What are your sentimental items? Maybe they are your old childhood and high school things. Maybe items from your wedding or your babies? Or even tougher on our hearts - items of a loved one who is no longer with us.
It’s a process
Throughout our lives, we can collect so much that is meaningful - our childhood stuff, our wedding items, vacation souvenirs, and our own babies’ clothes and collections. We can end up with boxes full of items we feel we can’t part with. They are too meaningful to toss away.
Well, I say, don’t toss your sentimental items away. Ok, maybe the super stained baby shirt can go in the garbage and some of the artwork can go in the recycling, but let’s take a good look at our sentimental items and give them new life - in our own home and in someone else’s life.
Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful. - William Morris
The way I view this - if your sentimental items are stuffed in boxes in storage then they aren’t being useful or beautiful items in your home for you to enjoy. They are just creating clutter in your basement.
I’m not going to tell you to grab your boxes and take them to Goodwill and move on. But I will encourage you to go through your boxes and be very selective about what you keep and what you don’t. This doesn’t have to be done in one sitting either.
This can be a process. For example, If you have 4 boxes worth of items from your own childhood. Go through them and try to pare down to 3 boxes. A month later, go through it again and aim for a total of 2 boxes. The following month, get down to 1 box. In the fourth month, go through your one and only box and pick something (or a few somethings) to keep in your home - not in your basement.
Your few childhood keep items may look like this:
- Pictures you put in a scrapbook that you will keep on your living room coffee table for your family to enjoy. I am working on a dual small scrapbook - one half my husband’s childhood and the other half mine.
- A favorite toy that your own children can enjoy playing with. My husband has a beanie baby kitty that is now one of our daughter’s favorite toys!
As for the items you choose not to keep in your home, recycle and donate what you can. Remember that your memories will not go with the items you part with, but stay with you forever. And the few items that you keep in your home - that are visible daily - will bring you joy and remind you of those good times as well.
I was lucky enough to have some friends on Facebook share some sentimental items that they currently have in their home. Below I am going to share my thoughts on how to declutter these collections so that they can become beautiful additions to our homes or useful to others.
Special Occasion Dresses:
These are items that were purchased for a special one time occasion. Yes, you or your parents spent good money on these, but that doesn’t mean you have to hang onto these dresses forever. Here are some ideas to eliminate dress clutter from your closet storage:
Prom Dresses: Donate your old prom dresses to a community group that invites girls to shop for a free prom dress. In Madison, WI you can donate your dresses at a Klinke Cleaners in February. The event is run by the Junior League of Madison. They also accept accessories!
Bridesmaid Dresses: You might be able to donate these dresses along with your prom dresses. If you have daughters or nieces: you could alter the dresses to make them dress-up clothes for the girls to play with. Or you can donate your bridesmaid dresses to Goodwill.
Wedding Dress: OK, I know, this is a tough one! This dress is the most important dress that we girls dream of and once we get it, who wants to get rid of it? Here are some ideas to put it to good use:
- repurpose into a baptismal gown
- sell it and make another couple’s day special!
- mail your dress to Adorned In Grace, a nonprofit bridal store that works to prevent sex-trafficking and to provide support for its victims. How amazing! If I had known about this store when I was engaged, I would have purchased my dress from them!
I hope these ideas give you the courage to go through your dresses and declutter! I feel it’s so much easier to say goodbye to these special dresses when you know they are moving forward in a special away. Plus, you always have pictures from your wedding, prom, and other special occasions to remember those important times!
My husband and I have our four favorite wedding photos hanging over our bed. I no longer have my wedding dress, shoes, invitation, or wedding program, But I remember loving my wedding day every time I walk into our bedroom!
Your Childhood and Teen items
Eighteen years is a long time to create a variety of collections. From favorite toys, school papers, pictures from your first (and tenth) disposable camera, baseball card collections, rock collections, first communion or confirmation items, yearbooks, high school mementos, and graduation gifts. Boy oh boy - that is a lot of stuff. Where to even start?
No worries, you can do it. Here are ideas for some of these sentimental items:
Your Childhood Toys: First, if anything is broken you can get rid of it.
If you have a favorite toy - keep it for your children to enjoy and add it to their own toy collection. Or maybe lay out your old toys/collections and let each of your children pick one to keep and enjoy.
If you have toys your children won’t enjoy, are there other children in your life who would like them? Maybe your niece, nephew, or neighbor’s kids. Talk with the parents to see if their family would enjoy these toys.
If this doesn’t pan out, it’s ok to donate these toys so that other children get a chance to enjoy them instead of sitting unused in boxes.
Yearbooks: In my mind, yearbooks are just clutter. There may be a few pictures you are in that are fun or a few messages from friends that make you laugh, but really - most of the book is about other people.
I was personally fine with recycling my yearbooks. My husband took photos of the messages his friends wrote and then recycled his yearbooks.
If you make a scrapbook that covers your childhood (baby through high school years), cut out your favorite photos to use in the scrapbook.
In the end, I recommend recycling these books. If you look at your yearbooks on a weekly basis by all means keep them with your normal book collection. If they are in a box in the basement they aren’t providing anything useful or beautiful to your home anyway.
Also, if you have children, save yourself the money and skip the yearbook purchase. Have your high schooler purchase his/her own yearbook if it is important to him/her.
Clothes with your High School Logo: During high school we seem to collect a closet full of t-shirts and sweatshirts. These shirts are most likely related to sports or clubs you were involved with. Maybe you have a letter jacket as well.
If you have a collection of t-shirts and they are meaningful to you, have them turned into a quilt. Maybe you’ve been telling yourself you are going to do that, but haven’t found the time yet. Be honest with yourself - if you haven’t done it yet, you won’t find the time. So here are two options: 1. Hire someone to do the work for you. 2 Recognize that while it’s a cool idea, it’s not that important to you and donate your old shirts. And if you have a letter jacket and don’t wear it, donate it to Goodwill.
