How to Organize Children’s Memories

Nicole Anzia

THE WASHINGTON POST – From the moment you bring home a new baby, the amount of stuff in your house seems to increase tenfold. And many of these objects have memories or emotions attached to them, which make it hard to let go of them, even when they have been overtaken or forgotten. One minute you’re considering keeping your baby’s first hat and first shoes; later you wonder if a painted ceramic book or animal is worth keeping for the next 25 years.

Figuring out which cards, photos, certificates, uniforms, artwork, trophies, and homework to keep — and making those choices without a clue what your child will deem special and treasure as an adult — is mentally draining. If you don’t follow through with these decisions, however, your home will be overrun.

But who should decide what is remarkable and worth remembering.

Many parents and their adult children end up dealing with these issues. Here’s how to sort through all those things – and the emotions that go with them.


If you are the parent of a young child, take the time now to sort it out and anticipate the problem. Designate a plastic bin or several sturdy boxes for keepsakes, then label them. Items don’t have to be perfectly arranged or even in chronological order. Resist the urge to throw every piece of paper your child brings home into the box. Set parameters for what you’ll stick to, and when you’re on the fence about something, err on the side of throwing it away.

Some people keep an organized collection of artwork and schoolwork from their child’s elementary years. Others keep report cards, school photos, and their favorite toys or stuffed animals. And still others might only keep items from special events and family trips. Label everything you keep with your child’s name and age. There is no rule on how many keepsake boxes are acceptable per person, but be realistic about the tolerable amount when passing the items to your child.


Figuring out what to keep and what to throw away isn’t something you do once. Store the boxes somewhere accessible, so you can easily add items or revise them to shrink them further. A work of art your child made in kindergarten may not look as extraordinary compared to the works he created in fifth grade.

After a while, you may also decide to just take a photo of an item rather than keep the original. Reviewing the items you’ve saved will refresh your memory of people and places you may have forgotten and could spark ideas for a gift or special project. It’s also fun to browse memories with your kids once they’re a little older.


There are many ways to preserve, transform and organize memories. A recently popular idea is to turn a collection of t-shirts into a cozy quilt. Jerseys or medals can be mounted and framed and then displayed. Important letters or postcards can be turned into a keepsake book. And if prom dresses, letter jackets, or high school and college sweatshirts are curated well, they can end up as something the next generation of teens consider vintage or cool.

There are specialty products to organize and protect ticket stubs and posters, and there are companies that will turn children’s artwork into adorable books or framed mosaics.

Not only does the finished product take up much less space than the originals, but the book is also something that can be enjoyed by family members. Photographs can be scanned and sent to family members electronically, eliminating the need to keep bulky boxes and photo albums.


When your adult child moves house, remind him of the items you have kept for him. Assess their interest in keeping the keepsakes and any other special possessions, heirlooms, or valuables well in advance of when you plan to hand them over.

People often resist thinking or talking about huge life transitions, and it’s hard to make those plans years in advance. Frequent communication is essential. If the parents are certain that their son will want his childhood piano, but has no interest in having it, then it is good for everyone to know, so that the piano can be relocated instead of to take up space. Likewise, if parents know their daughter wants to keep a dollhouse she received when she was eight years old, they won’t give it to a neighbor’s child.


Above all, stay flexible. It’s rare that everything goes as planned or that parents and children agree on what to keep and when the pieces should be returned.

Parents may need to downsize or they may experience a medical issue that requires them to relocate. Adult children may also decide to take a break from work to travel, or they may not have the space to store the keepsake boxes and furniture they were hoping to inherit.

In the end, it’s about compromising and accepting the imperfect reality of everyone’s life. But try to remember that important memories will endure whether or not you still have physical reminders of them.

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