I already have a dartboard, so that's out.
August 23, 2010 12:10 PM   Subscribe

What to do with pictures/mementos of an ex?

I'm in the process of moving, for the first time since a breakup (that happened two years ago) with a boyfriend of four years. Coming across old photos, cards, and small gifts from the course of our relationship, I'm not really sure how to proceed.

I don't harbor any ill-will toward my ex, so setting them ablaze isn't something I want to do. And though I have moved on and have been with my current guy for over a year now, it seems silly and petty to just throw them away. It would be like suggesting four years of my life didn't happen. On the other hand, I don't really want to keep them around, either, especially not in some "special box" or something like that, since when I'm reminded of the relationship I mostly think about how much time I wasted on a guy who kind of sucked.

The ideal solution would be to put everything into a small, invisible box that I'd never see or think about, but that would still exist 25 years down the line when I want to bond with my teenage kid.

What do you guys suggest?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (38 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The ideal solution would be to put everything into a small, invisible box that I'd never see or think about, but that would still exist 25 years down the line when I want to bond with my teenage kid.

If you have decent data retention habits (backups, moving things over to new computers) this is what a scanner can be good for. Pick a few that are particularly good/memorable, scan 'em in, toss them in a folder labeled THE DISTANT PAST, and move on.
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:13 PM on August 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Since you're in the process of moving this is a simple issue to solve. Put the stuff in an unlabeled cardboard box. Once you're in your new place chuck that box on a shelf in a closet or a shelf in the garage. Make sure other stuff gets placed on top of it. You will come across it again some years from now and think, "I wonder what that is?"
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 12:14 PM on August 23, 2010 [5 favorites]

I came in here to tell you to scan them as Tomorrowful suggested, but I also don't think it's a big deal if you toss them. There really is not a huge payback in keeping mementos of times that you feel meh about, and throwing them away doesn't mean that you're denying that time in your life, just that you don't particularly care that you're reminded of it. If nothing else, toss everything but the photos and keep the photos in an envelope that are filed somewhere.
posted by Kimberly at 12:17 PM on August 23, 2010

A shoebox or something, unlabeled, in the attic.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 12:18 PM on August 23, 2010

Keep them in a small box. You can cull out some of the larger items, but keep the photos and letters. Even if the relationship didn't work out, you'll be surprised at what they evoke years down the line.
posted by Mercaptan at 12:19 PM on August 23, 2010

This stuff is trash. Life is full of too much stored-up ephemera. I don't think throwing these items away need be petty, or even emotional at all.
posted by thejoshu at 12:20 PM on August 23, 2010 [14 favorites]

I have some in a paper grocery sack, up in a garage loft out of sight and out of reach. Some day, I'll look at this stuff.
posted by Danf at 12:21 PM on August 23, 2010

Well, I have always taken A LOT of photos. And until recently, I could never get myself to throw any photo away.

After my first break up (4 years), I gave him most of the photos so that he could keep them or give them to his Mom.
I did the same with another long-term relationship. We ended on a bad note, so I just mailed them to his house.

Thennn... fast forward until last year - I had tons pictures of guys I dated short-term and an ex who I lost contact with. My Current boyfriend was looking through my photo books when we were moving in together and I think he kind of freaked out about the massive amount of photos of exes I had (he knew some of them).
I convinced myself to throw a lot of them away because I figured it wasn't worth him being uncomfortable about.
posted by KogeLiz at 12:22 PM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

A year ago I came across some similar type old pictures (from 20 years back) that I had stuffed into some storage boxes. 20 years later, they meant so little to me that I just pitched them without a second thought. Stick them in a box, forget about them, and then pitch them someday down the road without a second thought one rainy Saturday when you're cleaning old crap out.

(Or, you could do what a friend of mine did with photos of he and his ex-wife together on the beach: paste Paris Hilton's face over the ex's and display it proudly on your office desk for all to see).
posted by webhund at 12:23 PM on August 23, 2010

If it's not his stuff, throw it out. It's superfluous energy in your life. Like you said, you've moved on. Travel light.
posted by watercarrier at 12:24 PM on August 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

It's not petty to throw some those things away if you don't really want them around anymore. The relationship was more than just a collection of cards and gifts, they are not the only thing making the four years you spent together real. You can throw them away with no ill-will or sense of catharsis, just toss 'em.

