Keepsakes, momentos, memorabilia, nostalgia, sacred things – the different labels we’ve created over the years on bins that house old greeting cards and letters, photographs, awards, special stuffies/dolls/blankets – all things our clients hold dear to their hearts and tuck away in dusty corners of drawers, storage rooms and basements. Recently a friend emailed me a question saying these things have followed her from home to home for decades and she figured she either needed to bring them out into the light or release them. She asked if I had any advice for this process. Here's my response:
Hello lovely. Thank you for reaching out! Well, the first place to start is to define what counts as a keepsake for you. You may have these items strewn throughout your flat or already sorted into boxes. Your keepsake collection could come together from doing a whole home organizing overhaul or by digging into bins you’ve already created. Either way, schedule time on your calendar, maybe a couple hours to start, and STEP 1 - SORT through them. Turn on music, make a cup of tea, get comfy and start sorting like with like. Put all the greeting cards into a pile, group all your awards together, gather all the pictures in one area, and so on.
STEP 2- PURGE as you go, with a garbage bag, recycling bin and box labelled "belongs elsewhere" on hand. Anything that has a negative memory attached to it, any picture that is blurry or duplicate or are of people you don't even really know, and any card or letter that doesn't hold the same value it once did can be tossed. If it comes up that you are keeping an item because you "feel bad" because great aunt so-and-so gifted me that, or knitted that for me, and she's a good person, and she thought I would love it - well that's your cue to let it go. Guilt or "should" is not a good reason to keep something. Do you know what I'm getting at? Keep and cherish gifts that trigger dear memories, like letters that remind you how fabulous you are!
Keepsakes are difficult because we attach sentimental value to material things. I finally (in my late thirties) was able to purge a few dolls and stuffies that I was hanging onto once I asked myself out loud why I was keeping them. My dad gifted them to me in childhood when he returned from trips away. I made these toys mean that I was loved and cared about. As soon as I realized "why" I was keeping them, I was instantly able to let them go. I now know that my dad did love and care about me in the best way he was able, and more importantly, that I am worthy of love and care. The toys no longer are the proof of that. I hope that's a helpful example as you go through your stuff. Not that you have to get rid of something when you see why you're keeping it, but seeing why you're keeping it may make the decision easier on whether to keep it or release it.
As for clever ways of storing your momentos in a healthy manner, that's STEP 3 - ASSIGN A HOME and STEP 4 - CONTAINERIZE. People do all sorts of things with memorabilia, so I'll list a few and you can choose what appeals to you. Keepsakes fall into two categories: (1) things you want to display and see daily, and (2) things you want to keep but not put on display.
On-display ideas: picture framed, displayed as decor on a bookshelf, turned into a piece of art like a painting or quilt, put into a photo album or scrapbook that's on a bookshelf.
Stored away ideas: in a vintage suitcase or decorative box that doubles as furniture in a room, in a difficult to access (or non-high-real-estate) drawer/cupboard that might sit empty otherwise, or quite frankly, in bins in your storage room. Just try to avoid cardboard containers that can get damaged in a flood or damp conditions or easily accessed by mice if that's a concern.
Finally STEP 5 - EQUALIZE, which means to add a label or decorative hanging tag if you need to remember what's in the box or drawer. It also refers to tweaking some decisions if necessary. Say, for example, the drawer you decided to store them in doesn't really work for you afterall, so you'll need to relocate. Furthermore, in another decade or two you might want to revisit your keepsakes and follow this whole 5 step process again. Happy Organizing!