On Remembering


Memorial Day. I love that our country has set aside a day to think about and pay tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. Having this holiday on the calendar reminds us to remember. There are many ways we trigger our memory, including traditional activities, special meals, sentimental clothing, music, rituals and possessions. Clearly, recalling the past is a part of the human experience.

At the same time, in my work as a professional organizer, I repeatedly encounter the struggle to balance the number of items we keep for reminiscing against the need to keep space available for daily life. In pondering this conundrum, I’ve come up with five helpful truths on objects and remembering.

★ Remembering is important

The act of remembering serves many purposes, including…

  • Connecting us to the past
  • Reminding us that we are loved and belong
  • Recalling our accomplishments and victories
  • Inspiring us to persevere
  • Teaching us lessons about what does and does not work
  • Fostering gratitude

★ Objects can trigger memories

The very word “memorabilia” captures the idea of physical items that elicit memories. Looking at them, wearing them, smelling them or holding them takes us instantly back to a moment in the past. Although pieces may be faded, broken or damaged, we hold onto them because they remind us of something we don’t want to forget. Possessions can be an insurance policy against something or someone important disappearing from our lives.

Some objects trigger negative emotions 

Typically, we keep items because we enjoy the memories they trigger. However, periodically we hold onto things that make us feel badly. I’ve had clients tell me, “Every time I look at this I cringe,” or “Looking at this makes me realize how fat I’ve gotten,” or “I’ve never liked this, but I have to keep it.” Inanimate objects can evoke guilt, sadness, regret and shame, not because they have inherent power, but because they carry a negative emotional significance.

While we cannot control the feelings an object may evoke, we can control what we keep. If and when we realize that we are holding onto anything that undermines our self-esteem, the wise choice is to it let go. Life is hard enough without accumulating items that sabotage our efforts to be our best.

★ Objects need to be accessible to evoke memories

Do you have a box of memorabilia? Where is it? Often, we save items because we love the memory they stir, but then we stuff them away into boxes and bins that we never open. If the primary reason for keeping an item is to preserve a memory, we should store it in a place where we will be able to enjoy it:

  • Hang your treasured collection on a display wall
  • Print photo books and display them on a coffee table
  • Use the china set inherited from a beloved grandmother
  • Have a t-shirt quilt made from a child’s collection, etc.

★ Too much of anything is hard to enjoy 

One box of memorabilia is lovely. Twenty boxes are too many. Not only does it feel like too much to look at, it can also become a burden to store and maintain. Items held for remembering represent the epitome of “less is more.” A few treasured possessions are enough to keep your favorite memories alive. Release yourself from the idea that you must “hold onto it all” to ensure that you won’t forget. Nobody remembers every little detail of his/her life, and you are unlikely to forget the people and events that matter most. Importantly, you don’t want your home to become a crowded museum or storeroom, but rather a pleasing space to love, learn, relax and refresh.

*     *     *     *     *

How do memorabilia and the process of remembering enrich your life?

30 thoughts on “On Remembering”

  1. I especially appreciate that we don’t have to keep it all to remember. It’s overwhelming that we might need to be the keeper of stuff rather than appreciate the memory itself. I love how you tied these two topics together for us to gain a new perspective.

    1. I hear people say that they need the object to remember. That isn’t always true. It is more of loving the object and the memory, and then making a decision as to whether it justifies the real estate to sustain the memory. Of course, taking photos is another way to hold a memory. When memorabilia takes over a space or ends up out of reach, it isn’t serving a positive purpose.

  2. I love this post because as you know, I have trouble letting go of items and I look to your blog for sensible AND sensitive organization. Like.. you understand sentimental tendencies and still gently tell us how to proceed.
    This post hit me hard. We have to remember. And there are different ways to remember.
    I hope you had a peaceful Memorial Day.
    Tamara recently posted…Our Mother Son Day at the U.Fund Dreams Tour at MayfairMy Profile

    1. I did have a peaceful day. A day set aside to remember is truly a gift, and I’m touched each year when I realize how many have given their lives for freedom. I want everyone to be able to remember things that warm their spirit and teach them good lessons. I also want people to live where there is space for growth and creativity and serenity. It truly is a balance. Hugs to you, Tamara!

  3. I keep most of my little objects that hold special memories in my curio cabinet, It’s fun to look at these things occasionally and remember the trips we have shared. It also keeps everything organized and in one neat place!

    1. That is the perfect place… in a spot where you can see them and enjoy them. Plus, if the cabinet has doors, it helps minimize the cleaning:)

  4. Always good advise. I am trying to be better about getting rid of things and keeping things that really matter.

    1. I affirm your efforts, Dianne! Time can be helpful in making these decisions. Often, we keep an item one year, and then a year or more later realize we didn’t actually use it or get to enjoy it. This can make it easier to let go!

