5 Ways to Manage Memorabilia

by Nov 25, 2021

The hurricane flooded me out of a lot of memorabilia, but it can’t flood out the memories.

Tom Dempsey

Your Memories Are Not Stored in A Box

Do you want REALLY want the mementos – or just their stories?

This challenge series has included a number of strategies that might make it easier for you to let go of sentimental items. One of the first steps is ensuring you have some record of the item and the associated memories.  That will help you to release the item knowing that you have retained what made it important to you.

And that is the topic of today’s post – how to focus on why and if you want to keep physical mementos and/or their digital counterparts. Here are some tips on managing your collected memorabilia.

Use It

We often hold one to items for sentimental use and never use them.  This frequently applies to family heirlooms or gifts that are ‘too nice to use’ because we want to keep them for special occasions or are afraid they will get damaged.  That might be a good approach for a museum or organization – or a family that has unlimited storage.  That is not most of us.    Most of us are trying to make more space in our lives and our homes so holding on to things for ‘some day’ or only the most special days, probably doesn’t make much sense.

Some sentimental things might be taking up a lot of room that could otherwise be used for items that you love and use regularly.  For example, if you have a set of china from your grandmother that you want to keep because it makes you happy, maybe you want to think about using it regularly, maybe even as a replacement for your ‘everyday’ dishes.  Why not make every day a celebration??  If that is not practical in your house because or have small children or too many people or other concerns, you might use the special set for every Sunday, or once a month family dinner, or whenever you entertain responsible guests.  If you keep those dishes stored away to use only once or twice a year – if that – it might be time to think about how much space you could gain by sending those items to a new home.  Or break up the collection and keep only your favourite or most used elements.

Display It

Another option is to find creative ways to display a treasured item or collection. In the example of your grandmother’s china, you might choose to keep a few special pieces that you can put to use. If you know you won’t use the whole china set, maybe a few pieces or a couple of place settings could take a place of honour in a display cabinet so you will notice it regularly and people can see it when they visit.  It might make it easier to send the rest of the 12-place setting china set to a new home if still have a piece or two as a reminder of memories that might associate with sitting around the dinner table with your parents and siblings.


Similarly, your Mom’s special holiday knick-knack or favourite necklace might not be your style but could make a lovely display as part of a shadowbox celebrating her memory.  Other types of collectables can be displayed separately or grouped together.  For example, a runner might create a shadow box with an event t-shirt, their runner number and finishers medal, and a picture of themselves crossing the finish line.

If you have boxes of family photos, select some of the best and create an album then place them on a shelf for easier access.  This is also a good opportunity to record information about the people and places or ask others for additional details.  If you have collections of pictures that do not have meaning for you, there is no reason to keep them.   If you know people or organizations that might appreciate the memories or historical context, pass them along.  If not, consider letting them go.  This can be difficult for some people, but if they do not tell your stories, or inspire you in some way, you should not feel guilty about not holding on to them.

Repurpose it

There are also lots of ways that mementos can be upcycled or incorporated into useful items. To again use the example of family china, you can have small pieces made into jewellery or decorative items that could be shared with family members offering a creative way to honour the family connection.   Old clothes can be resized to fit other family members or can be incorporated into memory blankets,  wall hangings, pillows or stuffed animals.  

Photograph It

You could also take photos of your memorabilia.  This might be especially practical for bulky items that you no longer want or use.  Once you have made digital records, you have a variety of things that you can do with them.

Here are just a few ideas:

  • Create an album or scrapbook combining photos and other mementoes like playbills and tickets, along with a few bullets or paragraphs detailing the sights, sounds and people you remember. 
  • Write a personal or collaborative blog
  • Make a slide show, add some music and share with friends and family or post on social media
  • Publish a photo essay or a book
  • Create a gallery or a simple wall  or table display 

Digitize It

One way to reduce physical clutter is by digitizing and journalling. That can be a very effective strategy but be sure that you do that with intention too. If you decide to digitize everything or you will simply replace physical clutter with digital clutter, which will not necessarily make it more likely for you to review or enjoy the item or its stories.  Before you decide to scan and digitize, ask the same types of questions you might ask about the physical items. Questions like: 

  • Why do I want to keep this item?
  • Do I need the physical item to tell the story or would a digital version work?
  • Have I used or viewed this in the past year or am I likely to in the next year?
  • Do I have a way to easily view and enjoy a digitized version?
  • Would I be more or less likely to view a digital version?  

If you make a reasoned choice and a plan for storing and enjoying your memories.  However, if make a choice and a way to enjoy the stories and pictures, this is a great way to preserve your memories and be able to let go of the stuff. Remember to make a plan for managing your digital space to ensure easy access to appreciate your records.

This strategy can work especially well with old photos or documents that you want to archive.  Digital records can help you free a lot of space.  Keep in mind that  that you still need to make a decision and plan about what you will do with the physical items.

A note about heirlooms

Before you break up sets, repurposed items or trash family pieces, you might want to double-check with family members to be sure that they don’t want to give the pieces in question a new home.  However, if you are trying to make space in your home, you should not feel you have to keep it for a family member who MIGHT want it in the future. You can set a deadline when it needs to be out of your space if others want it.  Sometimes family heirloom items require conversations with other family members so you don’t cause offence or bad feelings.  That is not always easy and you need to decide how to best manage potentially challenging conversations or decisions in your own situation.  Sometimes a neutral party can help you navigate so that might be something to consider if there are conflicts.

You need to decide what is most important to you in terms of relationships and those family heirlooms.  You can explain how you feel but you have the right to make decisions that are best for your home and family.

Take Action

Hopefully, some of these strategies will help you decide how to manage your memorabilia in a manner that aligns with your goals and priorities.  

Challenge Questions for Day 10

What strategies have you used to manage memorabilia?
Are there some mementoes that are easier or more difficult for you to let go?


Declutter Challenge for Day 10

Curate one box / envelope / drawer / album of photos or memorabilia

Reduce a collection or portion of a collection of hard copy family photos, playbills, show tickets, museum programs or similar artefacts. Make a decision about what you will keep and how you will use and appreciate it.

Banner image created by M.E.O’Toole

Memorabilia photo by Ricardo Esquivel from Pexels

Mary Elizabeth O'Toole

Mary Elizabeth O'Toole

Educator, Artist, Storyteller


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