Day 166 Childhood Keepsakes

I received a comment from Loretta yesterday and here is what she wrote…

I’ve got a question for you: since your children are now grown, what advice do you have for those of us with younger kids with regard to keepsakes and clutter? Is there anything you regret not keeping for your kids, or did you (and they) keep ‘too much’ childhood stuff?

I recently went through a big box full of cards my mother kept for me from the time I was born: birthday, Christmas, invitations. I had 40 years worth! Tossed most of them, but realised I was doing the same thing for my kids. It is quite liberating to think I don’t NEED to keep this stuff any more!

Much to my Mother-in-laws horror I have never been one to keep too much of this kind of stuff. Because we move around every now and again due to my husband’s job I have continually decluttered over the years. My approach this time around is different, it is more of a case of minimising with the intent never to accumulate again. Below is  a list of some of the items I have kept for and of my children.

  • Baby cards (birth and Christening) Confirmation and First Holy communion cards and mementos (rosary beads etc.)
  • A few special outfits they used to wear ( Unique items I and my mum knitted for them)
  • One or two special toys. (a silver rattle and a music carousel)
  • My son’s Thomas the Tank Engine & Star Wars toy collections.
  • Some examples of their school work.

Which when you write it down like that it sounds like an awful lot. These are just the things I have kept for them. Once they were old enough to choose things they wanted to keep themselves that is when things started to pile up. I have always encouraged them to sell their old toys whenever I have had garage sales over the years and they were happy to make a little pocket money from that. Nevertheless, here is the list of what has accumulated over the years and is cluttering up every spare bit if space in their wardrobes….

  • Every band t-shirt/hoody my son has ever owned. (my children love their music)
  • Skateboard and Sports Illustrated Magazines
  • Travel souvenirs
  • KISS dolls
  • Every note slipped between friends at school that my daughter ever received (there are a lot)
  • A doll or two
  • 2 Build-a-bears
  • Every Rolling Stone magazine she received by subscription
  • Both have piles of CDs
  • Mariners Baseball souvenirs ( both children)
  • Photos frames with friends and other odd stuff (daughter)
  • Both have a sleeping bag (huge) that came from I don’t remember where but came in handy for sleep-overs and school camps.
  • A box of Little Golden Books and Dr Seuss books they were particularly fond of.

And I am sure there is other stuff but I have scared myself enough already with this lot. I think I have mentioned before that this is my area of doom when it comes to decluttering.

The beauty of my decluttering strategy is to leave the hard things until last but the day of reckoning is coming and I do plan to minimise these items. My daughter is visiting next week and she is aware that I am planning on going through her stuff while she is here and hopefully she will be prepared to part with some of it.

As much as this list of stuff is large and scary and I really would like to see it minimised I do believe you shouldn’t force you children to part with things they are not prepared to let go. I suppose the best thing is not to over indulge them in the first place. There isn’t anything I regret not having from my childhood but then I didn’t have much in the way of possessions we made our own fun those days building cubby houses, fishing with the family, and other physical stuff. I wouldn’t change that for anything.

Anyway I digress. In a couple of weeks I will let you know how things went with my daughter and I will speak to her and my son about this subject and how they feel about their clutter and if there is anything they wish they still had.

I would like to think that if you set a good example of living with less maybe your children will follow suit and feel the same way but you never can tell.

Thanks Loretta for such a great question. I know I have only given you half an answer but when I have actually dealt with my children’s clutter I will give you some feedback on how that went.


Another ebay sale $6.50. I guy from the local post office and I are on a first name basis now.

  • My son’s Thomas the Tank Engine Collection
  • My son’s Star Wars toy collection

Record $6.50 ebay

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Continue reading with these posts:

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  • Transient Stuff Much of what comes into my home these days is transient. Aside from groceries much of what does come in is free, secondhand, or both. And I have to say it makes it a whole lot easier to […]
  • What do I do with my childhood paper keepsakes? By Deb J I was reading through the posts from my friends on Facebook and came across one where the poster said, “I think I can truthfully say that I kept every award, essay, art project, homemade […]
About Colleen Madsen

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


  1. Calico ginger

    Inspirational as usual. BTW your example has prodded me into tackling my “too hard-to-eBay pile” – it will take me a few Sundays to get the photos, descriptions etc all done, but at least I’ve started…

    • Hi Calico ginger,
      thanks for the compliment. I know what you mean it can be a bit of a chore photographing, listing, watching, answering queries, mailing etc when it comes to ebaying but it can be a bit of fun too when your auctions go well. My husband has done most of our ebaying so he deserves most of the credit although I am the one who gets to do most of the mailing and creative packaging.

