In the course of a decluttering session, collections of memorabilia (concert tickets, train passes, old student’s cards, doodles on napkins, trinkets, etc.) are often mistaken for keepsakes. The common understanding seems to be that “memorabilia tend to be larger items and take up lots of space” while “keepsakes are small items that can be stored away in small containers without too much trouble”.
Well, think again: in my professional practice I have come across people who collect keepsakes at a speed of one shoebox a month, and those shoeboxes pile up very quickly, believe you me! Very much not in line with the definition, in these cases what goes for keepsakes is really memorabilia and that worries me a little.
A proper keepsake is not just a memory crutch, but something that holds a very personal connection with a particular person, namely the one who gave you this thing to “keep for their sake”. There is no real choice here, and usually keepsakes will come your way only very rarely. Memorabilia are different: you decide what you keep and often these items are meant to remind you of something ephemeral rather than a deep connection with a person.
It troubles me to see people who assume that their experiences only remain real if they keep some physical item to keep the memory alive. There is such a thing as an ebb and flow to our memories, and some of them are normally replaced by new, more vibrant ones. That is perfectly normal and nothing to be sad about. Too many memorabilia may lead to you living in a past that gets more glorious by the day, thereby devaluating whatever is happening to you right now. Exaggerated memories of the past actually make you less likely to enjoy the present!
There’s a specific type of what is often referred to as keepsakes: parents collecting everything their children have ever created and given to them. I agree that those things are cute and meaningful at the time and technically they would fall under the definition of ‘keepsakes’, but it pays to make a clear distinction between a keepsake “for keeps and given with that specific intention” and a gift that is meant to be given, enjoyed and then (potentially) discarded.
Don’t worry: I’m not advocating a disregard for children’s artwork, by no means. What I’m saying is that some things are meant for keeping because they highlight SPECIAL moments, others are meant for displaying only until the next one comes along. And that means discarding the previous one. Now ask yourself this: when you child gives you something, is the meaning of their action in the act of giving, or in the intention for this to be kept forever? I would argue that it’s the former, not the latter!
Do you have a series of boxes labelled “memories” or “keepsakes”? If you do have more than one, you have a collection of memorabilia on your hands rather than keepsakes! Memorabilia only really serve their purpose if they are on display and that is where the trouble begins and clutter may spawn in your home. There is no point to keep memorabilia tucked away in the loft: they will only remind you if they are visible, so try and display them. When displaying, don’t go overboard: there is an upper limit to how much the brain can take in terms of displayed items. If there is too much, it becomes distracting and your mind may just end up blanking it out – and when you don’t consciously see it, you won’t get any benefit from it.
Keepsakes are important things as they are emotionally charged items that connect you directly to the person who gave it to you. If something you keep for the sake of reminding you of something does not bring up an image of a person straight away, it’s not a keepsake as such… treat these items as memorabilia and make sure you don’t have too many of them. That means that sometimes hard choices have to be made: make them and you’ll be all the better for the effort.
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Hi, my name is Tilo Flache. My current mission: help my clients declutter mind and space.
This blog contains pointers for your journey towards a happier living experience.