick, actionable tip or exercise to help you manage a specific mental health issue or concern.

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Episode Transcript

Editor’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript does not go through our standard editorial process and may contain inaccuracies and grammatical errors. Thank you.

Welcome to The Verywell Mind Podcast. I’m Amy Morin, the editor-in-chief of Verywell Mind. I’m also a psychotherapist and a best-selling author of five books on mental strength, including my new book called 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do Workbook. 

You’re listening to the Friday Fix. Every Friday, I share a quick mental strength strategy that can help fix the thoughts, feelings, and actions that can hold you back in life.

And the fun part is we record the show from a sailboat in the Florida Keys.

Before we get started with this week's episode, I wanted to let you know about another podcast I love and think you will, too.

It's called The Happiness Lab.

Our minds lie to us all the time about what will make us happy—we might think the key to happiness is more vacations or a better job, but on The Happiness Lab, Yale professor Dr. Laurie Santos shares the evidence-based strategies proven to help us live more joyful lives.

One of my favorite tips from Laurie has to do with the psychological effect of pro-social spending -- using our money on charity or spending on people we love. Essentially, putting our money towards benefitting someone else.  

This tip goes perfectly with today's topic about the items we hold onto -- so be sure to stay tuned until the end of the episode to hear from Laurie. 

 And if you like what you hear, find more of The Happiness Lab wherever you listen to podcasts.


Now let’s dive into today’s episode.

  • Do you hold onto a lot of items that have sentimental value?
  • Do you have trouble getting rid of clutter?
  • Do you get anxious about getting rid of things?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, today’s episode is for you. I’m talking about the science behind why it’s so hard to get rid of things sometimes–and what those things you hold onto say about you. 

Don’t worry, I’m not going to try and convince you that you need to get rid of those things. Instead, I’m going to tell you what you can learn about yourself by looking at those things that you hold onto. Those items that you refuse to throw away or get rid of, say something about your self-worth.

What if I said, “Tell me what objects you hold onto and I’ll tell you who you are?” Well, the link isn’t quite that strong as there may be other reasons why you feel compelled to hold onto things–like family pressure to keep passing on family heirlooms. But there may be other things that you keep because those items speak volumes about how you get your self-worth.

Maybe you can’t part with clothes that no longer fit. Or maybe you have a hard time getting rid of your old CD collection even though you don’t listen to CDs anymore.

Before I tell you about what those things you keep might mean, I want you to take a minute and think about the things that you hold onto that might not serve any real value. It might be a t-shirt from a concert you bought 20 years ago. Or maybe you hold onto birthday cards and keep them stuffed in a drawer year after year. We all give some objects sentimental value, even if they don’t hold any monetary value.

In fact, I asked my Instagram audience to share what items they keep that have no functional purpose or monetary value. I got flooded with answers. In fact, I got hundreds of people who even sent me pictures of the objects they keep.

Here are just a few examples of what sort of items you told me you keep:

  • A toy car that has been handed down through the family
  • Letters from loved ones
  • A Spongebob cake topper from my 21st birthday from my boyfriend, who made my birthday extra special during COVID
  • My children’s baby stuff
  • A blanket my great grandmother hand made
  • Race shirts
  • Home decor that belonged to my grandparents
  • A rock a kid gave me when I was a camp counselor
  • My mom’s belt 
  • An A&W mug from high school
  • Tickets from every play I’ve ever been to
  • The wristbands I’ve gotten from amusement parks and concerts
  • My childhood trophies

Obviously, these items have sentimental value. But what is it about these items in particular that causes up to keep them as opposed to everything else?

Research shows that the more emotionally charged memories an object carries, the harder it is for us to let go of it–even if it serves no practical purpose anymore or if it doesn’t make sense to hold onto it.

I’ll give you an example from my own life.

In the episode with Dr. Drew Ramsey, we talked about nutrition and mental health. If you are curious to learn about how to eat to beat depression and anxiety, go listen to episode #87. In that episode, I told Dr. Ramsey that as a kid I loved Big Macs (and I don’t need anyone to email me and tell me that Big Macs aren’t healthy). I loved them so much that I would order two of them when I went to McDonalds so I could save one to bring to school the next day for lunch. 

