The Best Kind of Memorabilia

Memorabilia is a fun and diverse category of belongings. We keep medals, awards, concert brochures, snippets of hair, love letters, ticket stubs, pressed flowers, vacation souvenirs, and a wide variety of other treasures. The common theme to memorabilia is that it connects us to meaningful events, experiences, and people in our past.

While memorabilia can be any type of object, there is one kind of memorabilia that is best. Do you have a guess?

Recently, I took part in an annual activity that gave me the answer to this question: I decorated my Christmas tree. Each year we decorate both an artificial tree and a live tree. We started this two-tree habit as my children grew older and we found we had accumulated more ornaments than could fit on one tree. We have low ceilings in our house, so we couldn’t simply go with a taller tree. As a result, we decided to put one tree in the dining room and one tree in the living room. It works for us.

Our process involves putting on some Christmas music, getting a favorite beverage, and slowly unwrapping each ornament to be hung on the tree. When possible, it is a family affair. This year, all of us were able to trim the tree, and what I noticed most was the joy we had in retelling the story as each ornament was revealed. We laughed about the handmade ornaments from preschool, retold tales from family vacations, cried a few tears for deceased loved ones, and marveled at the workmanship from days gone by. We also had fun keeping an eye out for a few favorite ornaments (“has anyone seen the yellow M&M yet?”), and recalling landmark events (“Baby’s First Christmas,” “New Home,” etc.) It seemed like almost every ornament had a tale to tell.

This is when it struck me: the best kind of memorabilia is the kind we “use;” i.e., view, touch, talk about, etc.

Often, we put memorabilia in bins and boxes, stash it away in remote locations, and rarely – if ever – peek inside. The memories and their corresponding significance fade over time as we forget the details of their associated stories. Most people only consider accumulated memorabilia when relocating to a new home, when there is rarely sufficient time to review and enjoy the contents. Many also inherit memorabilia from deceased relatives, much of which arrives without explanation and therefore lacks meaning.

The question, therefore, is how we do collect and keep memorabilia in such a way that it adds value to our lives instead of becoming “one more thing” that we tote around and feel guilty about?

Here are my two golden rules:

FIRST, limit your memorabilia to a reasonable quantity.

I’m reminded of the old Bing Crosby song “The Littlest Angel.” According to the song,

“… all day he (the angel) would play with a little box

That to others had no words

Oh, but there were treasures in this little box

The treasures he brought from Earth.

Just a butterfly with golden wings

A little piece of a hollow log

Two shiny stones from a riverbank

And the worn-out strap of his faithful dog.”

If we have one small box or a couple of drawers containing our favorite items from the past, we are much more likely to enjoy their contents than if we have 15 boxes of memorabilia stacked on top of each other in the back of the attic or basement. A small amount of memorabilia is a treasure, but too much is a burden. Keep the items that stir the best and deepest memories and let go of anything about which you have neutral or negative thoughts.

SECOND, share the stories that these possessions hold.

Part of the fun of reviewing memorabilia is retelling the stories they represent. This is a great activity for a grandparent to share with a grandchild, a boyfriend to share with a girlfriend, a parent to share with a child, etc. Talking about our sentimental objects with others keeps the stories alive and enhances our relationships as we learn new things about the people we love.

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Decorating my Christmas tree each year is a “built-in” trip down memory lane. It epitomizes memorabilia at its best: limited in quantity, on display, and shared with others.

What are some of your favorite pieces of memorabilia? How often do you “use” them?