Which mementos from my childhood should I keep?
December 5, 2011 11:52 AM   Subscribe

Please help me, I'm overwhelmed with stuff. I have way too much stuff in general and I'm making a real effort to get rid of as much as possible. I did a massive storage closet clean out over the weekend and I discovered that my mom set aside five large boxes of things from my childhood for me. What should I keep?

I'm having a lot of trouble deciding what is worth the storage space since none of it falls into the "useful" category that my brain understands. I personally would not be sad to see nearly all of it go but I am happy to hold onto a few things for the benefit of my future children. Please help me predict what will be most meaningful to them.

I've pulled out all of the photos and I'll be keeping those. There are a couple of stuffed animals that still can evoke an emotional reaction so that's easy enough. But there's a ton of other stuff that I don't really have a strong connection to. I'm worried that I might change my mind when I have kids myself. Should I keep my christening gown? My future child(ren) will not be christened so it's of no practical use. What about any of the several "occasion" dresses from when I was a baby/toddler?

I'm pretty much decided that I don't need more than one of the many dolls my mom kept since I was always more into legos. Do I need to keep the report cards, awards, artwork, homework assignments and such or is photographing/scanning them sufficient? I come from a sewing/knitting family so I have probably 8-10 blankets and probably two boxes of handmade clothing items and dolls. Do I choose one handmade item from each person?

Aside from the several specific questions that I have above any personal examples of stuff your parents kept that was special to you would be helpful.
posted by tinamonster to Home & Garden (28 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
What if you take pictures of them, and then give or sell them to someone who is likely to use them? That way, if you find yourself wanting to look at them or show them to someone, you still can.

I don't understand a lot of sentimental things myself, so maybe I'm not a really good judge, but usually, I feel better knowing that someone is using something than I do knowing I have it around somewhere.
posted by ernielundquist at 12:02 PM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Why even scan all of the report cards and so forth? Are you really ever going to look at them? YMMV, but personally, I got rid of all the stuff my mom saved for me, and I've never regretted it.

This is the perfect season to donate any clean and usable items to a local church or shelter so they can go to those who would truly love to have them.
posted by timeo danaos at 12:02 PM on December 5, 2011

So far, I'm keeping my report cards. I enjoy looking back at them and I think my son will too when he gets older.

For artwork, think about keeping only a few really important pieces. Maybe you can take photograpsh or scan the others to have a digital copy that doesn't clutter up space.

As for the christening gown, can you make it into something else that is useful but still a good reminder of what it was? Think handkerchief, blanket, etc.

For the knitted items, I would only keep two or three. The rest could easily be donated to a local children's hospital or foster care agency.
posted by Leezie at 12:02 PM on December 5, 2011

Personally, I wouldn't keep any of that stuff except the blankets (if you actually like and would use them). Donate anything else that's usable. However, I'm not terribly sentimental when it comes to stuff.

On preview: taking photos is a good idea. Digital photos don't take up space!
posted by ashirys at 12:06 PM on December 5, 2011

My parents seemingly kept every scrap of stuff associated with my childhood and delivered it (in a moving van!) when I bought a house. After much sorting, I kept a favorite blanket and a bath toy for my future son but the blanket more or less disintegrated the first time it was washed and the bath toy turned out to have lead paint on it so in the end I was glad I had taken photos and dumped it all.
posted by jamaro at 12:06 PM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: But there's a ton of other stuff that I don't really have a strong connection to.

Then there is no reason to keep it. If you use it or love it, keep it. Otherwise, nuke it from orbit. You can always take digital photos of stuff before you get rid of it.

I have a single Rubbermaid bin that I call my "significant box." This is where I keep all the silly little things from (mostly) my teenage years. Old letters, postcards, ticket stubs, report cards, etc. If it can't fit in the box, I don't keep it.

There is a classic post on Metafilter, one I am too lazy to go looking for, where the poster said his storage closet is a website called "eBay", where he can "store" things he doesn't have room for and when he needs to retrieve something he can always find it there. For example, I found a Putt-Putt Railroad for my son when he was three, which was a toy I loved as a child. I'm glad I didn't have to store it all those years.

