Organizing Childhood Keepsakes and Art (Yours and Theirs)

Sooner or later, you’re going to run into the emotional task of organizing childhood keepsakes and art, yours or your children’s. Someone recently asked their adult friends what childhood keepsakes they still own and treasure. Did they regret not having more of their own childhood art? She was trying to find the right balance of keep-and-toss for her own young family. How much childhood art, ribbons, trophies, and schoolwork should she organize and store

What about your own childhood keepsakes? Which ones are still in your life…now…in your 30s, 40s, 50s, and beyond?

Organizing Childhood Keepsakes and Art (Yours and Theirs)

None of my adult organizing clients ever tell me that their childhood keepsakes from their parents are the most important things in their home. When we find keepsakes, they are rarely in good condition, rarely on display, rarely enjoyed. More often, my clients all display some anxiety at having been “gifted” boxes of keepsakes by their aging parents. They feel compelled to keep them because their parents did, or they toss them with some anxiety and guilt…because their parents kept them, but they don’t really want them, and they certainly don’t want buckets of them!

We are digitizing a bit of schoolwork from Kindergarten through 3rd grade for a client who is in her 50’s; this is her schoolwork, but she’s got her important keepsakes from her teenage daughter, too. She doesn’t want the things from her 3rd grade, hence her request to digitize it and get it out of her home. It’s her way of letting go gently. The things that she does love from her past, and there are plenty of them, we frame and display in her home and her office.

Keepsakes are important. They provide history and a link to our own past and our family. But as we travel through life, we constantly have to balance our need for history with our available space today. We balance nostalgia against the new and exciting. We struggle to maintain order in our space against the desire to simplify.

There is brain science in this equation. Because of something called the Endowment Theory and Loss Aversion, we are more likely to keep something once we own it. That’s how human brains work. Once it comes into our lives and our home, it becomes more valuable to our brains, according to research done by Richard Thaler and others in the behavioral sciences field. When our child creates a masterpiece keepsake, well, that just adds perceived value because we value them, and extend that sentiment to the thing they made. It’s related to the aversion that people have about throwing away photos; it feels like throwing away a photo of a person is the same as throwing away the person. (Not true!) Read more about this fascinating science in Chapter 2 of SORT and Succeed.

The reality is that little children make big piles of art, and most of us parents do not have room to keep it all. Turn the question around and ask yourself, will I or my child be less fulfilled without this in our lives? Would I keep it if it were someone else’s? The answer will almost always be of course not.

What Should Someone Else Keep?

We all know that your own keepsakes are precious. 😉 Let’s take the emotion out of the equation for a moment and ask a different questions.

If you could tell a young mom what keepsakes to store for decades, what would you say to her?

We recommend keeping a small sampling of handprint art from your kids early childhood, because those tiny handprints lose their scale when we digitize them. Keep whatever 3-dimensional keepsakes that you can fit in a baby book or box. And maybe a binder or a box of that same size with keepsakes for each child. Just remember, these are YOUR keepsakes, not things your kids should be obligated to take from you.

Organized baby books

If you are the very sentimental type, it may help to batch artwork together and review it a year at a time. By seeing a batch together, you can usually pick out the best of the best for long-term storage. If you can’t decide what to keep, ask a professional organizer like me.

Kids and teens today mostly feel like if it’s not digital, they don’t want it, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon.

I hope this helps you make peace on WHAT you keep, and whether you are saving things for YOU or your child.

If you want to DIY saving your kid’s art and keepsakes, and get rid of space-hogging boxes and bins in storage, check out my online course teaching you easy ways of Saving Kids Art.