As said above with yearbooks, if you have children, limit the amount of money you spend on these types of items for your teens (maybe one t-shirt per year or per sport). Then let them decide if it is important enough to spend their own money on more.
When it comes to high school mementos, it is easy for teens to think that of course you need every t-shirt from every cross country meet, plus a team sweatshirt (or two), a class ring, and a letter jacket. When parents spend money on these items, teens don’t stop to ask themselves if these items are truly important or just expected.
When we put the purchasing responsibility back on our teens we give them the opportunity to think about the value of their dollars and learn a lesson. Plus, when your teen decides to get rid of their class ring down the road, you won’t feel your money was wasted.
Class Ring Story:
I gave my class ring to Goodwill (I had no idea what would happen to it). It ended up in Louisiana. A man who purchased/found it contacted my parents to see if they would like to purchase it back for me. (I guess my name was engraved on the ring and he was able to find me and my parents online.) If my parents didn’t purchase the ring back, he would have it melted down for money. I told my parents I was fine without the ring. Lesson: Instead of Goodwill - take your class ring to a jeweler who will pay you a little money to melt down the metal and reuse the stone.
Your Children’s items:
Having our babies are the most special and life changing moments in our lives. And to show how special these little ones are, we save everything. Their hospital wristbands, their baby clothes, their artwork, etc.
When our little one is little it’s easy to save everything. But once they are eighteen you can end up with a basement full. And your son or daughter won’t want to transfer that basement full to their own basement. Instead of saving everything, get picky and give your child some responsibility.
Baby Clothes/Items: Baby stuff can add up quickly. If you are planning on having another baby, keep a small selection to use again. If your family is complete, it’s ok to free up closet and basement storage and donate these items.
Donate your baby items and help moms in need. In Madison, WI you can donate your baby items to the Pregnancy Helpline that provides support to pregnant and new moms. Their sharing center, opens twice a week for moms to be able to get the clothes, diapers, formula, and bigger baby items they need for their little one.
You can also recycle your expired car seats. Look for a community event that collects expired, damaged, and recalled car seats. Safe Kids Wisconsin does a collection every Spring in Madison, WI.
If you would like to keep baby mementos, be selective about what to keep. Maybe you have a baby book with pictures, notes, hospital wristbands, and a lock of hair. Keep this in your living room where it can be looked through and enjoyed.
Maybe just keep the outfit your newborn wore home. We dressed up our daughters’ stuffed bears with their welcome home outfits. Now, whenever I walk into their room and see their bears on their beds I remember that special day.
Kid’s Artwork: Children love doing art projects. And we love their adorable creations. I once filled a wall with artwork and painter’s tape. While our children’s artworks are little treasures, they can become piles of clutter covering our countertops, refrigerators, and boxes that get stored in the basement for later viewing.
Instead of holding onto all artwork, be selective. Even better, let your child be selective. Create a box for each child - a cardboard box or cute bin works. When your child comes home from school or colors a picture at home. Praise their work and then let them decide if they would like to keep or recycle the artwork. If he/she chooses recycle - take it straight to the recycling bin. If he/she choses to keep, have your child place the artwork in his/her box.
Once the box is full, have your child go through the box and create two piles: keep and recycle. This way your child has room in the box for new creations and has been able to reevaluate the items that are important.
At the end of each month, have your child pick his/her single favorite item. At the end of the year, have your child pick his/her single favorite artwork. When your child is eighteen, you won’t have bins full of artwork, but a small selection showcasing your his/her growing artistic talents. You can even display them at his/her graduation party!
Your loved one’s items
When a loved one passes away, we are left with an emptiness in our hearts and boxes (or a houseful) of their personal items to remember them by. First, for anyone you has lost a loved one, my heart goes out to you. Remember that if you choose not to keep all their personal items, it doesn’t mean you are letting go of all your wonderful memories. Those memories are kept special in your heart and soul and no one can take those away.
I also understand wanting to keep a few special items. Items that when you look at them, use them, or wear them, they flood your heart with happy memories.
Before going through your loved one’s items. Think about him/her, what they loved or what about him or her makes you smile. Maybe your Grandma’s favorite blanket can become your favorite throw on your couch. Or maybe you remember your Grandpa always wearing his watch and now you can wear it and remember him every time you check the time.
If you’ve lost your spouse, this is especially difficult. If you have children who will be missing growing up with their mother or father keep a few special things just for your kids. Maybe take your late husband’s t-shirts and have them turned into a quilt for your kids. Have a picture of them and their Dad next to their beds for a happy memory. If there was an activity or sport your spouse loved, keep those items so your kids can use them and remember those fun times. If you children are older, let them pick their favorite thing to keep.
It’s also nice to keep something of your spouse’s for yourself. Is there something that totally encapsulates your loved one that whenever you see it it would make you smile. That’s the thing(s) to keep. Maybe this is your spouse’s favorite baseball cap, one of his cozy sweatshirts, or the ugly wall hanging he/she insisted on putting on the wall that will make you remember those quirks that made you love your spouse so much.
The key here is to keep only the things that you would like to display or use in your life (instead of boxed up in your basement) to keep the happy memories alive. It’s ok to let the other items move on to be useful to others.
An Empty Basement
Our basements can become the holding spot for all things sentimental. I find this so interesting, that the things we tell ourselves are so important, are boxed away never to be used or seen. Instead, love your sentimental items. Go through your boxes, decide what truly is sentimental to you (there is no wrong answer) and display or use it in your home. Allow the rest of those items to be used and loved by others.
My hope for you is an empty basement and a home full of love!