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 book, concert/performance program, birthday/graduation card, sheet music, script, report card, club photo, and every other piece of information regarding my K-12 experience.  So…I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it.”  She also commented that it all only took up one big storage tub. 

My first thought was, “Why is she keeping all of that stuff?”  Why would she even want to?  There seems to be three types of people, those who are sentimental about everything, those who want to keep some items but not all and those who see no need to hold onto things like this.  After some thought I commented back that I thought she should go through it all and figure out exactly what was really important to her. Once that was done, she should take pictures of those things and, since she is a scrapbooker, create some layouts for those pictures. 

All of this started me thinking about people with children and what they need to do with all of the “keepsakes” that come into the home on a daily basis.  Say you have a toddler who frequently draws/colors a masterpiece.  What do you do?  Maybe you have a school age child who comes home often with essays, returned test/quiz papers, award certificates, and numerous other paper based “keepsakes.”  What do you do? 

I decided to see if I could discover some solutions that would preserve these without taking up space somewhere in the home.  Here are some of the solutions I came up with.

Create a website with a page devoted to each child’s life.  You could make this a private website that only a select few could see.  On it you could post pictures of their artwork, etc.  Not only is it a permanent record of your child’s life but it can be shared with anyone you choose. 

After displaying a child’s work in a prominent place for a week or so take pictures of the best of the work and at the end of the year create a few pages of their life that year for a scrapbook about them. 

Set up an account on a site like Flickr where you can display pictures.  Again, you can secure this so only those you select can see what has been placed in your folders. 

Declutter all but the most significant awards, etc.  What is left place in page protectors and then into a binder. 

While many years ago I let go of my numerous childhood keepsakes, I found that I still have some things that I really have no need to keep.  It is interesting how easy it is to let things like this build up because I have the room for it.  I plan to scan some things before decluttering it all.

Today’s Mini Mission

Declutter, by recycling old plastic plant pots. I recycled a few of these last week.

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About Colleen Madsen

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


  1. Idgy of the North

    Great post, Deb J! This is an area where many of us parents struggle. I used to keep 2-3 masterpieces from each year. It took less than 8 years to fill the small bin (10-15L) for each child. Last year, I sat the kids down and went through everything in each of their bins. They each kept 2 things! They didn’t remember making the other treasures and had no interest in keeping them. I went through the discards and choose some of my favourites and took a photo of each. Then everything the kids didn’t want was recycled. Now the kids haven’t asked for anything to be added to their bins since the big purge.

    For my own childhood items, I was once the kid who kept everything. I went through the boxes that I lugged on many a move and took pictures of favourites. For trophies, after the picture, I removed the nameplate and donated the now generic trophy. Ah…so much lighter.

    • Idgy, it sounds like you have found your happy place as far as your childhood keepsakes and those of your children. I like how you sat down with the children and let them pick things. I think we forget that not only do we havef to store them but someday the kids will too because we have made them think they should. Isn’t that lightness good? It’s like a weight off your shoulders.

    • Hi Idgy…, I did the same thing with my trophies many years ago now. I sure have never missed dusting them.

  2. Excellent advice, Deb. And we’ve had a similar experience to Idgy – the kids don’t remember doing the things we held onto, and are not interested – to them, the items are not noteworthy or masterpieces 🙂 I have, however, kept a few – very few – things that showed a particular part of their personality and they were interested in seeing them – although not in KEEPING them, mind you! Now that digital storage is possible, it seems like a good solution, although one has to be careful to keep storage on up-to-date media or it may become inaccessible in the future.

    • This is so true about keeping things up-to-date. The floppy disks I kept from the 90’s did not work in my computer in 2011. Keeping software updated is so important if you are saving things. That’s why I think the Flikr suggestion is so good because it’s so realistic.

    • Jo H, I’m glad you liked the post. One of the things I like about “the cloud” if how you can use something other than your own media. Putting things in the cloud has really helped me to have less on the computer hard drive and I’m able to get to and open the files easily.

  3. It so good of you to revisit this subject Deb J. Even after purging so many things the papers, especially sentimental papers were the other Achilles heel of mine. I kept everything, I even had my sibling’s report cards and my mom’s college papers. I just have to say, as you have advised, to scan, scan, scan! The digital clutter takes up no more room than an external hard five and can be so easily labeled and filed. As you are sorting you can recycle and toss what you scan and what is deemed unworthy of the task and effort. And what is left must be filed or respectfully stored away from moisture etc. And back-up everything!