  2. WOW! Just let me go away for a few days and I come back to find you with a brand new blog look! It’s awesome Colleen!! Love this statement too – “Minimizing with the intent never to accumulate again” – that’s exactly my intent as well. See you again soon after I catch up a bit.

    • Hi Betty Jo,
      I had been telling my husband for a while that I would like to give the blog a new look and lo and behold I came home from work on Saturday and this is waht he had done. He’s not a bad bloke to have around. I think I will keep him for a while yet. LOL!
      As for “Minimizing with the intent never to accumulate again” I thought I had better clarify that as I have said I had decluttered so many times before. This time it is definitedly different and I have learned my lessons from the past.

  3. I have had to face the keepsakes both from the box of ALL the letters I ever wrote my mom (there are a lot) and the things my kids have left with me (which is very little). When my four kids grew up and left home after college, I insisted that they take their stuff with them. I told them that I’m not a storage unit. My parents did the same for me–my stuff is my responsibility. While my friends think I’m mean to my kids, I think I’m helping them grow up. If they’re moving their own stuff around with them, they learn what is valuable to them. Mostly, they’ve done a great job of their own decluttering. (Having neatnik spouses helped)

    • Good for you Willow,
      I agree with you insisting that the kids should take their stuff when they go. My daughter has left home but only to go and stay with her grandparents while she is in university in another state so we didn’t insist on her taking all her stuff with her. She will be home next week though and she will be helping me go through her stuff and lets hope she is ruthless.

  4. Thanks so much for that answer Colleen. I must admit that I’ve been quite ruthless in what I keep for the kids (who are almost 10 and 7, by the way). I kept only ONE item of clothing they both wore! I know my downfall is going to be their books. I cannot bear the thought of getting rid of their picture books (and neither can they). So far I’ve weeded out the ones that are no longer read, but we still have literally hundreds left! As for stuffed toys, they each have around a dozen, which fit on a shelf, and the rule is: one in, one out. So far that’s stopped them accumulating any more.

    My son (who is 7) is excellent at getting rid of stuff. He’d be happy with books, Lego and art materials.My daughter loves all her stationery, notes from friends, tiny plastic Japanese toys, jewellery, craft supplies but as long as there is a place for everything I don’t mind. She wants to sell some of her series books and an electronic keyboard, so I’ll let her do that.

    We don’t have a big house, so there is a limit to what I let in, and this year I’m pleased to say, that VERY LITTLE has entered, and MUCH has left 🙂

    My mum wanted me to leave all my childhood stuff at her place, but I insisted on taking most of it a few years ago, and culling 90% of it. Thankfully I did, as I didn’t have to worry about it when I cleared out mum’s house recently.

    Just a suggestion regarding your son’s t-shirts. I know people who have made quilts out of them. I made one of all my son’s Hawaiian-style shirts and pjs by cutting the material into squares, and it’s gorgeous (I’m a very basic sewer!)

    Good luck with your daughter! I’ll be very interested in hearing how it went.

    • I think you will find Loretta that your children will naturally grow away from certain things as they get older. I know mine did and they only kept the special things from back then. They have a fair amount of current clutter though. I reminded my daughter again today that we would be clearing out her room when she comes home next week and she seems to be down with that. She is 21 today.

      Like you we don’t have a big house and we intend on only going down in size as the kids leave home (for good) so they had better take their stuff with them or get rid of it.

      Thanks again Loretta for the inspiration for today’s post. I will keep you informed of my progress in this area.

  5. I’m following this one with interest, as I know I will have to have “the conversation” with my son about his childhood things later this summer!

  6. Your website has been an inspiration to me. I started my own 365 days of decluttering on June 1. I’m keeping myself accountable by recording my “outs” on my FB page.

