Showing Keepsakes Your Love

February 16, 2024

This Valentine’s Day, we’ve been thinking about one of the biggest ways our clients hold onto well-loved memories: their keepsakes. Sentimental items are some of the biggest hurdles people face when trying to reorganize and downsize. The key when it comes to keepsakes is a) knowing why we attach importance to items so that we can make informed decisions and b) building proper systems for the items we do keep. That way, we can pay respect to our memories while saving space for our futures. Check out our tips below to see how you can go about showing keepsakes your love this year.


Why We Hold On

People are complicated, and the reasons behind our attachments are just as complex. There are, however, several root types of attachments when it comes to sentimental items. Understanding these core causes can be a great tool for tackling decision-making, especially when it comes to paring down or properly caring for keepsakes.

Attachment Types

  • Sentimental Significance.

The most obvious attachment type for keepsakes. This is when objects trigger memories, invoke a sense of fondness or inspire nostalgia.

  • Anthropomorphizing Objects.

Somewhat similar to sentimental significance, this is when we attribute human feelings and needs to inanimate objects. Examples include thinking, “This tea set will be so sad if I separate it,” or, “These stuffed animals must be lonely after being alone in the attic for years, I can’t believe I abandoned them for so long.”

  • Feeling Guilt or Responsibility.

This attachment type is most common with hand-me-downs and heirlooms. Even when we don’t personally want to keep an object, we may still feel the weight of its history or the expectations and desires of the people we received it from.

Reframing Attachments

  • Remember what’s important.

Just about everyone (aside from the most dedicated of minimalists) assigns some level of importance to their belongings. When those attachments grow to the point where they make decision-making difficult, it’s important to inject perspective into the situation. As much emotion as an object might invoke, it can’t take precedence over your needs or the needs of your loved ones. 

  • Respect your items but do so realistically.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting a valuable antique table to stay out of a landfill. However, if keeping it just means tucking it away in an attic for the next decade, it’s not really being appreciated or put to its best use. Be open to the options that will truly honor the value of your possessions and acknowledge that you can only properly keep and care for a certain amount.

  • Assess your options objectively.

Before addressing a large volume of keepsakes, take stock of your current living situation and its capacity for using/storing items. Set concrete limits: “we have enough room for one everyday dish set and enough storage to keep two additional special occasion sets,” “our attic shelving can hold three more bins of childrens’ keepsakes,” etc. Having a clear picture in mind before you start looking through items helps keep everything in perspective and simplifies otherwise difficult decisions.


Ways to Keep and Display

We are big proponents of finding ways to display and enjoy keepsakes rather than keeping them in difficult-to-access storage. This also puts a more constrained limit on what you can keep and forces you to evaluate why each item should stay. Keepsakes celebrate memories and preserve family history, and nothing honors that purpose more than keeping them in ways that can be actively enjoyed by you and your loved ones for years to come.

Home Displays

Displaying keepsakes in small, artful collections is the most straightforward way to integrate them into your home. It’s a particularly good option for items that hold special honor, pride or significance. The options are endless: shadow boxes, show cabinets, even glass top coffee tables!

Upcycling and Decor

If you’d rather not dedicate a large space to display, you can repurpose individual keepsakes into statement pieces and decor. Hand-me-down dishes can serve as unique plant pots, jewelry can be converted into ornaments, clothing can be re-crafted into quilts and mug cozies, etc. (See this article for more DIY clothing and jewelry keepsake ideas.)

Digital Options

Don’t discount modern tech when preserving old memories! If scrapbooks and photo albums are piling up in your home, consider working digital picture frames into your collection. Not only do they save space, but they’re also a great way to easily showcase your favorite memories rather than keeping them closed up in a box.

Alternatives for Bulky Items

Some keepsakes–like collections of clothing, furniture and large dish sets–are too bulky to realistically keep and store on a budget or in smaller households. It can be hard to let these things go, particularly if you feel a sense of responsibility as their guardian, but it’s important to prioritize you and your family’s day-to-day needs and give yourself some grace. There are ways to honor and remember heirlooms other than keeping them in their original form.

  • Create a photo album of large collections.

An entire wardrobe of show clothing from a fashion designer grandmother can be hard to part with–but it’s also impossible to store that volume without just putting it away to gather dust. Same goes for massive collections of dish sets, fishing gear, etc. Consider keeping a small handful (ideally one or two) of the collections’ most stand-out items. Take photographs of the rest before selling or donating them. A photo album takes up a lot less space while still preserving the history and memories the items represent.

  • Keep pieces, not the whole item.

This is a particularly good option when used in combination with DIY projects and displays. No room for an entire hand-carved antique furniture set in your home? Keep the backing from one of the chairs and use it as a statement piece of wall art. Too many of grandpa’s old sweaters kicking around in the closet? Consider sewing pieces of them into a memory quilt for yourself or your children. Remember that it’s the memory that matters, not the item that holds the memory; it’s okay to adapt keepsakes so they can stay in your life. The memories will live on.

Check out these great articles if you’re looking for more project inspiration.


Planning Your Projects

Taking Inventory

Putting keepsake projects together can take time. In the worst cases, carefully curated boxes of memorabilia go to the attic or garage to be “dealt with soon” and just end up being fresh mysteries several years down the line. 

To ensure that your hard work sorting and downsizing your items doesn’t go to waste, have your intentions for the items in mind when you decide to save them. When storing items (no matter how short-term!), put together a list detailing the inventory for each project. You can keep a folder inside the container holding the items, tape an index card to the outside of storage bins or keep reference files in your computer. 

Safe Storage for Delicate Items

Keepsakes are subject to a dangerous overlap: they are some of the most precious items we own, they often have to be stored away for long periods of time and they are particularly vulnerable to the elements. It’s important to keep the needs of sensitive items in mind when planning their storage.

  • Photos and Paper.

These items, printed photographs in particular, are susceptible to degradation when not kept in specialized containers and climate-controlled environments. Keep an eye out for acid-free container options. When putting a large volume away in long-term storage, opt for more permanent large plastic bins over reused cardboard boxes to keep out pests. And, most importantly, be careful to keep your stock out of attics, garages, sheds and outdoor storage units. Instead, make sure they’re stored somewhere dry and properly weatherproofed.

  • Garments and Linens.

Whether it’s clothes or blankets, be sure to clean your textiles appropriately before placing them in storage for any amount of time. They are less sensitive to the elements than photographs, but it is still a good idea to choose containers and storage spaces that will keep them free of moisture and pests. Include cedar blocks and other moth repellents in bins containing any animal-based materials, such as wool, leather, fur and silk. See this excellent article for more detailed information about keeping textiles safe in storage.

  • Items That Can Take Tougher Treatment.

Plastic, wood, metal, ceramic and glass all handle fluctuations in the environment much better than more sensitive materials. These tougher items are usually safe in uninsulated areas like attics. Keep in mind that wood can still be subject to dry and wet rot if left in storage for too long. It’s also best to safely seal any important items in long-term containers no matter where they’re being kept to ensure they stay clean and pest-free.


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