    • Jean, wow. You even kept your siblings things?! I alwasy say it is better to scan and save to the cloud because the servers on the “cloud” sites are backed up by them. Saves a lot of time.

      • I know everyone’s into the cloud and I think it’s an awesome idea, I just have so much going on in my life right now I am not up to speed on that from the technological angle. You are right that it is the best option. I have been thinking about it for sometime, and one of our hard drives crashed last fall so it’s the logical step for us. I have been meaning to set aside time to sit down with my husband and actually do it, I need to stop procrastinating and just dive in. Our external hard drive really has been a great storage device since all of the scanning. I also have privacy concerns, not that we have anything to hide.

        • I understand about having privacy concerns as I have had them too. I also have come to realize that nothing is totally secure so just did the best I could at finding a site where I feel as comfortable as I can get and went with it. It has taken me a while to get into it too even though the last 10 years of my work life was spent very immersed in the computer world. Life just gets so busy sometimes that we let things like that go by the wayside. Thankfully I had moved to the cloud not long before my computer crashed and I lost much of my files.

  4. This is a timely post for me, as going through my small trunk of things from my childhood is next on my list to purge. I’m not tech savy so whatever I keep will still be physical in my home. I used to be VERY sentimental, but that is changing as I get older. I used to love cards, and kept many that I received. Those have now been purged and I have asked my husband to not spend money buying expensive cards!!!

    • Brenda, I’m so glad to see the thing about cards mentioned.

      I used to love cards too, and saved all the ones my husband sent me when we were dating. Then, after getting married, we continued to buy each other cards for every occasion, but with each year that passes–and with every increase in the price of cards–I become less sentimental, to the point where I’ve asked my husband too to please stop buying cards for me.

      He doesn’t really “get it” that I truly don’t enjoy receiving cards anymore, but I don’t. I’d rather have the five dollar bill in my pocket than receiving it in the form of a card.

      • The card comments are interesting. My husband and I still exchange cards on all the special occasions, and I do keep them. I don’t keep stuff like that from other people, but in our case we have spent many of these occasions apart, so the card is the only “memory” we have.

        However, they are getting ridiculously expensive! I got my husband a Valentine’s Day card last week and almost had an infarction when I got home and saw the receipt! It was $8.99! I’ve never seen one that high, and it was just a normal card! I told him that we have to share the card. I’ll write on one side, and he can write on the other. LOL.

        As for organizing the cards I keep, I found some great card organizers online. When I was working on that little project, we went through all the cards and were surprised to see how many duplicates we had! We have (on more than one occasion) bought the exact same card years apart! When the boxes get full, I think we’ll just go card shopping in our own boxes and re-use them. If we’re buying the same ones anyway, why not?

        • We are in the card camp here. As the years have gone by they have gone to almost none. Now the only card we buy is an anniversary card that we share by writing our thoughts to each other in it. I didn’t know other people had done that. Yeah, they are pretty expensive, the smaller ones are $4.95 here up to over $8.

        • Melanie, I get you when you talk about the cost of a normal card and sharing it. I like the idea of sending a handmade card or even a boxed card but between postage and the cost of making or buying a card it is getting harder and harder to do. I think this next year I am going to resort to Christmas letters or emails except to my two aunts and their husbands. I made a number of cards a year ago to use up a bunch of cardstock and embellishments. Once those are used up I don’t plan to make any more.

          • Deb J,

            Other than Christmas cards, my family and I have stopped sending cards. We just all agreed to put a stop to it a few years ago. I still send a card to someone in the family who has a milestone (graduation, wedding, baby, etc.), but even then it’s just a 99 cent card. So mostly it’s just my husband and I who exchange cards. (I love that you made sharing cards your tradition, Jean!)

            I’ve seen some really cute card-making supplies at the craft store. I’m not a crafter, but my craft store is inside my hardware store (weird, I know), and I like to wander the craft aisles when I go in there. 🙂

          • Melanie, if sounds like your family is ahead of the game by not sending cards other than Christmas and milestone ones. Card making supplies can be really nice and I like doing it I have just run out of time.

  5. Brenda, it sounds that, like many of us, growing older has changed what you think needs to hang around. Having them in physical form works if you don’t have another way to take care of them. I’m with you on the cards as far as being expensive. I make my own cards and they say a lot more and are less expensive than the ones you buy in stores.

