Whether working in a home, office, or on an estate, I run across the same question almost every time: What do with items that represent our memories or items we’ve inherited.
We all have it: That one box (or more) way up high on a shelf in the closet, and in it is everything from our childhood report cards to old birthday cards and photos. Or maybe we have a garage or storage shed full of inherited furniture or clothing from a loved one who’s passed.
So what do we do with all of it?
First of all, know that having these items stored in this fashion is not honoring the memories they represent. When it comes to memorabilia or inherited items, the first rule is to keep it in a way that honors it, otherwise don’t keep it. What!? Don’t keep it??? But it’s Great-Aunt Sally’s china cabinet that I was told I was so lucky to get! But here’s the deal, does it fit in your house? Can you use it? Is there a way to upcycle it or use it somehow and will you actually do that? If not, then, as the song goes, “let it go”.
As difficult as it is, there are things to think of as you go through these items:
1) What do you think of when you think of that person? Nine times out of ten, you remember something you’ve done with that person, or something they did. It goes back to the adage, “You will be remembered by your deeds.” I have yet to meet someone who says that when they think of a relative they think of that person’s belongings.
2) Would that person want you to feel obligated to keep it if you’re not going to use it? Could it go to better use elsewhere, or could it be repurposed or upcycled into something you actually could use?
We get attached to our material goods while we’re here on this earth. I’m as guilty of that as the next person. Believe me, the thought of leaving behind my beautiful guitar brings me to tears, but here’s the thing; to put it bluntly, you never see a hearse with a U-Haul. And if we don’t deal with these items ourselves, then whoever is charged with going through our home someday will have that task. And it is difficult. I can’t describe the feeling of seeing my desk from my childhood home being loaded onto a truck for an estate auction. That desk where I wrote every night, either in my journal or a letter to a friend or boyfriend. (Yes, I’m old enough that we wrote actual letters.) But I knew realistically I had no use for that set of white furniture from my childhood.
So, how do we honor these memories? There are several things we can do.
Several years ago, my mom gave me my first outfit I wore as a newborn. While that was a sweet gesture, I was already in my 40s and well past my child bearing years and never going to get to use it. Yet it meant something important to her as I was her youngest. I knew I had to do something with it that would show her how much I honor that memory for her and that I was grateful for the gift. So, here’s what I did: It now hangs in my “dressing room” area in the master suite, and fits perfectly in that space.
After the deaths of grandparents, aunts, parents, and now my husband, I’ve inherited all kinds of things especially in the last five years or so, and I’ve strived to honor those things that I’m emotionally attached to. Any furniture I’ve accepted (you can say “no” you know), I made sure I could actually use and would fit in my home. The difficult things, like my husband’s clothes and ties, I’ve had made into things I can use to keep them close. The last shirt he wore is now a teddy bear . The rest of his shirts are being made into blankets for my son and me, and his ties are becoming a medallion to go on top of my comforter on my bed. It’s a way to keep those things close and still honor the memories without having to let go of them or having them stay in the closet. (Sorry, no photos of the blankets and topper yet.) Other knickknacks and good items I’ve inherited are displayed proudly in my home. When I’m watching television I can look at my parents’ curio filled with many memories. It’s the same with my china cabinet; it’s filled with memories.
What about photographs? That’s always a big issue. If you’re not the scrap-booking type, or don’t have the patience for photo albums, then make sure any loose photos are stored in an archival box. Do not store photos in a garage or basement where it might be damp. Moisture is the enemy of photos! Many photo boxes have index cards to separate them by topic. If you’re sharing photos with family members, consider scanning them so everyone can have a copy. I like to put my favorite photos on a flash drive and on my digital picture frame so I can see them all like a slideshow.
Home movies? If they’re on the old film from a projector or on VHS, there are places to get them converted to DVDs. Be aware that VHS tapes often go blank after 20 years, so if possible check them first.
One last note to parents: If your children are grown, it is not your responsibility to be the keeper of the museum of their childhood. If they’re old enough to have moved out permanently to their own place, then box it all up and give it to them. And remember that what was important to you to keep from their childhood may not be important enough to them to keep now that they’re grown. (My childhood report cards were fun to look at but I’m not keeping them.)
I hope this post is helpful. As you go through items, remember, you don’t have to do it all at once! It doesn’t matter where you start, just that you start. And remember, a professional organizer can guide you through this process and help you make decisions and come up with ideas for repurposing and upcycling items. The best part of my job is hearing the stories that are associated with items as we go through boxes of memorabilia. It’s an awesome responsibility to handle the memories of others, and I don’t take it lightly.
If you remember anything, remember this : Honor your memories.