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Organizing Memorabilia : Choosing What to Keep

Guest Author - Emily Wilska

Ah, memorabilia: those photos, cards, letters, mementos, and knickknacks that remind us of the people, places, and times in our lives we love best. Memorabilia can be a wonderful thing, but it can also grow to be overwhelming, and can sometimes seem nearly impossible to store in any remotely orderly way.

Fear not: there are ways of weeding out the mementos you truly want to keep and creating storage systems that will keep them safe, accessible, and contained. This week, we'll take a look at how to go about choosing the memorabilia that's most important to you; next week, we'll explore some storage systems and tools that will protect your memories for years to come.

Start slow and be kind
When it comes to sorting and weeding items with sentimental value, many traditional organizing tactics go out the window: asking "When was the last time I used this?" might be an effective way of deciding whether to keep a certain kitchen utensil, but it's not very useful when you're faced with a stack of old letters. Memorabilia often brings with it a raft of hidden emotions, and sorting through it can require the emotional equivalent of kid gloves.

Before you start sorting, try to prepare yourself for the feelings that might come up as you go through the mementos you've gathered. Consider enlisting an understanding friend or family member to lend a hand, or just to be with you as you sort. Don't try to go through all of your memorabilia at once; break down your sorting sessions into reasonable chunks and give yourself time to decompress as needed between sessions. Perhaps most importantly, be kind to yourself as you sort and weed. If you're feeling overwhelmed, stop; making rash decisions when you're confronted with too many emotions can cause much more harm than good.

Make "Why might I keep this?" your mantra
When you're ready to sort, get yourself in the habit of asking "Why might I keep this?" for each item you come across. This will help ease the decision making process, and may even give you some ideas as to what to do with the things you decide to hold onto.

There can be any number of answers to "Why might I keep this?" For example, you might keep a birthday card from a friend because it was handmade and features a poem written just for you. You might keep an old tea set from a grandmother because you love using it with special guests, and because it makes you feel connected to the gran who gave it to you. You might keep a photo of your father as a child because in it, he bears a striking resemblance to your own children, and you'd like to frame it next to their photos.

Of course, you won't always have a positive--or any--answer to this question. If you find yourself holding onto things only because you feel you should, because they allow you to live in the past rather than the present, or out of spite for another family member, it may be time to let them go. Memorabilia that simply takes up space--or, worse, reminds you of bad memories or brings up negative feelings--probably doesn't deserve a place in your life.

Set some limits
With memorabilia, as with many other things, the more you keep, the less likely it is that everything in your collection will be meaningful, and the harder it'll be to find space for the pieces that are truly important to you. Setting some limits for how much of each kind of memento you'll keep can help make both sorting and storage easier.

Kids' artwork is a great example. If you were to keep every piece of art your children created--from the daily fingerpainting exercises to the elaborate collages--you'd quickly become overwhelmed. Moreover, trying to find the pieces you really loved would be much more difficult if it meant digging through dozens and dozens of works. If, on the other hand, you chose to keep for the long term a certain amount of artwork per child (perhaps a handful of favorites per year), you'd be sure to hold onto what was most meaningful.

Setting limits doesn't mean you need to be spartan in what you keep, or that you must force yourself to get rid of memorabilia that truly has value to you. Rather, it means focusing more on the quality of what you keep and less on the quantity.

Next steps
Sorting through your memorabilia, setting aside the things that hold meaning and positive memories for you, and letting go of the rest is an important and challenging first step. Once you've done that, the next step is to decide how and where to store or display your mementos. Be sure to check out next week's article, when we'll look at ways to keep your memories organized, safe, and easy to enjoy.
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Content copyright © 2014 by Emily Wilska. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Emily Wilska. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Kelly Jayne McCann for details.

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