The exception, I think, are collections of toys you loved where the collection is the beauty of the thing. Like Legos. Sure, you can always buy more Lego sets, but having a shitton of Legos, where you're intimately familiar with every piece you own, is not something you can easily replicate from eBay.
posted by bondcliff at 12:08 PM on December 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

I am a pack rat, so don't listen to me, but at least consider keeping the majority of the handmade things. When the people who made them are in the World of Truth, if they aren't already, you'll wish you had kept them. If it takes you a while to have kids, or if you don't, you can give it to the children of close friends. Of course, if there is really a ton of undifferentiated stuff (from a prolific sewing family?), or if you saw the original maker give away her own pieces left and right, there are exceptions.

Re: your own juvenilia, scans might be fine, but consider keeping one or two of the best things. We have some of my grandfather's homework from 1905. I guarantee you that as a young man, he didn't see the need.

ALSO consider going through and picking out samples of other people's handwriting. A birthday card that says nothing but "Love, Grandma" may seem unremarkable now, but... In addition to my own family items, I have notes (back soon!) from coworkers and college friends, some of whom are now dead, and I am glad to have them now even though they did sometimes get in the way.
posted by skbw at 12:11 PM on December 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

I don't understand keeping a stuffed animal because it evokes an emotional reaction. Take a picture. Photo storage is essentially free, take a picture of those lead-painted items and mold-bearing report cards and let the actual items go.

I have a terrible time getting rid of things, but my mom just sent me a list of basically the same stuff from the attic and I just said no. I'm not having kids, so that simplifies a lot, but as I pointed out to her most of the toys and soft toys I had as a child in the 70s are deathtraps and/or full of spiders by now, you can't use most of it.

I moved 1500 miles this year and had to get rid of perfectly good shit I use on a regular basis because it wasn't worth the cost of moving or we flat ran out of space in the PODS and something had to give. Every single one of those items, ask yourself if you want to pay $whatver/sqft to move it one day.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:19 PM on December 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

I love looking at my old report cards.

If it's small, I keep it. If it's big, it goes away, including clothes. I have one stuffed dog I can't imagine putting in the trash. I've anthropomorphized it way too much.

My hoarding tendencies have fortunately been put in massive check by moving frequently, and by having to live and store all my things in only one room.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:27 PM on December 5, 2011

A christening gown I'd find a good home for if you're over 40. If you're 20, it's not even retro, let alone charmingly vintage.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:28 PM on December 5, 2011

In all of these types of questions, I bring up Peter Walsh -- the Australian guy. He has some great techniques and things to think about re: deacquisitioning sentimental stuff.
posted by Madamina at 12:37 PM on December 5, 2011

I personally would not be sad to see nearly all of it go but I am happy to hold onto a few things for the benefit of my future children.

If you don't have an emotional connection to this stuff, why would your future kids?

Toss it all.
posted by ook at 12:40 PM on December 5, 2011

It's okay to keep things you want. It's okay to get rid of things you don't want. It's okay to keep sentimental stuff, and okay to discard it. In my personal sense of things, it's important to recycle things that someone else may need, i.e., blankets. waste is bad/re-use is fine. I recommend getting it down to 1 or 2 boxes, properly packed for storage, but less is really fine. You might benefit from putting it in the car to go to Goodwill, and after a couple days asking yourself if there's anything you want to retrieve. Sometimes it takes me more than 1 try to get it to Goodwill.

Goodwill, your local OWS encampment, a homeless shelter or family violence shelter will all be able to use blankets, good, clean toys(call 1st), etc. I'm sorry my Mom got rid of some really great family stuff, occasionally valuable stuff, but I have 1 thing from my Mom's childhood home and my Dad's, and some other family stuff, and it's fine.
posted by theora55 at 12:46 PM on December 5, 2011

Who are you trying to please? The only person who can decide if you "should" keep something, assuming no inherent practical or monetary value, is you.

That said, here's the mental algorithm I (try to) use:

1) Does this thing produce an immediate significant emotional response (fuzzy, but I know it when i feel it)? Yes = keep

2) Have I used this thing within the last 12 months? Yes = keep

3) Whatever is left, sell/donate/trash.
posted by Wretch729 at 12:47 PM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

But there's a ton of other stuff that I don't really have a strong connection to.