That said, the memory is with you whether or not you keep the physical memento, but I have always liked to keep a general "memory box." Every once in a while, I like to go through it and hold in my hands the physical evidence of bygone times. I don't keep much, and the box is general life memories, not only tokens of romance. If you want to hold onto something physical, keep only one or two things that bring you a particular fond memory or feeling.
posted by Katine at 12:25 PM on August 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you feel like doing something a little wacky you could stick them in a waterproof box and bury them as a time capsule, maybe at your parents' or in nature somewhere. Then you could either forget them, or dig them up in 25 years when you'll probably feel differently about the situation/have a different perspective on a lot of things, and might get a kick out of them.
posted by Ashley801 at 12:25 PM on August 23, 2010

Toss it all if you have no current relationship (e.g. friendship) with this person. It's just cruft that we convince ourselves that we need to carry with us. In a couple months you'll forget what it was that you threw away, anyway. Is that type of stuff really what you want to share with your future children? "Here's a picture of me hanging out with a random guy I dated 20 years ago." ... ??
posted by buckaroo_benzai at 12:27 PM on August 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've kept all of my personal correspondence, including cards and the like, since I was a child. Yes, all of it. I don't keep a diary, so it's one of the better ways to have some sort of record of my past and what was going on in my personal life. But I think it would be really weird and provide uncomfortable reminders if I had separate boxes for each girl I dated. Instead, stuff is organized by year. Everything from a calendar year goes together, whether it's from a girlfriend, my friends, my grandparents, or whatever. This way it's about a record of your life rather than about your exes. I keep physical photos the same way.

I don't know what the small gifts are like, but I'd say keep 'em if you want 'em, and toss 'em if you don't. To me, a box of mementos is way more trouble, takes up way more space, and is way less interesting than letters or photos. If you really want to remember, you could always take a photo of everything before you toss it. I wouldn't bother, though.
posted by grouse at 12:27 PM on August 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

Some people just aren't sentimental people. I, on the otherhand, am. I was with someone for eight years, and similarly I didn't want to 'erase' that time by throwing away all momentos. So I have one small box of the more meaningful pictures/things, stuck in my parents' storage room 500 miles from where I live now. I look forward to the day I get to root through them with a kid or grandkid too, if nothing else than to show them that I used to be kind of cute and young and fashionable and not the frumpy woman I am [destined to be as a mother or grandmother :)].
posted by greta simone at 12:33 PM on August 23, 2010

The saying goes: Happiness is good health and a short memory.

Toss 'em.
posted by Joe Beese at 12:35 PM on August 23, 2010 [4 favorites]

I've culled things bit by bit. Some things can easily find homes among my other stuff, like a hockey jersey or a stuffed animal. Other things are more personal, like cards. I kept the most meaningful card until one day when I couldn't stand his attitude anymore and tossed it.

It's like any other kind of stuff that way. If it can find a home, keep it. If it doesn't fit, it doesn't fit -- and the homes (and the need for them) change.
posted by Madamina at 12:40 PM on August 23, 2010

You don't have to keep *everything*. Luckily I've moved so much that I didn't have a choice in many cases. Keep the ones that are the most meaningful to you, and throw the rest away. That doesn't 'erase' anything, or devalue the time you spent together, but there's no point in hanging onto stuff just to hang onto stuff. Plus, I guarantee you, when you want to bond with your teenager in 25 years you won't want *all* of it.
posted by micawber at 12:40 PM on August 23, 2010

Another vote for ditching the whole thing, maybe donating any of the gifts that could be used by somebody else. You'll be amazed at how much crap you'll accumulate as you go through life, and being sentimental about stuff makes the problem an order of magnitude worse.

But I'm confused about using the photos to bond with future kids. Is this something you did with your parents? Because I can't honestly imagine a teenager feeling all bond-y while looking at pics of their mom with some random guy. Apart from laughing at the ridiculous fashions of your youth*, what's to bond over?

