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Managing Memorabilia

Dear Jo the Clutterbuster:

The holiday season has finally passed but Valentine’s Day looms on the horizon as does St Paddy’s, Mother’s and Father’s Days…on and on. I’m stymied by what mementos to retain and which to pitch.

How can I determine what is a true “keepsake?”


Hall Marked

Dear HM:

Every significant event in our lives is accompanied by some kind of memorabilia. From the moment we enter the world, there are photos taken, crocheted blankets received, stuffed toys held, cards sent. As we grow up, we acquire more memories and more memorabilia.

You cannot save everything. Let me repeat that: You cannot save everything. (Well, you can, but you will need to have a large storage unit for everyone in your family and be willing to spend $1500.00 a year per unit thereby, exhausting both college and retirement funds.) Your goal should be to retain only those objects, papers, cards etc. that have a unique and special meaning – to you.

Once you have created your Memorabilia Management System, you can work with others in your home to do the same with their possessions.


Refer to previous Insight articles: Creating a Paper Management System to review the process for saving school papers; Teach Your Children Well Parts 1 and 2 for managing toys and clothes; Creating Archives Parts 1 and 2 for Photo Management.

Before you start:

Identify space(s) in which to store your memorabilia. Space can be found under beds, within a closet, in an unused dresser, basement, garage or attic. Purchase stackable plastic storage bins or medium size cardboard boxes in which to keep the memorabilia. You may need bubble wrap, packing tape, earth friendly Styrofoam peanuts, marking pens. Don’t forget a trash bag.

Set up a workspace that includes a worktable that can be left in place while you tackle this project. Gather up the memorabilia that currently occupies space in your home – from book shelves, dresser drawers, under beds, window sills, auto trunks. Retrieve any boxes that you have tucked away with unsorted memorabilia.

Managing Memorabilia

Managing Memorabilia requires you to develop criteria for retention, determine categories of memorabilia, and determine systems for display, storage or dispersal.


Most archives – even the Smithsonian Institution – must determine what is important to retain for posterity. They develop retention criteria and evaluate items accordingly. You will need to do the same.

Every item you save should “make your heart sing.” This could include a love letter, a piece of pottery made at camp, a hand-made baby outfit or your first grade report card. Another criteria might be that the item could be used to tell a story to another person. Maybe you want to pass it on to someone. Another criteria might be: would you take it with you when you downsize?

It is also important to determine if it will physically survive overtime. Some very fragile items might be better photographed and the photo kept in a scrapbook or as a screen saver.


You may want to store memorabilia based on the specific item such as birthday cards, handmade objects, dolls. Or, you may want to categorize by time periods or special events. One of the easiest ways is to select specific categories into which the memorabilia can be sorted. Categories could include the following:

Personal History:

  • Infancy/childhood
  • School years (camp, sports, hobbies)
  • Travel
  • Special events
  • Journals, diaries

Family History

  • Objects or information received from others
  • Objects or information to share with others
  • Objects or information of historical importance
  • Furniture to be passed down to family members or historical society.

Public History

If you believe that someone may want to write a book about you or that you might want to write your own memoir, retain any documents that might be important to creating a biography or autobiography.


Once you have sorted the memorabilia you want to keep, it is time to package the items for retention. Use protective wrapping and packing tape on fragile items. Label them and date if possible. Label each box or crate. Store in a cool, dry place.

If there are items you wish another to eventually have, make a note on the item or on a list you enclose in the storage container.

There are many ways to retain memorabilia other than retaining the actual object. Some families have found ways to hold onto memories and still reduce the amount of memorabilia they retain:

  • Purchase holiday ornaments, refrigerator magnets from special places you visit;
  • Retain On line Photo scrapbooks;
  • Rotate special objects in a display case;
  • Include memorabilia in seasonal or holiday decorations.

You can use scrapbooks for school “blue ribbon” awards, 3 ring binders for your “best” 4th grade writings or letters from camp. You can take photos of larger items such as art projects, sports trophys, homemade dollhouses and scrapbook them. Use old cards to make new ones or collages.

There are ways you can “live” with your memorabilia. Make a quilt of t-shirt fronts, a pillow from old ties, scraps from favorite dresses. Create a knitting bag made from old jeans and don’t forget to use the pockets.


There is a difference between displaying collections and displaying memorabilia. Collections are often multiples of the same item and are frequently displayed in cases or on shelves. If you are a “collector,” the same principles apply:

Establish criteria, categorize and choose what to display and how.

Don’t forget:

Memories are stored is in your heart and mind where there is always room for more.