Curb the keepsakes

A guest post by Julia St. Charles

My mother’s home is full of “too good to use” items and random objects from babyhood and toddlerhood.

I’d love to write an open letter to young parents along the lines of:

Dear Young Parents:

If you are going to save mementos from your children’s early years, please do not save everything.  Except for handmade or heirloom items, like the baby quilt Grandma made, or the hand-knit layette from Aunt Barbara, give outgrown clothing to Goodwill — ordinary clothing will be both too physically aged and too far out of style for your imagined future grandchildren to use.  When you do pack away the hand-knit layette and handmade quilt, get storage advice from a professional so they are not opened 25 years later for the first grandchild, only to find they have been destroyed by moths.

Your children will let you know which favorite items they want to hang onto: that special Dr. Seuss book, that favorite Teddy bear.  You won’t have to ask. Please do not save each and every toy, birthday gift or other belonging “in case they want to take a walk down memory lane one day.”  Forty years from now your daughter will not want that card from her third birthday, whether the giver can be identified or not.  Keep only a few “milestone” birthday and Christmas cards if you wish, and try to limit those to people who are deceased, as that may be all you have left from them.

Another thing your child will not want is old schoolwork assignments.  Really, they won’t want those fifth grade math tests and report cards, no mater how many A’s they got.

Keep photos and very few “things.”  99% photos.  Your middle aged daughter will not want to inherit an attic jam packed with broken Barbies, musty toddler clothes and tattered holiday cards “for a special three-year-old!”   Think ahead: “will I be leaving an inheritance or a burden?”



Today’s Mini Mission

Take a quick look in the bathroom and find something to declutter. It’s that simple. Don’t fuss don’t hesitate just find that one thing and get it our of there.

Today’s Declutter Item

Talking of children’s keepsakes… this is the last of my son’s Snoopy Collection. I gave it to a friend some time ago but misplaced the photo. So this will absolutely be the last photo of Snoopy stuff. Liam I am glad to say is very good at letting go of stuff.

The absolute last of my son's Snoopy Collection

“In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.” Brother David Steindl-Rast

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow

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  • What is right for you? I often get comments from people contradicting my suggestions regarding what to declutter and pleading their case on why they keep certain items or collections of things. Avid readers […]
About Colleen Madsen

Colleen is the founder of 365 Less Things and lives in Newcastle, Australia.


  1. beautiful guest post/letter.
    I am glad my mum only saved some items. its tiny bracelets from the hospital with our names and birthdays on. a lot of pictures, really cute clogs in red, which were my first shoes, two stuffed animals from early childhood and a lot of drawings that are hanging everywhere in the house. No cards and no clothes.
    I remember that my mum asked me if I wanted to keep my first tooth that fell out, and I said yes. so she got me a little dose where we could put them in. I saved that for all my life until I realized, I dont have any attachment towards it, I kept it, because it belonged to my belongings. I asked my mum if she wanted to have it, because I will throw it out. She said yes, for her this has more sentimental value than for me.

  2. Ok, I am guilty!!!! While I am good about getting rid of almost everything else, I have kept a folder of my older son’s schoolwork. I didn’t know what to do about it, but now I do. I will go thru it and pull one or two things, for me to keep. I will also go thru my youngest son’s keepsakes and downsize those as well.

    • Hi Marcy and welcome to 365 Less Things. Now that I have approved your comment hopefully Julia will see it and respond to it. She speaks from experience that’s for sure.

  3. I just recently parted with a huge Rubbermaid box full of my childhood keepsakes. Most of the things that I got rid of I did take photo’s of first & made a computer photo folder called “Jane’s Childhood Things”, otherwise I kept just a few true keepsakes – well things I consider true keepsakes.

    My fav stuffed animal, 1 little dress, birth announcement, all my Brownie, Girl Scout & Cadet sashes & pins. Plus a few other little fav memento’s but everything else I trashed really had no deep-rooted sentimental value to me.

  4. My mother saves anything she can. Some of the stuff she recently showed me so I could use on my daughter has that sticky red/brown stuff on it (mildew, I think?) and it’ll need to be cleaned very well before my girl can even use it. Tsk.

    I do save some things, but only for a few years. A recommendation to other parents of babies/young children: get rid of what you can stand to get rid of and box up the rest. As the time passes, it gets easier to pass on the baby stuff and only keep a handful of favorites (that can be used on dolls or saved or be made into a quilt). With my son, I sold some baby clothes, donated some and then I saved boxes and boxes of my favorites. (He was my first.) Then, every 6 months I’d go through and get rid of what I could. Now I’m left with a very small bunch of clothes from when he was a baby that I’m not using on my daughter and I passed the rest on to my nephew/someone else.