Then dump it. When you have kids, it's likely that the emotional attachment you will have will be to their itty bitty little things. Which you will carefully preserve so that in thirty years, it's their turn to unpack them, go "eh" and throw them out.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:49 PM on December 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

It sounds like most of those things would be loved and used by folks in your community. Local churches would know which people would love the clothes and dolls, if and when you decide to donate those. I love knowing that my childhood clothes went to people who could use them in 2001, rather than waiting until my eventually-maybe kids.

Keep the artwork and report cards that make you smile. If you don't remember any of them, into the bin they go!
posted by BigJen at 12:51 PM on December 5, 2011

Best answer: Just so you know where I'm coming from, I use, on a daily basis, things that belonged to my great grandparents. Not a packrat, exactly, but I don't believe in throwing away family history.

- christening gown: Was it store-bought, or handmade? Used for other children in the family, or just you? Is it physically beautiful (ie: lots of lace, very vintage, etc.). If handmade, used for other family members, or otherwise simply a stunning object, my first thought would be to see if you can find someone else in the family who could use it. If you can't right now, but there may be someone in the future (a sibling, cousin, etc.) who will use it, hang onto it & give it as a gift as appropriate if you won't use it yourself. Otherwise, if you will never use it and there are no family members who are likely to use it in the future, offer it back to your mom. If she doesn't want it, contact a local church & see if they have a use for it.

- paper stuff (report cards, etc.): Do keep anything that shed's light on family relationships. It may be obvious to you know how you and a cousin are related, but to your children or their children your document may be the only thing that helps illuminate that. My solution to the glut of school-related stuff would be to get a (smallish) shoebox & try to put one or two items of each type (so: a piece of art, an essay, a report card) representative of each year in that box & toss the rest. It can be helpful here to have someone who knows you now (but didn't as a child) to go through the stuff to see if anything that you did then is reflective of the person you are now. End up with perhaps 20-30 sheets of paper MAX, then toss the rest. I'm personally not a big fan of digital storage unless you are very sure you're going to invest in backkups.

- commercially made toys: if you have the time, do some eBay searches on the stuff you don't want. There is even some stuff from the 80's that is highly collectable & can bring enough money to have dinner on.

- handmade toys & clothes: judge by four things, in order: 1) emotional reaction to the object itself (sound like you've already done this). 2) condition: if it's in really bad shape (ie: makes you go "ew" when you touch it, or is ripped or otherwise unsalvageable) toss it. 3) emotional relationship with the maker: Was it made by your beloved greatgrandmother who passed away when you were 5? I'd probably keep at least one item from that maker. Made by your aunt you never really knew? It can go. 4) Esthetic qualities; if it's really beautiful, hang onto it.

I presume your mom gave you this stuff because she's already decided she doesn't want it, but I would double check with her prior to the final disposal. She may either a) know something about an object that you didn't (ie: That toy belonged to your father when he was little), or just object to it being thrown out when the time comes. Don't keep things yourself that you don't want just because she wants you to - if she reclaims it, she needs to keep it.

Finally, I want to talk a bit about this comment:

If you don't have an emotional connection to this stuff, why would your future kids?

Our stuff - even our very mundane stuff - has little meaning to us because it's so familiar. But to those who come after us, if they are at all interested in the history of their family, they can normally only glean more than the most basic biographical information through the scraps we leave. I've talked here before about how, when we were cleaning out my grandparent's house, I found, tucked in a book, a shopping list written by my great-grandmother. It's the most prosaic thing you can imagine, written on a scrap of ruled notepaper with a faint pencil, but it tells me things about her that I wouldn't have otherwise known (like the fact she pronounced Washing as 'Warshing" because she wrote it down - "Warshing Powder".