    • Deb J,

      I made my own cards for about 25 years or so, but am now into just buying “box cards” unless it is for someone really special. I try to find really pretty ones, with color on the inside also, that have nice verses. It is so convenient to have them in my desk drawer ready to use. I love to rubber stamp, so I often try to match the envelope with the same flower or colors from the card. I stamp them and color them all ahead of time so they are ready to go. However, I don’t have much time anymore and am about to get rid of 6 large pizza boxes of rubber stamps!!! I will still have plenty left after that. Sigh………..but, I want all I have to fit into an allotted space. I have also been very fortunate over the years to find name brand cards at thrift stores where shops have offloaded their old stock or gone out of business!

      Deb, I’ve been wondering if you ever got into your own apt??

      • Brenda, I am transitioning to Boxed cards myself. I will only make cards for relatives and close friends. I’m just finding it is too hard to keep up. I had over 100 stamps but am down to about 20. I’m even thinking of getting rid of those. I just can’t see doing this anymore. I may keep a few of the Christmas ones until I have used them a few more times and then let them go.

        Mom and I are still living together. We are on the list for the seperate apartments but the approximate waiting time is 16 months and that won’t be until August for Mom and November for me. We will see what happens.

  6. Great post Deb J .
    I’m glad I’m the type of person who does not want to hold onto things, well , not everything.

  7. Very interesting post, Deb J. Although I got rid of my college course books some years ago, I have never gotten rid of my high school yearbooks, which, as you know, have signings from old friends and photos stuck in them. I haven’t been back to the town of my high school except once in 25+ years. And the one time I did go, I only saw one old gal-pal who I hadn’t even gone to high school with! I wonder if it is time to revisit the yearbooks, do you think?

    • Those books would be gold for someone organizing a school reunion. Maybe you could investigate that avenue. There is always someone who collects this stuff .

      • Good suggestion, Wendy F. Actually I could recontact that old friend. She seem to be very involved in the community there and she may be a good resource to move these yearbooks on. 🙂

    • Michelle, I was like you for some time but then realized that I could remember many of the people in my yearbook, wasn’t close friends with most of them and wouldn’t be seeing them again. So I got rid of my high school and college yearbooks. I did cut a couple of pictures out and put them in the scrapbook I was making at the time. Other than that I have nothing much to remind me of that time. I have never gone to a class reunion as I just didn’t have much to do with most of the people I went to school with other than the German club and the Girl’s Ensemble I sang in. I was too busy with the youth group at church. I’m been out of high school 44 years so I can’t see that I will be having much to do with things there now.

      • Deb J., right, I completely understand what you are saying. I honestly will NEVER see these people again. I guess I don’t know what I’m hanging on to. I wonder if we have been sort of “conditioned” to hold on to this old material, as if we should conserve our pasts or archive them. I have no children and won’t be having any, so really, who cares what is left after I’m gone? Nobody. And, I am not being morbid. This is just the truth.

        • Michelle, like you I have no children and will not be having any as I am 62. So I even wonder why I made the scrapbooks. So I am trying to declutter as much as I can so that there will not be much left for a friend to deal with.

          I think we have been conditioned by others and the media to do many of the things we do. Makes it easy to do things without thinking about it. I’m trying to be more aware and intentional about what I do.

  8. I basically did the same thing Idgy did. I let my daughter decide what to keep and what to toss/recycle before she left for university. I still have a few storage tubs of her childhood/teen favorites, but they seem to grow smaller each year I ask her to re-visit the contents. Ironically, today, I was texting her regarding some books I was storing for her (we live 5,000 miles apart). I was pleasantly surprised when she gave me the go ahead to 365 (love the new expression) every book to the charity thrift store. And, the bonus, I will be dropping off the donation in the tub I used to store them originally….win-win 🙂

    • Kinberley, it sounds like your daughter has come to realize that she no longer wants to hang onto every little thing. That’s good. Congratulations on being ablt to 365 those books of hers and the tub they were in. I know that’s fun to see them going out the door.

  9. Deb J,
    My side bar to childhood mementos….I only have my yearbooks and class ring. Everything else, my Mom wanted to store for me. Every time I have ever asked to sort said mementos, I am given a myriad of excuses as to why it is not a good time. My theory is that 1) She either tossed everything and is just keeping up the ruse or 2) She is afraid that I will toss most everything. Either way, I won’t know till she passes and the games begin. Fun-Fun-Fun, haha!

    • Kimberley, while it would be nice if number 1 was the reason you mom is putting your sorting of mementos I have a feeling it is number 2. Mom’s are like that. They think that you will eventually wish you hadn’t 365’d stuff. I’m so glad I have nothing like that stored by anyone.