    I’ll do something similar with my daughter. It’s very hard, when they’re fresh out of babyhood, to just let go of their baby stuff. I wrote something on it, sort of, here:

    Hope that helps someone! I am in no way an expert but considering I have two young kids (4 years old preschooler and a 3 month old baby), I do pretty good keeping the kid clutter to a minimum. Something I do must be working so I’ll share what I know! 🙂

    • Oh, something else I meant to say! My sister-in-law is a talented knitter. She knits for my kids a lot, especially Liv. Since Olivia was so recently the size of her “little sister bunny”, I set some of it aside to use ON her bunny. In fact, Amie Bunny is wearing a skirty right now that Olivia could only use for about 2 weeks and it looks super cute. 🙂 That way, the stuff gets actively used and doesn’t just go in a bin to rot until Liv is old enough to appreciate it. “Too good not to use” – did I get that right? 😉

  5. Grace from Brazil

    THANK YOU! I am on my way to throw out old school work papers now…before I have time to stop myself! (Ha!) You are absolutely right. Of no use whatsoever!

  6. Great letter, Julia. You’ve made all the right points.

  7. I’ve found that there are still far more things stored for me than I knew of. Not only at my mother’s house, but also at my father’s and at both my granny’s homes.
    Oh, my.
    A lot of it is still in very good condition, many toys and books. I think, I won’t have to buy anything for my future children…

  8. Good letter idea Julia. I think this would a neat thing to put in a New Parent book. I have an aunt who not only kept everything her e boys did and stuff but she has kept every greeting card she has ever received in her 76 years from family and a few special friends.

    One good thing that I can say about my Mom’s packratism is that she didn’t stash a whole lot of my brother’s or my childhood things. She kept our birth bracelets, a few report cards, a couple of special cards and a couple of really nice outfits. She kept everything sealed up in a special box in her cedar chest until we were old enough to decide what to do with it all. My brother chucked it all out. I kept the birth bracelet and a couple of other things and put them in a scrapbook. The clothes we gave to my cousin for her girls.

  9. Wow, people keep clothes :p My mum hasn’t kept anything, and has no idea where the family baptism gown is!! (nor does my grandma!). Clothes were worn and handed down/on. I do have birth bracelets. I also have the school fees of a school I might have gone to (amusingly ‘cheap’ in today’s $$). She has kept year 1 & 2 report cards which hold true even today (always rushes her work, could spend more time, and have more accurate/correct results…!) But all my school (til I was 17) is contained in one archive box (bit bigger than a box of paper – 5 reams). I have another one of those for uni, and that’s it!

  10. I disagree about the schoolwork. My mother threw away everything. I’d love to see some of my old schoolwork. I managed to hold on to two things. The trouble with having a purger for a mother is that it would have been better if she had let me participate in the decisions. By the time I made it into 7th grade, I was better at hiding things from her, so I managed to save a few items from that time. Maybe some kids or even most kids don’t care, but I did.

    • Jude, I know what you mean. My parents hardly saved anything. My childhood mementos are mostly ones that I saved. Oddly enough, my mom’s a bit of a pack rat. It was just other people’s things that she would give away. 🙂

    • Exactly!

      Making your kid throw out their treasured collection (of a reasonable amount of items) is wrong.

      Not keeping any schoolwork or mementos from their childhood is wrong. Just because the parent is a clutter freak doesn’t mean the child shouldn’t have a respectable number of mementos, including photos, a few baby outfits, and some school assignments/art.

  11. Excellent post. It should be handed out to every new mum when they leave the maternity ward!

    My kids are still primary school age and they like to look back on their school work/reports. For each of them I have an A4 folder with plastic inserts and only the ‘important’ school stuff from each year goes in there. My daughter is in Grade 6 this year and her’s is almost full. I’m sure as the years go by most of this stuff will seem less/not important to them, but at the moment it’s my clutter-free solution.

    They also each have an archive box with keepsakes; I started saving all their birthday cards but soon saw the light and chucked most of them away. I didn’t want them to end up with THREE boxes full of cards each, like I did when I left home 🙂

  12. Great Post/Letter, this is so true in many ways. My mum never kept any of our things, I have a couple of bits from years ago and I remember saying at one stage that I wish my mum had saved more. After having this same conversation with my son about his things, he was happy to get rid of anything that wasn’t significant. In hindsight I am so glad that I didn’t have a lot kept for me because to be honest I would have thrown 99.9% anyway. It’s not that I don’t want to hold anything dear to me it’s just that through ‘Brain Change’ I really look at everything differently now. What was once dear has definitely changed over time. The thing is not the person or place, hopefully my memory will stay intact for quite awhile and I can spend a lovely time remembering things and times with my loved ones. I have what I want and need and if some catastrophe should strike I will be able to take it in my stride. I hope it doesn’t but I’m prepared to accept ‘Loss for things’ if need be.

