It’s a question raised at almost all my organizing classes:
“A few years ago, my mom dropped off like 10 boxes of stuff from my childhood. What do I do with it?”
This is very common. Parents–because they love their children in that sense-defying way parents must love children–save stuff from their kids’ childhoods. Eventually the parents, unsure of what to do with the items they’ve saved, pass them off to their 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 organizing mantras is: the only person you should only save memorabilia for is yourself.
Easier said than done, as I learned last week.
Backtrack about five years: 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 last week: My son Reese kills it at his Cub Scout Pinewood Derby, taking home a trophy, a medal, and several patches (those Boy Scouts are really, 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 (where I had been keeping said tubs) 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 still smell like the hospital, the locks of hair from their first haircuts.
I start to feel a little 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 organizing classes: the only person you should save memorabilia for is yourself.
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 professional organizer 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.
Rose Lounsbury is one of Dayton, Ohio’s top professional organizers and a sought-after public speaker. After blogging about her own journey toward a minimalist lifestyle, Rose was inspired to start Less LLC, a minimalist-minded professional organizing company. Rose is a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers and has been featured on Good Day Columbus. If you’d like Rose’s help with an organizing project at your home or office, you can contact her at [email protected] or visit her online at OrganizeWithLess.com.