From the moment you bring a new baby home, the amount of stuff in your house seems to increase tenfold. And many of those items have memories or emotions attached to them, making it difficult to part with them, even when they’ve been outgrown or fallen out of use.
One minute you’re contemplating whether to keep your baby’s first hat and shoes; later, you’re wondering whether a book or a painted ceramic animal deserves to be preserved for the next 25 years.
Determining which cards, photos, certificates, uniforms, pieces of art, trophies and schoolwork to keep — and making those choices without the foggiest idea of what your child will deem special and cherish as an adult — is mentally exhausting. If you’re not keeping up with those decisions all along, though, your house will be overrun.
Here’s how to sort through all of the stuff — and the emotions that go with it.
Less is more
If you are the parent of a young child, take time now to sort through pieces and get ahead of the problem. Designate a plastic bin or several sturdy boxes for memorabilia, then label them. Items don’t need to be arranged perfectly or even in chronological order. Resist the urge to toss every piece of paper your child brings home into the box. Set parameters for what you will hold on to, and when you’re on the fence about something, err on the side of tossing it.
Some people save a curated collection of art and schoolwork from their child’s elementary years. Others keep report cards, school pictures and favorite toys or stuffed animals. And still others might only hold on to items from special events and family trips. Label whatever you keep with your child’s name and age. There is no rule about how many keepsake boxes are acceptable per person, but be realistic about what will be a tolerable amount when it comes time to pass the items along to your child.
Reassess and cull
Determining what to keep and what to toss isn’t something you do once. Store boxes in an accessible location so you can easily add items or revisit them for further paring down. A piece of artwork your child made in kindergarten may not seem as extraordinary when compared with the pieces they created in fifth grade.
After some time passes, you may also decide you are content with taking a photo of an object rather than keeping the original. Going through the items you’ve saved will jog your memory about people and places you may have forgotten and could spark ideas for a special gift or project. It’s also fun to look through keepsakes with your children once they’re a little older.
There are so many ways to preserve, transform and organize memorabilia. One popular idea is to turn a collection of T-shirts into a cozy quilt. Jerseys or medals can be mounted and framed, then put on display. Important letters or postcards can be turned into a keepsake book. And if prom dresses, letter jackets or high school and college sweatshirts are well-preserved, they may end up as something the next generation of teenagers sees as being vintage and cool.
There are specialty products for organizing and protecting ticket stubs and playbills, and there are companies that will turn children’s artwork into adorable books or framed mosaics. Not only does the finished product take up much less space than the originals, but the book is also something that can be enjoyed by family members. Photographs can be scanned and sent to family members electronically, eliminating the need to hold on to bulky photo boxes and albums.
Discuss early and often
When your adult child moves out, remind them of the items you’ve saved for them. Gauge their interest in keeping the memorabilia and any other special possessions, heirlooms or valuables well in advance of when you plan to hand them off.
People often resist thinking or talking about huge life transitions, and it’s difficult to make these plans years in advance. Frequent communication is key. If you’ve hung on to your son’s childhood piano, but he has no interest in keeping it, then it’s good for everyone to know that so the piano can be rehomed instead of taking up space. Likewise, if parents know their daughter wants to keep her dollhouse, they won’t give it to a neighbor’s child.
Agree on what and when
Above all, stay flexible. It’s rare that everything goes according to plan or that parents and children agree on what to keep and when pieces should be handed off.
Parents may need to downsize, or they may experience a medical issue that requires them to move. Adult children may decide to take a hiatus from work to travel, or they might not have the space to accommodate the keepsake boxes and furniture they hoped to inherit.
Ultimately, it’s about compromise and accepting the imperfect reality of everyone’s lives. But try to remember that important memories will endure, regardless of whether you still have the physical reminders of them.
Nicole Anzia is a freelance writer and owner of Neatnik.