    My niece, at her young age has won over the years 100’s of trophies and medals and certificates for dancing. My sister recently purchased bookshelves for said trophies. A whole wall is dedicated to housing them all and in the near future I can only see more being added! Now don’t get me wrong I think it’s great that she has achieved so much and she is a very talented dancer. I asked her one day what she will do with all her trophies when she leaves home and her mum said if she doesn’t want to take them with her then they’ll stay in the family home! My next question was what will my niece do when the inevitable happens to her parents and she’ll have to take them and she said “I’ll probably be over them by then!” Whoa!!!! So as a gift to her I have offered to help her remove all the nameplates and mount them in shadow boxes and donate all the trophies back! That was met with a “NO WAY”!!! I’m now officially out of taking care of the trophies advice group hahaha.

    My son doesn’t have 100’s of trophies but what he has aquired through his life, has already been declared a ‘Slightly de-clutter zone’! He is quite willing to have all plates removed and put in a frame at some stage. He is also very aware that in the future, he may not want to re-live the ‘Glory Days’ and certainly doesn’t want to drag his ‘Stuff’ around the world, but doesn’t want to dump it on us either! I’m so proud of my little (BIG) ‘happy to de-clutter’ son!

    I do have some keepsakes for him, but he regularly tells me that something can go! I do believe that making your kids responsible for their own keepsakes makes them become responsible for decision making now that won’t end up in them lamenting about things that weren’t kept. No matter how well we preserve, look after and move around from home to home, at some stage something can/maybe will go wrong and it will be gone anyway! Sad but True.

  13. My lovely Mum is a packrat but a disorganised one so I wasn’t overly-surprised to see my middle-school reports (ages 8-12) in the sideboard drawer at her house where the tablecloths live. Did I want them? Nope. They were filled out in haste by harried teachers 40 years ago, each of whom had classes of 40 kids and probably just put some kind of generic comment on it. They have no bearing on the person I’ve become and as I’m nobody who is likely to have a biographer needing to access an archive, they are useless. She wanted to keep them, so they are kept, and will be dejunked eventually.

  14. My parents kept pretty much everything from our youth. What a waste of space. The stuff we own ends up owning us.

    Love the tip of the day to declutter one item from the bathroom. Doing it now!


  15. I noticed that’s the “absolute last” of the snoopy collection…any suggestions on how to keep kids/family members from starting collections? Or is it better to let them start collections and just impose limits?

    • Making a collection is such a natural and fun thing, I don’t think I could deprive anyone of it. However, limits are definitely useful. And there usually comes a point (especially with children) when they’ve grown out of it and moved on to the next thing. Often making the collection is the interesting process and they don’t care so much what happens to it afterwards.

  16. My Mom kept almost nothing, and I do wish she’d kept a bit more. I had a teddy bear from my childhood. That’s it. When one of the girls was born, Mom found a quilt that a great-grandma of mine had made. We use that as a wall hanging in the youngest’s room.

    What I wonder, though, was would she have kept the things that I wish I had now: my “Big Baby,” my Breyer horses (had to rebuy those for my girls), and my complete collection of Nancy Drew books (although I have to confess, I’ve tried to read Nancy to my girls and none of us are interested in her). That seems to me like the tricky part of saving.

    I haven’t saved any of my daughters’ clothes. We saved the board books and picture books that I read to them over and over, and a couple of wooden toys that they especially liked. These items are stored in the top of a closet in the house, not in the attic, which would surely be too harsh for them.

    • Cindy, you’re so right that it’s the difficult part to save the things precious to the kid.
      My Mom let us go to some children’s flea markets (not sure, if that’s the right word for it in English, a kind of flea market/boot sale where only kid’s stuff like toys and clothes is sold) and sell our old toys there – we were free to choose what to sell though. That’s why I don’t have any Barbies or related equipment left (thankfully). I sold it all.
      The “problem” are those playmobil toys and others that are neatly stored at my grannie’s or my father’s which I am not allowed to declutter although they’re saved for me. (now, where’s the sense in that?!?) These toys aren’t even bad, I think, I’d like them for my kids, but the fact is that they were far too many, even when my siblings and I were children. You don’t need a plastic forest that may fill 2 square metres as well as the matching plastic doll house, a pirate’s island and a complete train set. (and who knows what else, I could have forgotten half of it). It would have been much better, if I had my hands on it now (or 10 years earlier that is): I’d keep a small set of favourites in good condition and sell the rest. Now I’ll have to wait with that for another 5 or ten years. Oh well.