I want to commend you on thinking in a forward way about these things. I'm very lucky in that I still own the home where my great-grandparents lived, and that my family uses things on a daily basis that were used by prior generations of my family - we eat on their dishes, drive nails with their hammer, walk on their rugs, and decorate our holiday tree with decorations that my mother made as an elementary student during WWII, and that my great-grandmother got for attending movies during the depression. Having these objects in our lives illuminate our family history in a way that simple photographs or the recitation of oral history could never do. The fact that we live intimately with these physical things -- and not only "useful" things like dishes and toys, but objectively useless things like handwritten shopping lists and holiday greeting cards -- enables us to maintain a connect to ourselves, our history as a family, and our history as a nation.
posted by anastasiav at 12:59 PM on December 5, 2011 [12 favorites]

FWIW, I loooved looking through my parents' old things when I was a kid, and I still do today. But I think you can get away with keeping one of everything- one report card/essay/whatever from each phase of school, plus anything small that has a good story attached. Let me tell you about discovering my dad's fake ID from high school in his box of old papers... total bonding moment.
posted by MadamM at 1:02 PM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Kudos for your concern about not saddling your future heirs with boxes and boxes of useless stuff they don't care about. (The way your own mother saddled you with it.)

Keep the christening dress, since I know those are kind of a "thing" for many people.

As for the other childhood stuff, sort it into two categories: things you used, and things you made. Get rid of all the things you used, like the occasion dresses and other assorted childhood detritus. As for things you made, keep one representative sample. Pick out one item of artwork, one report card, etc.

For the handmade stuff, I'm a knitter too, so I know where you're coming from. Pull it out, take pictures, and shop it around to your immediate family. If no one calls dibs on something, then clean it up and donate it.

Afghans in particular are desperately needed this time of year in homeless and women's shelters. It's so much better to have those things out in the world keeping someone warm, than taking up tons of space and costing you storage fees for all eternity.
posted by ErikaB at 1:06 PM on December 5, 2011

Honestly, if you don't have an attachment to a lot of your stuff, consider yourself lucky. I have WAY too much stuff from my childhood/ teen years because I just attach too much sentimental value to everything. It's very difficult for me to pare down the collection. (Which is mostly in my parents' basement and garage now, and I have to keep begging them not to get rid of anything and promising to take it once I live in a real house.) Really, it's a pain in my ass. If you don't have to go through it then don't.

Part of my problem is I just hate to throw things away outright. Freecycle is a good solution because you know your stuff is actually going to people who want it. Whatever can't be unloaded on Freecycle can go to Goodwill, shelters, etc.

Anyway, you're probably doing your future kids a favor by not keeping too much stuff. Because what if they turn out like me and find themselves unable to part with anything of sentimental value? If I had a bunch of stuff from my parents' childhood in addition to my own (which I don't, thank God) I'd have even MORE stuff I'd feel I have to keep forever. I think your idea of keeping one 'representative' item from boxes of similar stuff (like handmade clothes) is a good compromise, if you keep any at all.
posted by GastrocNemesis at 1:51 PM on December 5, 2011

About the clothes alone - are you considering keeping the "occasion" clothes for your future children to possibly wear themselves?

If so, then you can get rid of them, because I guarantee that your future children would be receiving such clothing by the score from well-meaning friends at baby showers. This is what people DO at baby showers -- they give useful stuff, but a lot of people also give adorable dressy-up darling little outfits because BABIEEZ ARE SO TINY AND KYOOT, and you will have PUH-LENTY of "occasion" outfits for your children. So you can get rid of the "occasion" clothing from your own childhood with impunity.

If you're just saving them to show your kids and say "can you believe I wore this once?" Then maybe just one or two things.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:00 PM on December 5, 2011

As anastasiav has already said, things like report cards, notes, and the like might well mean more to your children than they do to you. My late father saved a lot of that kind of stuff, and when I was cleaning out his house after he died, it was a way to discover things about him that I had never known. Even his old check registers were interesting. As a professional historian, I know that even mundane things can reveal patterns; it was neat to apply that knowledge to my dad's life as I worked on my eulogy. If you look about halfway down, you can see what report cards, miscellaneous correspondence, blood donor cards, and the like can reveal. It was especially important to me because for the last year of his life my dad couldn't talk, so I never got the chance to ask about so many things I realized too late that I wanted to know.
posted by brianogilvie at 2:15 PM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm attached to some of the stuff from my parents' and grandparents' childhood, and I'm also pretty minimalist about STUFF cluttering my house. The things that I'm glad my parents kept fall into two categories:

*Everyday stuff that is now obsolete or out-of-place and thus feels kind of "historic"

*Stuff that really gives me a sense of who they were/are as a person before they had kids

Note that there's a pretty sharp difference between what type of stuff parents love and think worth saving from their kids and what future children find interesting about their parents/grandparents. Anything that makes you go AWWWW (tiny clothes, stuffed animals) is probably not going to evoke the same reaction in your kids as it did for you or your parents; on the other hand, stuff that your parents wouldn't look at twice (journals, college essays arguing for Communism) are the things that your older or adult kids will go nuts over, as they allow them to 'know' their parents before they had kids. In other words, I wouldn't necessarily use your emotional reaction to an item as a good guide to what your kids will one day find worth saving.