    • Hi Cindy,
      nice to hear from you. How is your challenge going for you? Are you finding it easier and easier to make the hard decisions as you go along? Good luck and I hope you stick with it. Let me know how you go and drop in anytime with your comments and questions. You can also contact me through Contact Colleen at the top of my page.

  7. Another great post Colleen. As someone with an 18 month old daughter, I’m working on the what to keep and what to get rid of as she grows. I have a medium sized tub that I am using as my guideline for what stays. It will help keep me honest. 🙂

    On the other side of the coin, as children grow it is very important to have them involved in the keep/get rid of process. My parents divorced when I was a toddler, and both remarried. One summer when I was about 10 or so and away visiting my Mom, my stepmom went through my room and threw out a bunch of stuff including all my Barbies. In those days I was learning to sew and sewed all my own Barbie clothes. It was traumatizing for a kid. The worst part was at the same time, she threw out all my coorespondence that I had saved – neatly bound in my desk drawer – from my much beloved Granny. My Granny passed in 1998 and I would give ANYTHING to have just one of those letters back. At the time, my stepmom told me they were junk and I didn’t need them – by the way, she herself is a HUGE HUGE HUGE clutterbug!

    • Hi Donna,
      that is just awful and talk about double standards. I am know there are lots of wonderful stepmothers out there but some really live up to the Cinderella style reputation at times. That is why I made the comment about letting your children be involved in the process. When I was a child we weren’t so obsesed with possessions and for the most part we ended up waring things out so there was no point in keeping them. So long as we could rake up five cents to spend on candy or hot chips at the local store and had each other to play with we were happy.

  8. I’m trying to encourage my stepdaughter to go through the same culling process that I have been doing as far as childhood keepsakes go.

    When I was younger, I had boxes and boxes of “must keep” items. I make myself go through them every couple of years. It’s an opportunity to weed out some things that aren’t as important to me as they used to be and to re-enjoy the things that are.

    So far, stepdaughter has done it at 7 and 13. She’s now 17 and we’re due for another round.

    • Hi Stephanie,
      thanks for joining in it is great to get a variety of input the more we learn from each other the better informed we are.

      You have used the correct word there “encourage” because that is all you can do. As you can see from Donna’s response what is important to one person may not seem so to another and forcing someone to part with their treasures can have a very undesirable result. Years ago I convinced my husband to throw away some letters he had received from his cousin from when they were teenagers. These letters were very personal between them both when she was going through some rough times and he would have had his own teen issues back then too. Unfortunately she died recently in her early forties and I know he now wishes he had those letters to look back on.

      I have deliberately left the really personal stuff until later in my decluttering process for three reasons…
      1. Because by then I will have learned all I need to learn and can approach it without being over sentimental
      2. By then I will know if there is room to keep back a few extra things I am not sure about.
      3. If I still am not ready then I am just not ready.

      But I know now that I will not insist that my children part with anything they are not prepared to part with. I will guide them to make sensible decisions but ultimately it is up to them.

  9. Coming back to this, again (!), the main reason I’m taking a hardline approach to sentimental stuff is that currently I’m watching my mum suffer dementia. Her short-term memory is very bad (though she can still recognise her close family, thank goodness), but even her long term memory is terrible. So, no looking through family photo albumns, no talking about the past, no trinkets to trigger her memories. She just gets upset when she can’t remember. I know the saying goes that we’ll always have our memories, but I just don’t think that’s true in a lot of cases. Sorry to be such a downer about this!

    • That is a sad situation to be in Loretta and my heart goes out to you. So long as we have our memories we don’t need sentimental clutter and at the same time no amount of sentimental items are of any use to help trigger memories that just aren’t there any more.

  10. Hi Colleen,
    Slowly making my way through all the blogs, took me a while to find the start! But enjoying tips/ideas/motivation 🙂
    I would like to add a suggestion to todays topic…
    My six children have made MANY things in school during wood/metal, textiles, cooking, art class, major science projects.
    When they are bought home, we ‘admire’ them for a week then take a picture adding who, what, when and result.
    It has made for a VERY interesting book of artwork and sculptures and models and thingies!