    • It took me a while to figure out what to do with my Breyer horses. I loved them dearly as a kid and had amassed a decent sized box of them. New, they’re kinda expensive. But even if I have kids, I don’t know whether they’ll want horse figures. I realized I should find a kid (cousin’s daughter) at the right age to play with them now rather than keeping them around in a box waiting for possible kids to become old enough.

      Now to do the same with my husband’s legos…

      • Hi Rebecca, I dare say by handing them on now they will then be handed on again and again. They may even end up back with your children should you have some one day. Whether they do or they don’t at least someone is enjoying them.

        By the way I believe you are new here commenting at 365 Less Things, so welcome to you. I hope you find lots of inspiration for decluttering.

  17. Thank you! This really set me free today 🙂

    • Hi Tara,
      Welcome to 365 Lessn Things. I am glad that Julia’s guest post had a liberating effect on you. Sometimes we just need to hear the right works that “give us permission” to do what out mind has been telling us we want to do. Going again convention can be quit a challenge at times.

  18. I have two small children and have recently started the task of decluttering my home. Funny as I have recently blogged under the title ” I flirt with hoarding” 🙂 I have found the Snapfish website to be very helpful. They have an entire section dedicated to children’s schoolwork and schoolwork. You can upload your favorites and make canvas prints/stationary/mugs or collage prints to actually make a keepsake that you can keep without having huge stacks of paper! I plan on scanning or taking pics of their early school work and creating one of their digital scrapbooks! — For their clothes. (a project I am currently smack in the middle of) I kept my favorites and am making a lap quilt for each child. They have all of their “first outfits” (christmas, halloween, first outfit, etc. along with others that remind me of them because they wore them so often. Then I feel free to donate or sell the rest. I might be addicted to consignment sales too… you can make really good money!

    • Hi Tiffany and welcome to 365 Less Things. When you read the following response to your comment you may think it sounds a little harsh but I couldn’t help be concerted that flirting with hoarding is less than what is really going on in your life.

      I hope that the strategies you speak of for reducing your children memory clutter has the desired effect. It seems to me though that you are possibly just transforming one form of clutter into another with even more sentimental value. This is perfectly fine if it has the desired effect of greatly reducing the quantity but by transforming the clothes into a lap quilt you are likely to be combining the original childhood clutter with a new element of handmade sentiment. I know this probably sounds a little pessimistic but I fear that you aren’t learning to let go do just changing the clutter into a new form. However if this exercise has reduced your clutter substantially, then good for you.

      I am curious about your suggestion that you could be addicted to consignment sales. Just remember you won’t make good money on the item if you don’t resell them. And from reading your blog post “I flirt with hoarding” I would suggest that that is one more task you don’t have time to deal with. Good luck Tiffany and just remember we are always here to give advice and encourage you on your way to a decluttered home. Just remember the less you have the less effort it takes to care for it leading to more time to spend on the things that really do matter ie. your family, here and now.

      • Thank You for your concern. I started looking at blogs to find somewhere where I could continue to find motivation to actually go through everything, and purge all things that I really don’t need. My family is about to move from about 1600 square feet home to around 850 sq feet, so I know it is really necessary. It seems that every time we move we end up just packing everything away, and then essentials get unpacked and you have boxes of things that just get left behind. I don’t want to put everything into perpetual storage. I do, and always had attachment to some things. I find sentament in a lot of things and have comfort in memories. My husband does not. He could just throw everything away because its been in the garage. I need to go through the boxes, because among the useless things are things that I desire to keep. (Not everything, ex: in one box I had my jewelry box I had as a child, with some earrings I thought I would die if I didn’t get as a child (for my daughter) and my mother’s wedding ring inside it) It is just that most of our things weren’t packed in a way where we can easily tell what is in them. ( a mistake I am not ready to make again) My snapfish ideas were only meant to be helpful. I love to scrapbook and quilt. They are stress relief for me. (If I wasn’t making a baby cothes quilt, I would be purchasing fabric to make one anyway!) I really thought that the snapfish idea for schoolwork was going to be a hit! I know I will keep some of their schoolwork for their scrapbooks, and knowing that I can upload my favorites and have it neatly tucked away in a book gives me some relief! I mostly thought of the quilt because I didn’t want to accumulate totes of baby clothes.