*Nothing personal, here - by definition, anything their parents wore, did, or listened to is ridiculous to kids.
posted by Quietgal at 12:43 PM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:49 PM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm a major saver, and I believe web pages must live forever pretty much, but after I divorced I deleted my paeans to my ex-wife, and never looked back. I *did* go through them and anything that was just her and her family, I returned to her. The last time was maybe 4 years ago when I found a stash of photos that were relevant to her.

But I don't need any reminder of that relationship, the memories are vivid in my head, and it's for the best that what's done is done.

Also, there's the factor that keeping such past stuff that may annoy those in your present.
posted by artlung at 12:49 PM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

when I'm reminded of the relationship I mostly think about how much time I wasted on a guy who kind of sucked.

For Pete's sake, don't let this take up any more of your mental or emotional energy. Toss them out like you'd put last week's paper in the recycling bin.

Don't think of throwing them away as being petty. Think of it as freeing up space for more important things. Every time you move you'll have to deal with it if you don't let them go now. The relationship is over, let it go and move on.
posted by ambrosia at 12:50 PM on August 23, 2010

This was the subject of a FPP recently.
posted by kimdog at 12:51 PM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

When I broke up with my first boyfriend, I took a bunch of little momento's, put them in a glass that was special to us both, and filled it up with that clear epoxy stuff they use for water in model train sets. The items are still visible and preserved inside the stuff, but I felt a bit more distance from them emotionally, being unable to physically touch them, while still being able to hold on to the memories about each item.

(If you do this, recognize, as I failed to originally, that the curing process generates a fair bit of heat. Pick your clear vessel accordingly.)
posted by nomisxid at 12:53 PM on August 23, 2010

Keep the things that matter to you, not the things that matter to him or to the relationship. You can preserve the part of yourself that existed during the time you were together without keeping everything that reminds you of your former significant other. In the time you were together, you lived a lot, you learned a lot, and if you're the kind of person who likes to keep a record of that sort of thing that's perfectly fine.

I've kept just a couple of mementos from previous relationships. Every time I move, I tend to pare the collection down a little more. The more time passes, the easier it is for me to identify what things will continue to speak to me and what things aren't worth moving from basement to basement.

(Side note: if you do end up going the burning route someday, and you're going to burn photos, don't do it indoors...)
posted by cranberry_nut at 12:54 PM on August 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

I would personally throw most of it out, and then maybe scan in a few photos (particularly if they're of trips you went on or other things that are interesting for non-relationship reasons) to keep in a folder somewhere.

Alternately, if you're on good terms with your parents and they have the room, put the box in THEIR basement with the rest of your maybe-I'll-care-about-this-someday stuff.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 12:59 PM on August 23, 2010

Also, there's the factor that keeping such past stuff that may annoy those in your present.

This, too.

I am farther along the "I don't want you hear about your ex girlfriends" line than is average, I will freely admit, but this particular issue caused a lot of tension between Mr. Narrative and I when we were first dating. He was like, "I don't really care about this stuff and I'm not sentimental about those relationships," and I was like, "Then why do you still have it?"

In retrospect I did not behave as gracefully as I could have, but there's no denying that it caused problems.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 1:03 PM on August 23, 2010

I keep everything so I'm not a good judge of things. I've never regretted it, and I don't waste time having relationships with people who are jealous of things that happened before I knew them.

However, if you're trying to get rid of some stuff but not others, I'd say keep the pictures, ditch the rest. The pictures will be a good memory jogger for you and any discussion you want to have with future offspring. (I love pictures of my parents pre-them knowing each other.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:09 PM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I always tossed everything when a relationship ended, so I wouldn't have bits of stuff to obsess over as I grieved the relationship and moved on. For that reason, I have always felt it weird when boyfriends kept things from old girlfriends. "I know she meant something to you once, but when you broke up, didn't you just toss that letter/photo/painting?" Then of course there was the time I found naked photos of my then boyfriend's ex-girlfriend. Gross. So I have that bias.

These things meant something to you once. They mean less to you know. Throwing these things away doesn't mean you harbor awful feelings toward your ex, it isn't petty. It isn't suggesting that those years of your life didn't happen. It just means you don't want the things anymore.