  5. I do have too many boxes of memorabilia that I should probably weed through. I always thought that once I was older, I’d enjoy going through all my stuff, but now it seems like more of an overwhelming chore than a fun way to remember good times.

    1. Songs have an amazing ability to take me back to a moment in my past… and it happens so quickly. Scents can do the same things. I think it is lovely to have a keepsake box with letters and small reminders of happy times. I tell all my clients that everyone needs a memorabilia box. But one box, not a room full of boxes:)

  6. You’ve addressed this challenging subject so beautifully, Seana. I had to go through my parents’ home and belongings just a year ago. Part of me wanted to keep every single thing, and yet I knew that those items were not what I really wanted. I found that taking lots of photos of their home before we began to dismantle it helped me let go of items I didn’t really want to keep but held many happy memories. Thank goodness for cell phones with cameras and storage!

    1. I just love the idea of taking photos of the family home. A coffee table book with photos of that special doorknob or the growth chart on the wall is something that can be frequently picked up and leafed through. I wish I had thought to do this before my parents left our family home. We did get a lovely photo of the front of the home, which is very special. I’m also thankful for the way that photographs can help us hold a memory.

  7. It’s so timely for me to read this. My father passed away last month, so my siblings and I have had the difficult task of clearing out his apartment. So much stuff that was memorabilia for him ended up in the trash, because it wasn’t meaningful to us. But there was a lot of stuff that held powerful memories for us as well. We’ve each taken a few items home with us, and I’m sure that over time we’ll be comfortable letting even more of them go.
    Janet Barclay recently posted…Summer and Your BusinessMy Profile

    1. That is a difficult and emotional journey, Janet. My condolences on your loss. Being able to take a few things that help you feel connected to your father is a blessing. It’s true that much of what we keep has no significance to the next generation, and perhaps this is a good thing, as it enables us to make the decision to let go. May the items you kept bring happy memories as you grieve.

  8. Seana!
    Great blog!
    Truthfully my memories are all in photos. I don’t like chachkies ..I like looking back at photos.


    1. Photos are a lovely way to look back. They truly capture the essence of the moment. And if you can get them in formats that you can easily access and enjoy, all the better!

  9. Just yesterday, Steve and I were talking about the few pieces that we have from our parents’ homes. We also have some things from our grandparents. Two things come to mind. First, we chose only a few things that we had room for. We didn’t want to be overwhelmed by the past. But we did want to have physical objects that reminded us of our loved ones.

    The second part is that the pieces we have (furniture, decorative objects, art, and housewares) are used regularly and enjoyed. They remind us of our family and all of the beautiful times we spent with them. So the memories are positive. And while a chair or dish isn’t the same as being with my loved ones, in some way, we feel that there energy and love remain part of our daily lives- not just in our hearts, but in this physical way.

    1. I love that the pieces you decided to keep are ones that you can use and enjoy at the same time. I have an old sewing cabinet that belonged to my grandmother, and I keep my sewing supplies in it as well. It is a pretty enough piece that it sits in my dining room. It is a functional way to think of my grandmother often:)

  10. I’ve never told a client to get rid of something that they truly loved. Except one client who had a bluer than blue costume that she’d wear on her way to a hootenanny. She asked and so I told her…out!! Even though she wanted to give it up I think she always missed that costume.
    It’s so true what you say, sometimes an item helps us to remember something [quite lovely] from the past. How many of those treasures can we really enjoy? I’ll never forget what a friend once said to me. In the midst of redesigning my home he said not every item can be fabulous. And he was right. We have to leave room for some things to shine!

    1. That’s a great a phrase, “Not everything can be fabulous.” I’ve learned over the years that most of what ends up in boxes in attics and basements is rarely, if ever, enjoyed. The best mementos are ones that we can see, perhaps use, and enjoy!

  11. Hi Seana,
    I love how you connected organizing and memorabilia with Memorial Day. Some really great advice and often those are the things that are hard to part with. I honestly didn’t know much about this day or that today was a holiday in the US. Hope you are having a wonderful day!

    1. I forget that our Canadian friends don’t celebrate this day. This is our nation’s day to remember all who have fallen in the line of duty for our country. It is also the “unofficial” kickoff to summer, at least it normally is. Nothing seems normal this year! The connection for me is remembering, and I agree that objects with emotional significance are the hardest to let go… and some of them should NOT go! Thanks for reading and hope you had a nice weekend as well.

  12. So many thoughtful comments, Seana, this is a great topic. I once asked a client what would happen if you didn’t remember that time, would it still have happened? She decided that the culmination of everything that she’s experienced in her life adds up to who she is today, whether or not she remembers each individual moment. And then we got on with opening some more boxes, LOL.
    Lucy Kelly recently posted…Are You a Hoarder?My Profile

    1. I think it is neither possible nor necessary to remember every moment of our lives, and I’m so glad you and client came to that conclusion together. Sounds like a fun session, and you handled it just perfectly!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.