Tackle Your Keepsakes:How to Organize & Preserve Your Mementos

We all have them – bits and pieces of memorabilia piled high in corners or hidden in plastic bags. Does the thought of organizing them seem completely overwhelming to you? If it does, you are not alone; many of my clients stuggle with how to sort and organize their keepsakes. Below are some effective methods I’ve come across for storing and organizing memorabilia to properly preserve them for years to come.  I hope to inspire you to action by making the task a little less daunting.

The Quick Sort     

Gather your keepsakes in one place place, preferably a table or other large, comfortable workspace.  Next, group similar items together (like with like) using baskets or boxes you’ve labeled with the types of mementos you have.  Some common categories include: photos, kids’ artwork, cards, certificates & other documents, crafts and projects.

The Purge

Letting go of personal memorabilia tends to be hard, especially if you are a sentimental soul. Yet, when you pare down your keepsakes, you will feel a sense of lightness, as though you’ve been released from a heavy burden. The goal is to make room for what matters most.  Let go of items that you no longer find meaningful or remind you of a time you’d rather forget. Keep only the things that stir your heart or capture important events. Save only what you have space for and keep in mind that things are always coming in so leave some room to grow.

Photos are probably the hardest items to throw away because of the sentimental value we attach to them. Weed out bad shots to make it easier to enjoy the good ones.  Tossing doesn’t mean you’re throwing away the person in it.  It’s okay to give away duplicates or toss photos that are blurry, bad angles or unbecoming. Save the best – toss the rest.  

Kids’ Artwork: Work together with your child to choose a few of his favorite pieces of artwork each year.  If you keep every single piece of artwork your child brings home for the next 15 years it will crowd you out of your home. Find the gems.

Take photos of large artwork, crafts or school project. Keep the photos – toss the bulk.

Practice Safe Storage

When storing your items, use archival quality, acid free products.  Acid is a chemical substance that can weaken paper and cloth, causing it to brown and become brittle.  Never store photographs and other treasured items with newspaper, which contains acid that will eventually damage your mementos.

Contain It 

Photos:   If you’ve been planning to start a scrapbook or put your photos in albums but never seem to get around to it, let go of the pressure and guilt those stressful procrastination projects can create, especially if you are already overwhelmed by clutter and commitments.  A quick, easy and inexpensive alternative is a photo box.  Photo boxes come in many styles and colors to suit your taste and décor.  Use similar style boxes so they’ll look neat when stacked. Choose the ones that come with index divider tabs so you can organize your photos in broad categories. Some common categories include: pets, trips, friends, and family. Another way of grouping photos is by stage of life, i.e. high school, college, after marriage, after kids, etc. Eventually, each category may grow to have its own box, which you can label on the outside.  Gather all your photos and play beat the clock while you group them. Do it while watching TV or listening to music

Kids’ Artwork: Things that lay flat, like artwork, notebooks, and essays, can be stored chronologically in a sturdy, portable plastic tote or binder depending on space and amount you have to store.  Encourage your kids to file their papers after they bring them home; you’ll be teaching them valuable life skill.

Report cards, certificates, ticket stubs – even locks of hair should go in polypropylene sheet protectors. Polypropylene sleeves are free from damaging plasticizers found in other plastics that lift print off inserts.  Choose the ones that are 3-holed punched and keep papers organized using tab dividers labeled by category. 

Cards & other keepsakes: Small keepsakes that don’t lay flat can be stored in a treasure chest the size of a shoebox.  I like to gather special occasion cards and tie them with pretty ribbon before putting them in the box.

Designate a home

Keep your containers in a dry location, away from direct sunlight, bugs, mold, dust, and dirt. Avoid storing them in attics, garages or basements.

Maintain Your System

Purge regularly (at least once a year) and enjoy going down memory lane.  Weed out stale mementoes to make room for next year’s fresh memories.  It’s no different from pulling the weeds in your garden so you can enjoy the flowers.

Life is busy and this is one project that often gets put off. But I encourage you to take the time to preserve and honor the things that are most important to you, so you and your family can enjoy them for years to come.

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