Do You Have a “Happy Box?”

Do you have a “Happy Box?” You probably do, even if you don’t know it. A “Happy Box” is simply a bin or box where you keep memorabilia. If you have been following me, you know that I am a strong believer in giving each member of the family a container for storing memorabilia. All of us, from babies to seniors, have some items that we keep for sentimental reasons, everything from love letters to awards to newspaper clippings. Just like our other possessions, objects like these need a designated place in which to live.

I like the phrase, “Happy Box” because it helps us decide what should be stored within. Believe it or not, we sometimes keep items – even memorabilia – for the wrong reasons. Maybe we feel we “should” keep an article because it has a family member’s name inside. Or, we keep a book because it has an inscription on the inside cover. Perhaps we feel the burden of maintaining family records. Often, we keep things without much thought, simply tucking them away with the vague belief that we might want to look at them in the future.

Generally speaking, when it comes to why we “should” keep something, the answer is typically threefold:

  1. Because we use it now or expect to use it in the future
  2. Because it has investment value
  3. Because it brings us pleasure

By its very nature, memorabilia is not something we use. If it has investment value, it probably warrants safe and protective storage. The bulk of sentimental items are kept for the third reason, because they bring us pleasure or make us happy.

The first step in setting up a “Happy Box” is to gather the memorabilia you have accumulated so far. Spread out your accumulated items and take a look. This can actually be a very fun process for a rainy day or weekend. Of course, if you have 20 boxes of memorabilia in the basement, you will likely need to review it slowly, over the course of multiple days.

The reason to do this step first is that you are likely to come across some items that don’t fit the criteria. In other words, you have probably held onto objects that no longer make you happy. For instance:

  • The “participant” trophy from a youth sporting team
  • Letters or objects from a relationship that went sour
  • Clothing that has degraded or been eaten by insect
  • Tickets or programs from events you don’t remember
  • Dime store trinkets from previous trips that you wouldn’t display

Our goal in keeping memorabilia is to feel good, so anything that makes you feel guilty, resentful, bitter, disappointed, or otherwise down should be eliminated. In addition, you may discover that you no longer have an emotional attachment to some of the things you have kept. This is perfectly normal! Life is an ever-evolving journey, so it is understandable to decide, for example, that the rattle your Mother saved “for you” evokes no emotional response.

Think of this step as a treasure hunt, where you are seeking to pull out the pieces that mean the most. The ones that you gravitate toward, that you pick up and immediately have a story about, are the ones you should definitely keep. Items that you feel lukewarm about, or for which you cannot tell a story, can go.

Once you have curated your collection, it is time to store it in your “Happy Box.” As I said, I believe everyone should have at least one box. Some people may need more than one. I caution you, however, against collecting too much. If we have one or two boxes of special pieces, we are apt to periodically pull out them out and enjoy the contents. However, if we have stacks and stacks of boxes in the attic that are dusty and difficult to access, we are likely to forget about them, and correspondingly everything that we have kept inside.

What kind of container is best for a “Happy Box?” There is no single right answer. An ideal container will be:

Easy to access

A box that is placed at the bottom of a closet, under a bunch of other stuff, won’t get used. When storage is inconvenient, the tendency is to stash items on nearby shelves, drop them on the floor, or leave them on other surfaces “just for now.” Understandably we simply don’t want to undertake the hassle of digging down and putting items inside.

Adequately sized

Children generally need larger boxes, as they bring home giant pieces of artwork, bulky trophies, and otherwise awkwardly-sized pieces.

Within budget

You don’t need to go out and invest in expensive boxes. There are lots of affordable options, including a cardboard box you already own.

Protective

We want to use containers that will protect the contents, especially if we will be keeping them in a location that tends to be dirty or can be damp.

Attractive, if out on display

Sometimes we may choose to keep our box on a shelf, coffee table or other public space. When this is our location, we will want to get a box that fits our décor and has a lid.

In addition, it is important to note that your “Happy Box” doesn’t need to be an actual box. It can also be a drawer, a bag, a trunk, or any other container in which items can be easily dropped.

Once you have set up a clean, easy-to-access location for each family member, there are a few further steps you can adopt to keep the process running smoothly.

  1. Label each box with the owner’s name. This is helpful if the box gets moved and you forget whose belongings are inside.
  2. Don’t feel you need to immediately force every object into the box. It is healthy to allow yourself to put new pieces on display while the memory is fresh. As yet newer pieces arrive, simply move any “save worthy” older items into the box.
  3. Periodically review the contents. This shouldn’t be a chore, as the whole reason for keeping memorabilia is to look at it and enjoy the positive thoughts. You can either do this according to a timetable (e.g. once a year), or simply when the box is full.

For inspiration, and if you are in the mood to do a little shopping, here are a few containers that might meet your needs.

Again, the options are endless. It can even be a fun project to let children decorate their own box with markers, stickers, or whatever you have on hand.

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Objects that make us feel happy, when properly cultivated and stored, can be a source of joy and a wonderful way to preserve precious memories.

Do you have a “Happy Box?”

25 thoughts on “Do You Have a “Happy Box?””

    1. Just a fun name for an important object, right? Your girls are lucky that you have saved a few – but not too many – treasures for them!

    1. I think I envision taking one with me to my senior living accommodation. How much would I take? What would mean the most? What would I love looking at and telling my grandchildren about? That’s the good stuff!