Well, when I was in the third grade, we had to make Valentine’s Day boxes. So my Mom helped me make mine. My Valentine’s Day box was a Big Mac. We used nylons stuffed with padding to make the bun, and we used felt to make the lettuce and the burger…and the bottom bun was the box where my classmates could put my Valentine’s Day card.

I haven’t eaten a Big Mac since I was 12. But I still have that Valentine’s Day box. It’s in my basement in my house in Maine. I’ve moved like 10 times since I was in the third grade. But every time I’ve moved, I’ve dragged that box with me. It has no functional value and it isn’t worth anything in terms of money. And yet, I keep it. 

Why would I do that? 

Well research says the objects you struggle to get rid of are likely tied to your self-worth. A 2011 study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology found that we struggle to throw away objects that we think of us being part of us. Instead of thinking these objects are mine, we think of them as me.

The study found that people struggle the most to part with possessions that lack monetary or functional value. That's why people who lose their possessions to burglaries or fires are more likely to report the psychological damage is far worse than the financial loss.

According to researchers, the items you hang onto are likely to be linked directly to your self-worth. And people measure their self-worth in different areas.

Someone who places a lot of value on success might hold onto a plaque from an old job, piles of college transcripts, an expensive watch that no longer works, or any other tangible reminders of achievement.

Throwing away these objects might cause you to feel slightly less successful. It's as if these physical manifestations of your triumphs will somehow take away from your achievements.

Someone who gains a lot of self-worth from their appearance, might hang onto any reminder that other people find them attractive. Love letters from an ex, pictures of themselves where they find they look their best, and clothing from a time when they felt extra special might be on their list of items they struggle to part with.

If however, you value your relationships above everything else, you may have difficulty getting rid of gifts from other people. Donating that shirt that never fit, may lead you to feel like you're being disloyal to your grandmother since she always loved that shirt on you. Or, getting rid of that book your friend gave you, may cause you to feel like you're giving away a little bit of your friendship.

Those palpable objects likely fuel your identity as someone who is loved and appreciated. Despite their lack of function, you may feel like they serve as proof that you mean something to other people.

That’s why I hold onto my Big Mac Valentine’s Day box. My self-worth doesn’t depend on a hamburger. But,  my mom helped me make that Valentine’s Day box. She didn’t love Big Macs. But she knew I did. And she knew I hated school but would do anything to help it feel more tolerable to me. So if a Big Mac Valentine’s Day box was going to make school a little more fun, she was going to make it happen. So I think when I see that Valentine’s Day box, I’m reminded that she took the time to help me make this ridiculous Valentine’s Day that I thought was hilarious as a kid. 

The study shows that getting rid of these objects leads to real grief. Parting with possessions that make you feel worthy can cause you to experience sadness--and even depression.

So the next time you get frustrated by your cluttered desk or your spare room that serves as a catch-all, consider whether those objects you're holding onto have anything to do with your self-worth. Not only could it give you some insight into the way you measure your self-worth, but it might also help you decide what's worse: the grief you'll experience if you toss it or the frustration you experience from looking at the clutter.

While we’ve done an episode about clearing clutter because it can make you happy–go listen to episode 222 with Tracy McCubbin if you want to hear more about that–it’s OK to keep sentimental items too if they bring you happiness. 

But they can also give you some insight into how you feel about yourself and what’s important to you. For some people that might bring about change–if your self-worth is built on past achievements only, you might want to work on finding new things that help you feel good about yourself. If, you discover that relationships are really important to you, you might want to make sure that the importance is reflected in your life–and that you’re spending enough time with people who you really care about.

So, take some time to look around at the sentimental items you keep and see what you can learn. 


If you know someone who could benefit from hearing this message, share the show with them. Simply sharing a link to this episode could help someone feel better and grow stronger.

Make sure to subscribe to us on your favorite platform so you can get mental strength tips delivered to you every single week. 

Do you want free access to my online course? It’s called 10 mental strength exercises that will help you reach your greatest potential. To get your free pass, all you have to do is leave us a review on Apple podcasts or Spotify. Then, send us a screenshot of your review. Our email address is We’ll reply with your all access pass to the course.

Thank you for hanging out with me today and listening to the VW Mind podcast. 

And as always, a big thank you to my show’s producer, who still has a large collection of vinyl, Nick Valentin.

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and international bestselling author. Her books, including "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do," have been translated into more than 40 languages. Her TEDx talk,  "The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong," is one of the most viewed talks of all time.