So: wedding/birth announcements, old stuffed animals, tiny christening clothes? Meh. My grandfather's leiderhosen from Germany? Totally awesome. Regular report cards? Nope.
Regular report card on which is scrawled a note from the teacher saying "Billy is a bright boy but spends too much time flirting with the girls in class?" Oh yes PLEASE keep that one.
posted by iminurmefi at 2:26 PM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's definitely worth seeing if anyone else in your extended family is interested in some of this stuff. My husband's grandma offered us a lot of stuff for our new baby -- we accepted baby dresses that her children has worn, and when anyone else in the family has a baby girl, we'll pass them on. The stained clothing my parents felt sentimental about? Threw away, unless I also felt sentimental about it. My best friend's parents saved a lot of her childhood stuff, but offered it to me. Again, I'm saving some of the overalls and coats in case she has a child who could also wear it. (Though, keeping in mind my reaction to most of the stuff my parents saved, I passed along most of my child's clothing, and only kept some to make into a quilt for myself. Because I'm the one who feels sentimental about it. She doesn't remember what she wore when she was a baby or toddler.)

It helps to cast a wide net -- my cousins weren't interested in having their grandfather's old uniforms from WWII, but I took my uncle up on the offer, and love wearing his dad's American Field Service jacket.
posted by Margalo Epps at 3:42 PM on December 5, 2011

I'm very lucky in that I still own the home where my great-grandparents lived, and that my family uses things on a daily basis that were used by prior generations of my family

That is genuinely cool, but it is also very unusual. I'd venture to say you're kind of an outlier on this one.

I have only a tiny handful of items from my family history -- a straight razor made by my grandfather's grandfather, and a photograph or two taken by my great-grandfather of Yosemite and the Grand Canyon. I think that if I had boxes of stuff from each of those generations I wouldn't value any of it as much as I value those few objects; it'd just be boxes of ephemera and junk. I would also have no closet space at all.

If there's an item in those boxes that seems worth preserving for five or six generations then be all means preserve it. Boxes of old report cards, manufactured dolls etc do not to me seem worth preserving.
posted by ook at 4:54 PM on December 5, 2011

Anastasiav is so right!

We can't keep everything, but do keep some things.

I saved many of my childhood books--my kids read them, and now my g-kids are reading them. My g-kids love wearing some of their mom's old clothes from when she was a girl. My parents died when I was very young, and I have so little of them left. Finding an old toy of my dad's and his report cards in an aunt's attic was very important to me.

I'm lucky that we have storage space. Many people don't. Most people move frequently. Still save some things. They may cycle around and be important to someone, someday.
posted by BlueHorse at 8:26 PM on December 5, 2011

Response by poster: You guys are so helpful, as always. I think I now have a grasp on how to proceed. I'm going to keep the few things that prompted a forgotten story when I unboxed them and simply photograph and donate the rest. After all, a thing is just a thing unless there's a story behind it.
posted by tinamonster at 9:00 PM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm going to keep the few things that prompted a forgotten story when I unboxed them and simply photograph and donate the rest. After all, a thing is just a thing unless there's a story behind it.

This is exactly the right approach. My mother was saddled with a task like yours after both my granparents finally passed away, and dragged all of her brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews and kids there to beg us to go through things and take what we wanted. And the only things people took were a few things we each had memories of, or things we thought were unusual and thought-provoking (one of the things I took was a photo of my grandfather as a young man -- I'd never seen any like that -- and a scrap of paper with some French writing on it in my Canadian grandmother's handwriting). But the furniture and clothes and things all got a big "meh" from everyone.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:31 AM on December 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

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