I mean, I just moved, and I came across an Easter card from my grandmother. I kept it at the time, because how nice, Nana sent me a card. I threw it out after moving, because I don't want to hang on to it. Not because I hate my grandmother, or I am being petty. I know it's more complicated than things from family members, but just because at one time you thought these things were important, does not mean you have to now.
posted by teragram at 1:35 PM on August 23, 2010

I left all of my ex's letters in a bundle in a phone booth with a note to whoever got them. I'd leave it without a note if I did it again though, just let somebody be surprised. They'll find something adorable and not know all the unpleasant details. (I found some photobooth pictures of a couple under the booth itself in high school, and I still have them... they look really happy in the photos, so even though I doubt they're still together, they make me happy).
posted by SputnikSweetheart at 2:06 PM on August 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm a keeper of stuff. I have been of aid to folks on Facebook who suddenly need to remember the names of everyone in my 5th grade class, and who they played in our Shakespeare productions, and what they wore on the day we did our "we will all go to college or at least remember what we learned in DARE" photo day. Made that guy's day, let me tell you. I also like looking at the photos of people my parents spent time with when they were young (including the wacky ex-spouses.) I like looking at photos of the folks who hung out with my great-grandparents, too.

Don't feel bad about wanting to hold onto this stuff; we live in an incredibly disconnected way compared to previous generations, and it's really good when you can preserve this stuff in lieu of having everyone you ever met live within 5 miles of where you will always live.

Having said that, this is what archival paper, photo albums, and attics were made for.
posted by SMPA at 2:14 PM on August 23, 2010

I discovered Geocaching shortly before I ended a serious relationship several years ago and some of those trinkets found a new life in some random containers around Southern California.
posted by liquoredonlife at 2:28 PM on August 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Neither here nor there: I helped my boyfriend reformat his laptop the other day, and before we did he only back up important work-related stuff. In a moment of ungraciousness following the reformat, I remarked, "The best thing about having to do this is you don't have pictures of xxxx anymore."

In any case, I'm not one for sentiment. With the exception of one or two pictures with mutual friends I still talk to, my exes exist only in distant memories. As time passes, I also believe this is a good thing, because thankfully... we tend to remember the good much longer than the bad.
posted by Everydayville at 2:33 PM on August 23, 2010

Wait a sec, tribal elder weighing in. I'm 54 and I just moved and during the packing I came across a small, unlabelled box that had been sitting on the top of a closet shelf for ever and I saw it and thought, What's that. And inside were mementos from a few long-ago lovers, including really meaningless things like movie ticket stubs and cocktail napkins with doodles and boy o boy did it bring a smile to my face as I whiled away the most lovely hour. Not so much thinking about them (some of them were kind of sucky too) but remembering Me, then. Keep it.
posted by thinkpiece at 4:51 PM on August 23, 2010 [6 favorites]

I would say not to throw them out, I dont know about you but my memory is not that great, the other day I came across my high school prom pictures its been about 9 years and I didn't remember anything of what went on that night, my ex was in those pictures with me and those memories came back allowing me to remember not only the person that was in that picture but also the me staring back from the past and kinda saying dude....this is how far you've come......
posted by The1andonly at 6:58 PM on August 23, 2010

Not so much thinking about them (some of them were kind of sucky too) but remembering Me, then. Keep it.

but also the me staring back from the past and kinda saying dude....this is how far you've come......

A thousand times this.
posted by jeanmari at 10:21 PM on August 23, 2010

Depending on how bad the breakup was, I would keep the very personal stuff (letters, photos, mix-tapes) and ditch the mementos (cuddly bears, books, joke presents).
posted by mippy at 12:34 PM on August 24, 2010

Having been in this situation myself before I have to say keeping these things is a nice thing to do. Although you are sad/mad about the ending the reality of it is that there were good times and it is nice to be able to go back even 15 years from now and smile at them. I can understand that idea of having them around however. I have a hope chest that I keep at my mom's house. Its under lock and Key but when I do pay a visit every now and then its fun to go through old memories. It will take time but it could bring a smile to you in the future. The other thing I was thinking for you to though is maybe take a couple of pictures of the things you do have and just keep those pictures on a CD but get rid of the items themselves....just a thought. Good luck
posted by 4Spokenwords at 6:44 PM on September 1, 2010

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