    1. Exactly, Julie. Maybe those tickets meant something back in the day. However, they also could have kept from a relationship that I no longer care about, so why hold on? You are making me think of a drawer full of old Playbills… I would pitch them, but so far, my girls want me to hold onto them. Baby steps!

  1. Seana- I love the process you describe for honoring the treasures and letting go of things that no longer have meaning. OR, more importantly, release the things that evoke sad memories. I had tucked away a box of sympathy cards I received when my dad died. I read them at the time, but couldn’t let go of them. They are now tucked away in the top of a closet. You’ve made me think about whether it might be time to let them go. I don’t know if I want to reread them. But perhaps I can find a few that are meaningful, keep those, and release the rest. Thank you for the gentle nudge.

    1. I think about what I would enjoy reviewing in my latter days, perhaps sharing with loved ones. If the emotion is pain or regret, I don’t need that. Cards and notes of condolence may have treasured memories tucked inside that evoke fond memories, and those are probably worth saving. I don’t know about you, but when I talk with clients about cards in particular, I normally say, “If it has a hand written note, it may be worth keeping. But if it is simply a Hallmark sentiment with the words “Love _________,” it can go.

  2. Hi Seana,
    Interesting post. I am sure I have a few boxes around of things I have kept and do not want to let go of – some old letters, cards, and other things from the past. I love the idea of calling it my happy box. I think this can be a really tricky issue for our clients because often everything is a treasure and it can be so hard to make decisions of what to keep and what to part with. Certainly needs to be a slow and thought out process for someone who has a lot of those items they have kept over many years.
    Kim recently posted…How To Get Motivated? (to declutter)My Profile

    1. Yes, for those who struggle with chronic situations, this process is more complex. Context can be helpful, but their issue is different, because they see value & stories in every object. Nonetheless, it can be helpful to cultivate a mindset that there are objects that justify keeping, and then there are objects that are not worth keeping. The idea that everyone might keep some – but not all – items for sentimental purposes. Even that basic concept is important to continually work toward.

  3. Oh boy, do I have a “Happy Box”! I have a few. But, these days, I am streamlining those boxes. I recently took photos of the items and recycled or trashed them. I found that the ones I pick up and don’t have a story, I get rid of it right away as you mentioned above. If it is forgotten, the object doesn’t do anything for me but take up space. We have under the bed boxes in our attic with the kids and my keepsakes in it.

    Recently, I decided to scan photos and then get rid of the albums that were my parents. I found an app called “PhotoScan” by Google, and they take five images and lay them on top of themselves to create one vibrant, high-quality picture. It is amazing! I was able to do my parents’ wedding photos, and they were super bright like they would if you scanned the image. And the task was super easy and quick.
    Sabrina Quairoli recently posted…How to Transform Your Home to an Organized SpaceMy Profile

  4. This is so funny. I just unearthed my happy box this weekend with my teenagers. It contained items from middle school through college. My kids were laughing amazed at the young person they currently see as “Mom.” It was a bonding experience.

  5. I call mine my Treasure Box, but it seems the last few years I’ve been discarding more than I’ve been putting in! Some of the items I’ve kept were from my early childhood, and now that I’m a grandmother, I thought it would be fun to show them or pass them on to my grandchildren. Unfortunately, not everything has passed the test of time and I couldn’t see any point in keeping them. Fortunately, others have, and I was very excited to pass on some doll clothes, made by my mother and her mother, to my only granddaughter.
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    1. I had a similar experience with some of my own treasures. I know some of these items held great value to me at one time, but they really no longer do. So, I’m culling a bit. I want the ones I keep to be the real “zingers!”

  6. I call my “happy box” my sentiment box and my goal is to have it be so curated and light that I could take it with me if I ever had to move into residential care. I resonated with many of the ideas you shared here, especially the idea that we’re not the archivist, so we don’t have to keep a record of everything. That’s such a freeing realization!

    1. Nobody should bear an unwanted burden of feeling the need to document the family history. Of course, if this is your hobby, then have at it. However, if it isn’t, keep what matters to you. Love your goal of being able to take it to the next phase of life. I think that is brilliant!

  7. I come home from every vacation with stuff (maps, menus, brochures) of the places I’ve visited. I think I’m going to keep them, but after they sit for awhile I always realize that I have one plan for them so they get tossed. I still have the memories. I don’t need the stuff.

    1. I was talking about items like these recently with a client. You either have to put them together in a fun way or pitch them. Odds are, if you go again, the information will be out of date and you’ll end up Googling the information anyway. I used to keep a lot more than I do now for sure.

  8. So that’s the name for it! I love some of the examples you show, like that one with stars. I unfortunately (or fortunately) have more than one happy box. It’s not too too much. It’s funny how, like you said, sometimes you find your don’t have attachment to what’s in there.

    1. I was thinking I might pull some of mine out and do some culling. I know I have kept things that no longer resonate, so I’m ready to let them go. Those Meori boxes come in all sizes and patterns, even mini ones, which I love!

  9. Seana,
    I love the name and the association, Happy Box. It’s perfect for all ages.
    As I was reading through, I could not help but think about how much happier I would be if my grown kids with stop by and pick up their happy boxes. Wouldn’t that be a nice next step?
    I have to admit that I love to peek through old photo albums and letters and trinkets and souvenirs and mementos of a beautiful life.

    1. I’m laughing about your comment. I have both of my girls’ Happy Boxes, and they have more than one. My oldest is about to go to business school, moving into a smaller apartment. I think I’m going to have theses boxes in my attic for awhile LOL!

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