Today I want to chat about a topic I don’t think I’ve ever seen covered on a blog: how to organize and simplify your own childhood memorabilia. There are plenty of resources out there for streamlining your kids’ stuff, but how about those of us still drowning in our own memories even while trying to organize memories for our kiddos? I’ve got some thoughts and a few things that have worked for me, and thought I’d share them today!
When I moved to North Carolina almost ten years ago (!), I had no idea how long I’d be here, or how long I’d be in my new apartment. I packed my UHaul with my clothes, furniture, some books, and some decor from my parents’ house, but left the vast majority of everything I didn’t use on a daily basis in my room at home. (Thank you, parents, for being okay with that!!)
Over the next few years, whenever I went home to visit, I would make a point to spend a little time sorting through what was left in my room: clothes, binders and notebooks from school, old toys, decor. Little by little, I got rid of what no longer had meaning to me and was better able to take inventory of what was left.
Likewise, every time my parents drove to North Carolina, they would bring a load of my stuff. With each new delivery, I’d sit down and sort through the pile, again keeping only what had meaning to me.
How did I decide what had meaning to me? I know a lot of people keep things because they think their kids might want to look at them someday, but that is not the driving force for me. Sure, there are some things I would love to share with my kiddos down the line if they express interest. For me, though, the reason I keep things is to remind myself of my story. “Finding a career” advice often encourages us to think back to our childhood passions, as they’re supposed to point us in the direction of our life’s purpose.
That is definitely true for me. One of the greatest passions of my life is writing, and I LOVE being reminded of how early this passion started for me and all the ways it grew throughout the years. Accordingly, one thing I’ll never give up is the picture book I wrote in second grade. The story was basically a rewrite of my favorite chapter book at the time (ha), but it was the first time I remember someone taking a special interest in this part of my identity: my teacher had the book laminated and bound, and she even sent it to the principal to read (who wrote a note in the back!).
As you all know, I am not very sentimental, but am HUGE on the power of stories. At their best, any mementos I keep remind me of who I am, what I’ve overcome, and where I’ve triumphed. They aren’t clutter; they bring me joy.
To summarize, here are my best tips if you’re staring down your own pile of stuff:
1. If possible, start early (before you have kids!). I’m so thankful I started early, because I had a LOT more free time on my hometown visits before June arrived, and a lot more time to sort through piles once back home!
2. If you aren’t sure, keep it. This might be controversial advice, and if you’re having a hard time letting go of anything at all, please disregard. But, if you’re making good progress and are just hung up on a few items, I would suggest you keep them. Purging can be a gradual process, and there’s usually no need to torture yourself to let something go if you’re not ready, even if you don’t think anyone would understand why you’re keeping the thing. You can always get rid of it in a few years if it’s no longer meaningful to you :)
3. Have a reason for what you keep. This is the necessary follow-up to tip number two! If you’re putting something in the “save” pile, try to articulate why you’re keeping it. It could be as simple as the thing brings you joy, but it shouldn’t be because you feel like you need to keep it or people would judge you if you let it go.
4. Don’t be afraid to purge gradually. For me, sorting through memorabilia isn’t a one-and-done thing. Whenever I have the itch to streamline or want to clear out a little more space, I go back through my things and cull a bit more. It usually ends up being every 2-4 years for a major look-through, with little trims off the edges here and there. For example, my Irish step dancing trophies hung on through several early rounds of purging. I kept all but the most significant trophies for a few more years, and then last year, I decided I was at peace about letting those go, too.
5. Take ownership. Out of sight, out of mind, right? If you’re lucky enough to have parents who have stored your stuff over the years, it’s so easy to just avoid the situation altogether. But that’s not fair to your parents, and it’s not fair to you, either! Get it into your own house so you’re forced to deal with it.
Once I slimmed down my entire collection to just the things I loved, I made a simple storage system. Currently, I have three big boxes and three little boxes in our guest room closet.
— Middle school and younger: report cards, “books” I wrote, school pictures, newspaper clippings, dance memorabilia, a story journal my Dad and I used to pass back and forth, diaries…
— College: my acceptance letter, favorites papers I wrote, event programs, graduation cards, volumes of the literary journal I was published in…
— Random: this box could probably stand to be culled but includes a bunch of the mixed CDs John made me in our early years of dating, my four high school yearbooks, a scrapbook of our first year of dating, and the DVD of my final Irish dancing show, among other things
— High school: commencement program, newspaper clippings, AP exam results (ha), my diploma, programs from events…
— Our wedding: one of each piece in our paper suite, my bouquet ribbon, particularly meaningful cards we were sent, our wedding film DVD, our wedding photo CD, our newspaper announcement…
— Our life together: LOTS of notes we’ve written each other over the years, notes from friends, souvenirs from our honeymoon, a small painting of our cats, a copy of each of our Christmas cards, my baby shower invitation…
You might want to keep more or less than I have – and that’s totally fine, as long as it aligns with what you value and you have the space for it! :)
Friends, I would love to hear: is this something you struggle with? Where are you in the process of getting your own childhood things in order? What system have you landed on?