Save the Memories, Not the Clutter

a pile of photos on top of a map

It’s spring cleaning time! Cleaning is not exactly my forte and I don’t mind a little dust, but decluttering is where I excel! Because of very limited storage space in my house (and because I love to), I swap out my closets and go on a decluttering rampage twice a year.

I know many of you have hopped on the bandwagon and have been Marie Kondoing (her name is basically a verb now, right?) your entire house. Or, more likely, you started with very good intentions and then life happened.

As you are going through your home you may find an area that seems harder to tackle than the rest – sentimental items.

Many people have a difficult time letting go of something they believe represents a milestone from his/her child’s life. For example, my mother still has the cast I wore on my leg as a newborn. Gross! For some reason, she decided to keep this item and move it to four different houses over the course of my lifetime. It is not displayed nor looked at. Why does she keep it? I have no idea. It’s a sentimental item to her but there gets to be a point at which all the “memories” really begin to accumulate.

Marie’s whole spiel is about holding an item and determining if it brings you joy. But what if way too many things your children have worn, created, or awarded bring you joy? Will you have to eventually move to a bigger home to allow you to keep everything? Do you just accept the fact you will be a hoarder? No!

So how does one preserve the memories while still reducing the sentimental clutter? Here are some ideas;

Take Photos

With a camera within reach of you at any time of day (i.e. your phone) photos will be your saving grace. You can take as many photos as you want and no physical space in your home will be affected. Not sure which piece of magnificent artwork drawn by your five-year-old to keep? Take a picture of each one – you can always delete later.

My strategy for staying on top of digital clutter is to go through all the photos I’ve taken during the month at the end of every month. I then delete images I know I will never miss. The rest I move to a folder named for that month so it is super easy (and fast!) for me to make a yearly photo book using sites such as Snapfish or Shutterfly.

I have made baby books, wedding books, and yearly photo books. Why take photos if you aren’t going to look at them? My toddler loves looking through these books and they always bring back wonderful memories for me. 

a pile of four photo books with one open to wedding pictures


Some people (especially women) have a difficult time letting go of clothing items that hold a special memory. Instead of adding more and more to your bin storage why not repurpose the clothing into something new?

For instance, a friend of mine took all her soccer jerseys from over her entire athletic career and made a quilt for her kid’s bed. She gets to look at her jerseys and remember the awesome times she had out on the field while providing warmth and style to her son’s bed. Many people are now doing this with their children’s used baby clothes that they have special attachments to. Any fabric can be made into pillows, stuffed animals, etc.

Shadow Boxes

Another way you can display clothing items, or really anything you hold dear to your heart, is to make a shadow box to display in your home.

How many of you have your wedding dress in a box somewhere in your basement? How often do you look at it? I’m guessing never. I had my husband make me a shadow box to display my wedding gown, shoes, and veil. It hung in the corner of our bedroom and I got to look at it every day until we moved and the glass shattered. Unfortunately, fixing the shadow box is at the bottom of my husband’s very long honey-do list.

corner shadow box displaying a wedding dress with shoes on top

Shadow boxes are great for displaying graduation mementos, trophies, ribbons, etc.


Christmas tree ornaments are a great way to preserve memories. Instead of tacky souvenirs from places we’ve visited, my family always buys one ornament during a vacation. Then as we’re placing the ornaments on the tree each year we can reminisce about our trips.

You can also make your own ornaments and fill them with mementos you have a hard time letting go of. For example, make a “baby’s first Christmas” ornament with the hospital bracelets and newborn hat from when your baby was born.

Memory Boxes & Binders

You’ll probably find in your decluttering process a lot of papers you don’t want to part with. That’s fine, but the goal should be to at least organize them.

I suggest having a binder for each child. The binder should have tabs to organize the papers so you can easily find what you are looking for. If you are a parent who keeps every single report card – make a separate tab in the child’s binder labeled “report cards”.

If the paperwork is still too overwhelming enlist your child to help you decide what to keep. From all the homework/stories/papers your child wrote this past year maybe choose your top two favorites to save and your child can pick his/her top two to save. Everything else can be saved electronically or shredded. Scanning is your friend!

Boxes with a clear purpose can be helpful at taming the clutter as well. I am not a sentimental person and I get rid of basically everything BUT I have kept every card and love note my husband has ever given me. I keep them in the pretty card box from our wedding (repurposing!). Because the box is displayed and not packed away in the basement I occasionally go through it when I need a reminder of how much I love him – like when he leaves a wet towel on the floor next to the laundry basket.

purple card box with ivory ribbon and flower

Create Home Decor

Display the beautiful photos you’ve taken! I’m terrible at this. I have all my photos saved but I definitely need to print more out to hang around our home.

You can also display your children’s artwork. I like the idea “display then discard”. Display a piece of artwork until the next piece of art arrives home then replace it with the new one. Better yet – let your child select which piece of art to toss and which to display.

Vases can be filled with rocks from your different travels. Perhaps you might even choose to write the location from where the rock was taken. Other people have created vases layered with sand from their various vacation spots.

Journals/Family Blog

Write down your memories instead of keeping all the “stuff”. Family blogs are becoming more popular. Each member can contribute to it and it can be kept private or shared with whomever you choose.

Or go the old-fashioned route and physically write in a journal what you want to remember from that year or vacation.  


If you aren’t a fan of writing, take a video. Interviewing your kids on camera can be really fun to watch. You can choose to interview them each year on their birthdays or before and after a school year.  The memories are saved digitally which you and your family can watch over and over again.

Click the image below to see an example of the questions you could ask at the end of a school year; End of School Year Interview Questions

Whatever you choose to do with your sentimental items, I hope it reduces your clutter and helps you become more organized. Remember to display and store your sentimental items in a way in which you will take the time to appreciate what you hold dear.

Best of Luck,

The Queen of Decluttering 

Mehgan recently moved back to Wisconsin and is taking advantage of all Madison has to offer! She graduated from UW-Madison in Family and Consumer Science Education and taught high school for five years before becoming a bridal store manager/wedding planner. Currently mom to her extremely active toddler Cora (March 2017), sweet baby Autumn (September 2018), and large Goldendoodle Benny (January 2010), Mehgan is relishing the opportunity to stay at home for the moment. Reading and blogging on her personal blog ( takes up any spare moments she can steal during naptime. Mehgan can't wait for summer when camping, zoo outings, and trips to Door County will be on the agenda.



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