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.

***

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?

18 thoughts on “The Best Kind of Memorabilia”

  1. What great advice as I am not going to lie when collecting memorabilia-type objects you could tend to get carried away. But your advice is truly helpful and sound in not doing that. So, thanks for sharing your wisdom with us here 🙂

  2. I love hearing about the way you unpack your ornaments, retell their stories as you decorate your trees. It sounds like such a lovely way to share history, memories, and family. I love that! It’s a fun twist by saying that the best kind of memorabilia is the “kind we use.” I get that “use” extends to multiple meanings.

    I’m wondering how closely tied memorabilia and collections are to one another. For instance, my husband collects large porcelain signs. Each one has a story of where and how he got it. The signs are visible and not stored away. I hadn’t considered them as memorabilia. They aren’t love letters or Christmas ornaments. But they do hold many stories that have become part of our lives.

    Interesting to think about that distinction.

    Enjoy your beautiful trees, the warmth of the season, and the wonderful, cherished memories held in your ornaments.

    1. I think memorabilia and collections are closely intertwined. Most collectors have “memories” of when they acquired each piece in their collection, so that overlap. I love that your husband’s signs are up and on display. I imagine visitors love gazing at them and hearing the stories of where they came from and what they are about. Wishing you a very happy holiday season with whomever is able to gather near. Hugs to you all!

  3. Memorabilia is a big one for me. I keep a lot of it. When I revisit my baby album through college album, it’s like reliving the highlights of my life. I really enjoy it. I did remove any images or objects that brought me negative memories.

    If I truly loved a piece of memorabilia, I would frame it or display it in my curio cabinet. I walk by the cabinet every day and peer inside. It’s lovely to see all the happy memories.

    In recent years, I have taken pictures of items I do not want to keep any longer. I made a folder on my computer called memorabilia on it. I then would get rid of the item. It has saved me so much space in my smaller home.
    Sabrina Quairoli recently posted…Essential Products For a Well Organized Craft RoomMy Profile

  4. I love your explanation about memorabilia because it focuses on its importance. I was thinking about it, the different memorabilia I have and you’re right.
    I kept some thing, of one of my sweet pups, who is no longer here, in the top drawer of my nightstand. I get to look at it frequently and when I do, I think of so many special memories. Then of course, I talk about him to whom ever is in the room at the time, probably the same old stories.
    This is probably why photo albums, framed photos and Chat books are so popular.
    Ronni Eisenberg recently posted…A Happy Morning Routine That Will Absolutely Change Your DayMy Profile

    1. It’s wonderful to put memories into a book you can pull out and review. I did that with my children’s preschool and elementary art. The last time my 27 year old was home she really enjoyed leafing through them!

  5. What a lovely and personal story for setting the stage for this post. My family doesn’t decorate for holidays, per se, but we have so many “practical” items that serve as useful memorabilia: different china patterns, a tiny copy pitcher and bowl for ceremonial washing of hands at the Passover seder, the menorahs we have used through the years. Although these serve practical purposes, talking through the memories makes using them so much more meaningful. Your advice is spot-on!
    Julie Bestry recently posted…Clutter-Free Holiday Gifts for the Weird Year of 2020 (Part 2): Giving Well, Giving BackMy Profile

    1. I think those elements of the seder and celebrations ARE memorabilia, even though they serve a function. I’ve seen beautiful menorahs, and there is often a story behind where each one came from. Or, we have fond feelings when we pull it out year after year. Items associated with annual holidays are more likely to be seen and touched than those with no associated celebration.

  6. Seana, you have hit the nail on the head! It is in retelling the stories that the memorabilia gets to live again. I love your tradition with your ornaments. My daughter-in-law asked me to send a Christmas ornament to my granddaughter this year – she is 3. A perfect age to begin the tradition of collecting ornaments. She’s into unicorns so, naturally, I sent her a Hallmark unicorn to start her collection. Thank you for sharing this with us it’s valuable information and information to take to heart.

  7. I love your quote “the best kind of memorabilia is the kind we “use;” i.e., view, touch, talk about, etc.”. I’ll definitely share it. You are so right about memorabilia. It is meant to be shared.

  8. This is one my favorite parts of my job. Clients are often sentimental about these types of items and I’m happy to indulge them in the memory as we sort. It takes more time, but it’s an essential part of the process, in my view. I like the way you phrase the answer to your title question and I’m definitely going to ask my clients to help them make smart decisions!

  9. That makes sense! They’re used. And I’m a storyteller so ones with stories get me the most.
    I do get sad when there are ones I don’t remember anything about. And it’s not even that they didn’t mean anything – it’s just that the stories behind them sometimes get shaken out of my brain, or buried deep. Such is life when you’re thinking about too much at once.

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