        • Hey Tiffany,
          welcome here. this blog can provide motivation, ideas and if you have a specific question even a lot of answers. I wouldnt have decluttered my home at all, if it wouldnt have been for this blog and the daily habit of reading and occupying myself with that topic. those people here are so great and will provide you with any help you might need.
          you seem to be a keeper of memories. Thats alright, I know how hard it can be to feel attached to stuff. And if you have problems in that area, start to declutter on those things you dont feel attached to. things you only kept because they were your belongings and it never occurred to you that you could actually throw it out, if you want to… one of the most important tips I learned here, is to do it on a daily basis. one item a day, no huge decisions, just one little step at a time. it soon becomes a normal habit and you find it gets easier from day to day. and suddenly you find yourself contemplating about getting rid of your stuffed animals from your beautiful childhood. (I am not a mother so I only have my childhood to get emotional about ;-))
          however, if you feel attached to ALL of your things you might want to consider reflecting a bit more on your feelings. Why do you feel attached? What would happen if you lost this item? could you find a way to bring up the related memories in another decluttered way? I guess a scrapbook might be an option, but I learned that I postponed projects often, so that they became (not only physical but mental) clutter too. And you really dont want to add, while you try to reduce. so if you DO the quilting and snapfish thing, keep doing it, but as soon as you realize that your intentions were higher than your actual motivation, be honest and find another way.

        • You sound like me several years ago. 🙂 It gets easier to let go of the physical reminders of memories.

          I am also doing a quilt or something with my kids’ clothes – the favorites, that is!

  19. I kept the wooden puzzles, any wooden toys (that are all plastic nowadays) and the really nice Tonka metal dump trucks. Also, some blocks and the Fisher Price toys. We have something that my granddaughter calls a CD player which is a Fisher Price record player for toddlers. I also kept the children’s classic stories (in paperback) and the little Golden books that belonged to my husband and the Hardy Boys books which my son now has at his house. Also, micro-machines (one small set) and legos (although most of these are my son’s and reside at his house). My grands love to come and play with these “old-fashioned toys” and when they are too old for them, I’ll put them away for my son in case he has kids. There are not too many things and they have not been a burden to keep. Most everything is in a crate in the room they sleep in when they visit (except for the trucks which reside in the basement). They know just where to go to find their toys. It is really fun to watch them enjoy the things my kids played with. With all the electronic gadgets at their house, these quiet, creative toys bring out a different side to the children.

    • Hi Maggie,
      it never seems like much until you write it all our in a list does it. I think, if they are still being used then they aren’t clutter and it sure sounds like both you and the kids are getting great fun out of them still. It is nice to see kids playing with old fashioned toys isn’t it. They still know how to do it too and in fact I think they often enjoy them more. Lets face it lego and Tonka trucks will never grow old.

    • I’m glad you treasured some of your children’s treasures.

      Isn’t it cool to share some of your kid’s things with grandkids?

      People who get rid of everything scare me as much as people who keep everything scare me. You have the perfect balance of clutter-free and memory keeping. It’s so cool for your kids and grandkids to get to enjoy some of the same childhood treasures. Antiques are awesome!

  20. I don’t like clutter, but I completely disagree with this post.

    SAVE a few baby outfits for you kids.

    SAVE some t-shirts and have a t-shirt quilt made for their graduation.

    SAVE a small box of toys. Respect their memories, their treasures…

    SAVE *a handful* of assignments. Make a scrapbook of their childhood art and assignments. Not 20 scrapbooks, but one scrapbook…

    These things are memories for them, and a small amount is something they can treasure for years.

    You have no idea how cool it is to hold your great-grandfather’s report card. I’m not suggesting to keep every item, but a small box full is small enough to prevent clutter while retaining memories.

    A “get rid of it all” attitude is not always right.

    • Hi adk and welcome to 365 Less Things. Your comment says practically exactly what the post said so I am not sure what you disagree with. It said to keep the special handmade layette, the kids favourite few books, some photos, get rid the every day clothes (it didn’t say all the clothes). I think you might have taken the examples a little too literally. What Julia was trying to say is don’t keep it all, be selective and she did say, at one point, to involve the children in the selection process. Julia comes from a family of hoarders so she knows what a tragic mess can arise from keeping everything. Her life has been very sadly affected by it.

      I can assure you my children have always very much been involved in the selection process from the very beginning so no problems here.

    • I have some photos that my grandmother passed down to me, spanning her wedding and my father’s childhood. Its really cool. I’m glad to have it. I’m also glad that I don’t have pages of photos from my other grandparents or my spouse’s grandparents or all of the greatgrandparents. It would be too much.