Feature Article: Organizing Memorabilia, Photos, and Keepsakes (Otherwise known as “Where should I keep the wine cork from our first bottle of wine, honey?”)

Excerpted from Find More Time: How to Get Things Done at Home, Organized Your Life, and Feel Great About it.

Before taking the time to organize memorabilia, determine if it’s something you should be keeping in the first place.

I can’t tell you how often seminar participants have approached me at the end of class to talk about a parent who recently passed away and the difficult time they’re having sorting through that parent’s possessions. Instead of expressing joy at the treasures discovered, they express amazement at all the junk the parent kept: old bills, receipts from 25 years before, and photos of people they don’t know. Most disturbing are the items the parent kept from childhood—not the childhood of the parent, but that of the child—such as identification tags from the hospital, a moldy pacifier, the first tooth. “I have no idea why my mom/dad kept this for me all these years. I don’t want it and want to throw it away, but I feel bad since mom/dad kept it.” Just think of all the time your parent spend keeping and organizing and sorting and resorting something that you’re now just going to toss.

Generally, people keep items that have sentimental value for them as reminders of people or good times. Their children rarely feel the same way about those items. Resist the urge to say, “I’m holding on to this for my kids because they’ll need it when they’re older.” Keep in mind that they may feel distressed about what to do with all the “junk” saved on their behalf. Before keeping a sentimental item, ask grown children if they want it saved for them. When children are young, limit the amount of things you allow yourself to keep to a large plastic container. Then gift it to a child at a certain age, say 16, so you don’t have to tote it around all your life, just to have your child discard it when you die.

Check out these ways to keep things organized:

Organize photos into boxes. Lisa Hill is a friend who’s an amazing scrap booker. Our daughters go to school together, so one day when I dropped Meagan off for a play date at the Hill house, I ventured downstairs for a look at Lisa’s scrapbook design center. A huge rectangular table served as the assembly center. Bins and drawers were stacked neatly under the table and labeled with labels, stickers, scissors and every imaginable shade of paper. Each time Lisa developed a roll of film, she painstakingly created a scrapbook just for that event: vacations, birthday parties, holidays, and so on. I stared agape at the rows upon rows of neatly organized scrapbooks on the shelves on the wall by the table and just shook my head. “You are absolutely amazing!” I exclaimed. It was absolutely a true statement, but I could NEVER in a million years find the time, energy, or excitement she has to organize my photos in this way. I tried scrapbooking and went crazy by the third page. It’s just not my “thing.” My solution? To purchase cardboard videotape boxes (the kind you can find at Target or Wal-Mart) to store my photos. I purchase one for each year and use 12 sturdy index cards (some boxes include these) to mark the years of the month. As I get my photos back from the developer, I simply file them behind the appropriate month. I write dates, comments, and occasions on the front of the index card, marking the photos that come behind it. This method is fast, simple, and organized. Although I’ll never have the beautiful scrapbooks Lisa does, I’ll still have the memories—and the ease of being able to find the photos! When people give me random photos they think I’d like, I might jot a note on the back, and then I roughly identify the month and file it. Close enough!

Put keepsakes in treasure boxes. When each of my children was born, I wanted to save all the little things from the hospital: the nametags on their cribs, the bracelets from their wrists, their “going home” outfits, and all those things. Add to that their first pair of shoes, their favorite (now cast-away) blanket or stuffed animal, their first lost tooth—what a bunch of stuff! So I got three of those sturdy plastic bins with a lid and designated one for each child. I keep each treasure box on the shelves in their closets and add to them as I come across a “must save” keepsake. From the Lillian Vernon catalog, I also purchased a cardboard “chest of drawers” that holds papers, schoolwork, and special craft items. I limit my collection to one treasure box and one set of drawers, so I can keep the amount of kid memorabilia down to a dull roar.

Collect your children’s art projects. Lillian Vernon’s cardboard “chest of drawers” mentioned above is perfect for storing your kids’ art projects. The trick is to make sure you’re only keeping the most special papers: original creations, “firsts,” and items that weren’t mostly created with the help of an adult. You could also get a three-drawer rolling storage cart from Target or anywhere plastic storage bins are sold. Each of my children has one of these craft chests in his/her closet. Or you can use an art portfolio, which stores flat and can only hold so much. Just remember that you can only keep as much as the chest, bin, or portfolio can hold. When you run out of room, you have to purge. Fawn over your child’s projects as you should, but then secretly throw most of them out when your child isn’t looking. I have a single large envelope of very special art projects I created as a child that my mother saved; as an adult, I wouldn’t want to own any more than those. Remember, you’re saving for your children, so don’t burden them with unnecessary clutter.

Set up a baby book for each child. Ideally, you would have started each child’s book upon becoming pregnant, kept up with it as the child reached milestones, and completed it before you forgot everything that happened. If you didn’t, don’t despair. It’s not too late to get a baby book, fill in the blanks, and gather as much information as you can. For me, my baby book is a real treasure. I love feeling the lock of my baby hair and looking at the little bracelet that had been placed on my wrist at birth. Your kids will certainly love to know the details of their births, as they get older, especially when it’s time for them to have kids of their own.

Create a school memories book for each child. Again, I found an excellent book from Lillian Vernon. It has two pages for each grade K through 12. In addition to giving lines to record activities, signature, friends, dreams, and vital statistics, the book has a pocket for each grade to store the most important documents: report cards, photos, letters to Santa, and small samples of artwork. To keep up, I wait until the school pictures come in from that school year. I paste the photo, fill in some of the blanks, and (the trick) give it to my child to fill out the rest. I keep them handy on the bookshelf in my office and throughout the year, I put important items (report cards, a special drawing, some writing) in the keepsake pockets.

(C) Copyright 2006 Laura Stack. All rights reserved. 

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“© 2006 Laura Stack. Laura is "The Productivity Pro"® and the author of Leave the Office Earlier and Find More Time. She presents keynotes and seminars on time management, information overload, and personal productivity. Contact her at 303-471-7401 or www.TheProductivityPro.com.”