It all started when my parents divorced. They departed from their family size home and shuffled years of memories to my sisters and I in the form of totes and tubs. We were all adults, with homes of our own, and we welcomed this tangible way of helping them transition by accepting our childhood keepsakes. 

For a few years, my husband and I moved with all those keepsakes in tow. I didn’t have time, nor energy, to dive into all the … stuff, let alone the emotional capacity to relive memory upon memory, no matter how good they were. But this year, I embarked upon the task. It seemed like the right time seeing that I was home more than ever. Why not make the most of this opportunity to organize?

My husband and I hauled everything in from the corner of the garage and I set up in our upstairs living room. With a glass of moscato and Outlander in the background, I set out to categorize notes, papers, and photos into life seasons – my baby days, elementary school and high school. I prioritized keepsake clothes, toys, plaques, and other tchotchke that had somehow been stored for decades,  and then I whittled down what got to stay. After all, no one needs ten boxes of childhood memories! 

It was both fun and difficult seeing so much of my past night after night. I knew I needed to let go of a lot, but how does one decide what things of sentimental value stay and what goes? Everything brought back a barrage of memories. Everything felt special. 

Little by little I accomplished my goal. And now, we have much fewer keepsakes in the garage. Here is how I processed through this project and more so, how I taught myself that letting go of keepsakes doesn’t mean I am letting go of memories.

Separate Emotions From Things

The first thing I had to do when letting go of keepsakes was separate my emotions from things. Everything I touched, everything I read brought back a wave of memories. I laughed and cried and then I employed logic. 

I had a job to do. I needed less in storage and I needed to more prominently embrace the most important things. Because, what good are these priceless things when stored in the depths of a garage? 

I mean, at one point I loved that trophy from middle school, but did I really need to keep it? Or was the memory and a photo enough? I asked these questions over and over, separating the emotion from the item  – releasing things left and right. When all was said and done, I was left with a handful of special things like a music box from my grandma and a baby bonnet I hope my grandbaby might wear someday that warranted keeping. It felt good to have less stuff while preserving plenty of memories.

Take Photos

For larger items, like my 5th birthday party dress and dolls, I snapped a photo. I wanted to remember the details, but I didn’t need the actual item hanging out in a tote in my garage. A photo sufficed and I bet some keepsakes you have might be able to move on as long as you can keep a token of them digitally.

Embrace Minimalism

Call me a burgeoning minimalist, but in recent years I have felt drawn to have less, more organized things. The totes in my garage kind of haunted me. I knew they were there. I knew they were full. I knew I needed to dig through them. But it just felt overwhelming. So I chose my overwhelm. I could embrace minimalism and pare down the totes or continue to walk past them knowing that someday someone (either myself or someone I love) would be tasked with the daunting project. Both options were hard, but, as the saying goes, I can do hard things. So I did. And the relief is pretty amazing.

Think of Your Kids

This was potentially my biggest motivation in letting go of keepsakes. Although I feel sentimental about so many things, the things are tied to my memories. My kids will hear the stories and cherish components of my childhood, but they don’t need the accompanying props. If I don’t deal with it now, they’ll have to later. And I don’t want that. I don’t want to burden them. I want to catalog memories in something like Storyworth and some well curated photos. But my childhood camp t-shirts? Not something they need.

Display the Best of the Best

So few things went back into my keepsake totes – my baby book, lovingly written in my mom’s beautiful handwriting, for example, and my wedding dress that I try on every few anniversaries. Truly precious things made the cut and they’ll come out every so often to reminisce.  Everything else either came into the house – like that music box from my grandma – or it moved on to its next life (code for Goodwill). 

I wanted the best of the best displayed, my memories out and alive bringing me joy, not hidden in the garage. Keepsakes are meant to be kept in the light, not hidden away. So pick the best of the best and give that keepsake a place of honor.

Now that I have tackled my own keepsakes I am on to my kids’ keepsake totes. I want to save just enough – not too little, not too much. Then, hopefully someday I can pass on one or two thoughtfully stored totes of memories and avoid passing on the burden of boxes and the pending overwhelm of sorting their own collection of artifacts.

About Gretchen Bossio

Gretchen Bossio is a homeschooling mom of four from the Pacific Northwest. Writing has always been one of her favorite pastimes so she takes great joy in moonlighting as a freelance writer covering topics such as parenting, wellness, education, fashion, and travel.

View all posts by Gretchen Bossio

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