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Overwhelmed by your memorabilia? 5 tips to make it easier to organize

by respaced on April 1, 2015

When it comes to home organizing, nothing is harder to organize than memorabilia. (Memorabilia are objects we keep because they remind us of past events in our lives.)

It’s not the sorting and categorizing of memorabilia that is so hard; it’s making decisions about what to keep or toss that makes it feel so overwhelming. Memorabilia brings up stronger feelings than just about any other object in our house, and it’s those strong feelings — grief, disappointment, nostalgia for the “good ol’ days” — that makes us avoid the task of organizing our memorabilia.

But sometimes an event in our lives, like a move, remodel or flooded basement forces us to deal with our stuff. What to do then? Here are some tips for dealing with memorabilia from a person who helps organize other people’s stuff for a living:

1. Everybody has a different amount of memorabilia. There is not a “right” amount of memorabilia to keep. Older people tend to have more memorabilia than younger people, simply because they have had more time to accumulate memories. People who have experienced a lot of loss, particularly the loss of people close to them, tend to have more memorabilia than those who have not had much loss in their life. I think this is because when we lose someone, holding on to their stuff is the closest we can get to holding on to them. The stuff becomes a proxy for our lost loved one. My point is, don’t compare how much memorabilia you save with how much somebody else saves. There is no baseline for how much stuff you should — and shouldn’t — save.

2. Do set a limit on how much you will save. Usually I recommend clients pick a bin size and decide how many bins of memorabilia they will save. Once the bins are full, the client has to sort through and pare down the bins if they want to add something else. This way, the amount of memorabilia you save can vary, but the amount of SPACE you devote in your home to memorabilia never expands.

3. Do make sure the memorabilia you save actually evokes memories. Don’t stuff your memorabilia bins with stuff you don’t remember why you saved. That is just a waste of space!

4. Along the same lines, you might choose to save memorabilia that evokes positive memories, not negative memories. Why save the love letters from your old boyfriend who broke your heart? Or the report cards from that year your child was struggling so much in school? Hang on to the memorabilia that makes you feel good, even good in that wistful, bittersweet sort of way, not the stuff that makes you feel angry, depressed or sorrowful.

5. Make sure your memorabilia is stored in plastic, airtight bins with lids so it will last through the decades. Rubbermaid bins are much more durable than Sterilite bins. And label those bins so you can know what is inside without taking the lid off.

I know some organizers seem to be “anti” memorabilia, especially if that memorabilia is simply going to live in a bin and not be displayed. But I don’t think all memorabilia has to be displayed to be worth keeping. The key is to be picky about WHAT you keep, HOW MUCH you keep, and HOW you store it. Happy Organizing, everyone!

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