Have you ever heard of the law of diminishing returns? I heard about it back in my Introduction to Economics class in college. In simple terms, it means that the incremental output/benefit you get from an incremental increase in the amount of input/work tapers off over time (holding all other variables constant).
For example, imagine you have a factory where the workers make clear plastic shoeboxes (the typical example is cars, but since I’m a professional organizer, I’m going with one of my favorite organizing tools). Initially, adding more people to the factory floor will yield a rapidly higher number of shoeboxes. However, as the number of employees increases, the factory floor will become crowded, people may disagree on how to best make shoeboxes, bored workers may start checking social media, etc. As a result, although the yield of shoeboxes will continue to increase, it will be at a slower rate. Eventually, you could add so many workers that the factory floor becomes too chaotic to be productive, and your yield could actually decline (this is called “negative” — as opposed to “diminishing” —returns).
This all sounds a little technical. For my visual readers, look at the picture below. You see that early on, each increase in input results in a large increase in output. As you move right along the graph, you see that there comes a time when more input only yields a small increase in output.
What does all this have to do with memorabilia? I believe accumulating memorabilia yields diminishing returns.
Let’s look at an example. Imagine you have one small box of memorabilia. The old Bing Crosby Christmas song The Littlest Angel comes to mind, in which a young angel has collected a few items from his time on Earth:
“A butterfly with golden wings
A little piece of a hollow log
Two shiny stones from a river bank
And the worn out strap of his faithful dog”
You may not be excited about the idea of a hollow log, but picture whatever has great significance to you. Looking through this box gives you pleasure and helps you feel connected to good things and happy times in your past. Periodically, you open it up, look through your treasures, and enjoy reminiscing. Storing your sentimental possessions isn’t hard because it is only one box. You have a positive feeling about your memorabilia.
Now let’s consider another scenario. In this case, you have an attic full of boxes, bins and bags holding memorabilia. Some of it belongs to you, some to deceased relatives and some to your children. There is so much, in fact, that you aren’t even sure what is up there. The attic is often freezing cold or uncomfortably hot, very dusty, and inconvenient to access because of the pull-down stairs needed to get up there. In fact, you can’t remember having ever gone up to spend time enjoying your memories. Instead of bringing you joy, the memorabilia feels almost like a weight on your shoulders. You feel you should be organizing it and probably getting rid of some of it, but you never have the time. You take some comfort in knowing you have these keepsakes, but you wonder if keeping all of it is the right decision.
In my experience, when it comes to memorabilia, less is more. A few items with sentimental significance are treasures, while a house full of them is a burden. Toss in heirloom furniture (or other large pieces) and your space can easily become overrun with items you lack space and/or energy to appreciate.
So what is a healthy approach to keeping and storing memorabilia? This is what I suggest:
- Give every family member a memorabilia storage container. A plastic bin works well, as does any box, or you can designate a drawer in an empty cabinet. Make sure there is one per person.
- Place the memorabilia storage in a (fairly) convenient location. It doesn’t have to be in the entryway, but it shouldn’t be so hard to reach that you resist putting things inside and instead pile them up on the counter.
- Develop a “flow” for your memorabilia. For instance, the trophy your child just won goes on the shelf over his bed. To make space for the newly arrived trophy, remove an older piece of memorabilia. If your child still feels an emotional connection to the older item, put it in his box.
- When the bin/box/drawer gets full, empty it out and assess the contents. Typically, you will find at least a couple of items that you saved in the past, but which now don’t feel so special. Clear out enough that you have some room to grow inside.
The key is to have a process in place so pieces don’t end up being randomly thrown into containers and shoved away out of sight. As an added benefit, most people find the process of periodically looking through their box of treasures to be fun. After all, you’ve kept this memorabilia specifically because you want to be able to look at it, talk about it and share the stories it triggers. Imposing a limitation on how much you keep (i.e. no more than fits in your bin) is a great way to balance your desire to connect with your past while living in the present.
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How much memorabilia do you have? Do you have a great tip to share on how to curate a collection?