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How to Declutter Sentimental Items from Your Kids

“A few years ago, my mom dropped off 10 boxes of stuff from my childhood. What do I do with it?”

This is a question I get asked often. 

Parents–because we love our children in that sense-defying way we must love our children–save stuff from our kids’ childhoods. Eventually, unsure of what to do with it, we pass it off to our grown children, usually to glowing receptions like, “Um, yeah… thanks, Mom…”

Because here’s the deal:

The memories in those boxes don’t belong to the child. They belong to the parent.

Which is why one of my mantras is:

The only person you should save memorabilia for is you.

Easier said than done, as I learned when my own kids were 7 years old.

But let’s backtrack five years from that, to when they were just wee toddlers… 

I buy each of my kids one see-through plastic tub from Target to use for memorabilia. I think to myself, “Ah-ha! I’m ahead of the game! I’ll never be that mom who drops off the unwanted tubs ‘o stuff on her grown children’s porches! I’ve soooooo got this!” I resolve to limit each kid to one tub, which they can take with them when they (sniff) eventually move out.

I start putting things in the tubs: their baby bracelets from the hospital, the tee-tiny knitted hats they wore in the NICU, the orange plastic spoon my son Orlando carried 24/7 for two years of his toddlerhood.

Fast forward to my kids at age 7… 

My son Reese kills it at his Cub Scout Pinewood Derby, taking home a trophy, a medal, and several patches (those Cub Scouts are really into the patches). I realize he is a champion of racing a little wooden car proudly made by his father and that perhaps he needs a place to store his growing collection of memorabilia. Enter the tubs. I head up to the attic and prepare to officially bequeath the plastic memory holders to my children.

However, before bringing the tubs down, I spend a few moments reminiscing about the items already inside.

The NICU lovies that–amazingly–still smell like the hospital.

The tiny outfits they wore when we brought them home.

The locks of hair from their first haircuts.

I start to feel odd about giving these items to my children, and I’m not sure why.

I ask myself…

“If my kids wanted to get rid of these things, how would I feel?”

Immediately, my heart lurches in a million different devastating directions.

There is no way I can allow my kids to part with these memories, because… it slowly dawns on me…

These are my memories, not theirs.

They don’t remember the NICU. They don’t remember their first haircuts or what they wore home from the hospital. But I do.

I need to save these memories for myself, not burden my children with “memory” items of which they have absolutely no recollection.

Somewhere in the back of my head, I hear my own voice at one of my webinars:

The only person you should save memorabilia for is you. 


So I remove the baby items and put them in my own memorabilia tub, where my kids and I can both look at them if we want to. I will let my kids forge their own memories, saving whatever memorabilia matters to them.

I give them their tubs, and we talk about what “memorabilia” means, how it is different from toys. I explain that it’s something you keep because it reminds you of a special time. We also talk about what happens if the memorabilia tub gets full.

“We have to take something out,” they respond immediately. (Wow, these kids must have a simplicity coach for a mom!)

So my daughter puts in a postcard her Uncle Jake sent her from Afghanistan. Reese puts in a ceramic lizard he painted in Mexico. Orlando adds a drawing his brother made him last week.

I smile. They’ve got this. They are keeping their memories. And I am keeping mine. And that’s the way it should be.

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PS: If you’re a busy working mom who wants to declutter your home, simplify your work-life, and calm your mind… Sign up for my FREE 30-Day Simplicity Challenge!

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