As my boys grow out of the little kid stage, I have become more and more aware of how fleeting childhood is. I have to admit it makes me kind of sad to think about my little boys growing into young men. The things that use to seem annoying — silly cartoons, endless games of pretend, so many Legos®, little socks without mates, countless drawings covering the refrigerator, or lots of toys lining the side of the bathtub — now, I long for more!
I'm realizing now that what matters most to me is time together, shared experiences, and memories made. The memories are in my head and heart, but having tangible things to see and touch, help me remember more vividly. It is very easy to get into a state of mind (like I am as I write this) that you want to hold onto your children or your life as it is now and never forget it — and to do that, we feel like we should save everything! It's funny how something very small or seemingly insignificant can jog your memory and bring back emotions you felt at the time you first had the experience. A little note in scribbled handwriting, a self portrait drawn in Kindergarten, a story written by an imaginative elementary student, a photo, a ticket stub, a program from a school concert, or a spelling test with a big red A+ all will transport you back in time, if only for a moment, to re-experience the event you were commemorating by saving the item. Hanging onto all of our kids' stuff can quickly become a dangerous practice unless you can afford to add on a wing to your house for mementos!
I've found that time is the best way to determine if something is really worth saving. Once you throw something away, it's gone, so I have made the decision that if I have a slight feeling of attachment to an item, I will save it — at least for a while. Way back when I started My Life In Order, I wrote about paper organization and shared a workflow that helped me stay on top of all the paper that comes into our home. A big part of that process is about how I handle items that I consider mementos. Today, I'm going to share with you my current system for memento organization, and in a later post I will explain how my system is evolving as my children get older.
Step 1: Keep or Trash?
Commit to making quick decisions about everything that comes into your home. There are really only two options with mementos — keep or trash. Just because you choose to keep an item in this first step, doesn't mean you have to keep it forever, so don't spend much time worrying about the quantity of items you save in this step.
I used to save too little in this step, and my little guy would often rescue his beloved artwork or a worksheet he was particularly proud of from the recycling bin. I've finally found a happy medium between saving everything and trashing the majority, and the key has been asking my kids about what they would like to save. Sometimes I'm surprised what they want to save but also at what they DON'T want to save.
I have an inbox in my kitchen specific for mementos. This is the perfect spot for me, because all paper flows through my kitchen! But before I put items in that inbox, I review them for things I obviously don't need to keep.
Step 2: Separate and Store
Once your inbox is full or at a specific, regular interval, take the contents of your inbox and separate mementos into types and store somewhere accessible. We all have different types of mementos, so it's important to separate them in this step and determine specific storage spaces for each type. I have four main types with their own short term storage solution:
"Don't overwhelm today with all the stuff of yesterday"
Step 3: Review and Prune
Every once in a while, you will need to review and prune your mementos so you don't run out of space. The added benefit of this review is that you can experience the memories that go along with these items again. In reality, the only mementos I do this with regularly are the kids'. The natural time to review is between school years. It's kind of fun to spread everything from that drawer where we put items throughout the year all over the floor and go through them together. If there's an item that neither of us can remember what it is or why we saved it, that's a sure sign that it should be trashed! At the end of a school year, I also have more clarity about if I saved WAY too many spelling tests or drawings, and then with the help of each child, I can choose the best of the best to save long term.
Each year I purchase a small container, and only allow myself to save the amount of paper that will fit in that bin. This finite amount of space helps to keep the mementos to a respectable amount. I realize that with two kids and one container per school year, this will add up fairly quickly. Currently I have the back of one closet dedicated to these items, but I know that as more time passes, I'll be able to repeat the review and prune process a few more times to get the kids' mementos down to an even more manageable amount. The more time that passes, the easier it is to determine what is worth saving. Don't forget to go through this process with the over-sized items from Step 1 that you may have stored elsewhere.
Much of Step 3 depends on the amount of space you have. Don't overwhelm today with all the stuff of yesterday. You will need to determine how much space you are willing to dedicate to mementos and be sure that they don't interfere with living your daily life to the fullest.
I'm planning to pare down my kids'mementos even more as time goes on. The truly important mementos will automatically show themselves — you'll remember what they mean while you may forget why in the world you saved some of the other things! My oldest is turning 13 in just a few weeks, so I'm using this milestone to motivate me to create a system for him that will allow us to continue to save important mementos in a way that will be easily accessible when it's time to make a high school graduation party display and small enough for him to take to his own home someday. I'll be working on this over Christmas break, so stay tuned for Memento Organization: Part 2!
A woman with many roles in life who knows the necessity of keeping things in order!