  10. Hi, Deb J. Nice post! I like your suggestions about the website and Flickr.

    I would like to share two tips regarding children’s artwork:

    Create a memory box for each child. For each school year, the child could select the best artwork, writing sample, story, etc., and all these go into a folder. Each year gets its own memento folder, to be kept in the box, and this collection cannot outgrow the box. When the child is old enough, he can go through the memory box and decide what he wants to do with it.

    Take a photo (with the date/time stamp) of your child holding any special artwork or craft he has created. This way, you get to see his growth and the progression of his artwork at the same time.

    • Nicole V, I like your two suggestions. Sometimes it takes doing something like that until your child is old enough to decide what they want to do. What’s great is that you can revisit things as they get older. There have only been a couple of things I wish I still had but not to the point where I mourn them.

  11. Interesting post Deb! My dad was in the Navy so we moved around a lot. I think that’s the reason my mom didn’t save much from our childhood (2 brothers and me). As I got older I also moved around quite a bit, no fun dragging mementoes from place to place. Going through boxes after one move, I came across my high school year books. I only knew my classmates for a couple of years in most cases. It was pretty easy to recycle the books out of my life. No regrets!

    • Barbara, sometimes moving so often is good and sometimes not. In your case at least it kept you from hanging onto things. When all is said and done it helps to not have someone too sentimental for a parent because then you learn to let go earlier on. In my case. I couldn’t stand all the stuff we had in boxes that were never opened. Couldn’t understand that mentality so became less of a pack rat than my parents.

  12. Great post Deb! I’ll be 40 years old this year and have no kids of my own but my mom’s the one holding on to my school mementos. She still has a bag of my childhood toys in the basement and a big tub of Disney books that my dad used to read to me as bedtime stories. I’m ready to donate what’s still good and get rid of the rest. I’m about to start digitizing the family pictures too, no way I’m lugging all these album around when my parents pass away.

    • Julie, it sounds like your Mom is more into keeping your things than you are. I have been wondering if part of the reason many of are parents are like that is because they have moved around less than the younger generations do. I agree with you about lugging things around. I like to travel light.

  13. Thanks for this post Deb, and lots of great comments too. Recently a family member was telling me that she is trying to clear out old stuff in preparation for a move which she hopes will happen in the next year or so, and she, now in her 60s, still has school notes and exam papers and can’t bring herself to throw them away. For myself, I don’t want those kind of reminders and have never kept any of it. On the other hand, I have kept a lot of my kids’ papers from their early school years. It is all filed neatly but I know that neither they nor I will want to haul all those binders around in the future so most of it can go.

    • Christine, I have never understood the idea of hanging onto school papers. I have kept the final grade reports from my college years and things that I might need for job purposes, etc. But I am planning to even dispose of those now that I will no longer be working or going to school again. I have been thinking of getting rid of a few other things that pertain to long ago surgeries as I don’t think I will need them any long either. Those I kept because until 10 years ago I was hving followup surgeries and having a paper trail of previous work helped if I had to change doctors.

  14. I have a friend who teaches Year 1 school. Parents are always asking her what to do with all the ‘art’. Take a digital photo and load it onto a digital picture frame kept n the kitchen. The kid is delighted.

  15. Very good post and comments. I have never wondered about my school things. I know my mom has my yearbooks in a closet and my class ring in her jewelry box, but I doubt she kept anything else school-related like papers. We had “school books” (for lack of a better name) from kindergarten through grade 6 maybe, that were little albums like a baby book with one or two pages per school year. She probably has those with her photo albums. They aren’t for papers or art work, just your teacher’s name, best friends’ names, what you want to be when you grow up, etc. (Answer at age 5: Cowgirl.)

    But she did keep a box of funny things like notes I would write to her when I was mad, news reports I typed up one year…..well, mostly notes I would write to her when I was mad. I don’t care a bit about school stuff, but those notes are priceless.

    • Melanie, the notes you sent your mom sounds like good keepsakes. Of course, I would scan them and put them in the cloud storage I have. the little “school books” sound cute.

      • Deb J,

        The notes are pretty hilarious. I was always upset over some perceived injustice when I was little, and I suppose I wanted it documented. 🙂 One of my sisters wrote some doozies, too. Thank you for the suggestion to scan and save them.

  16. Ok, confession time! I have kept all my kids reports, school photos, noteworthy certificates in clear sleeve folders for each child. in the case of my daughters their ballet certificates and results and their comp reports and awards. They are nicely contained and have been an excellent reference point as I start going thru family photos. Originally these folders were handy for when the grandparent’s visited as the kids could bring them up to date with their little lives. These days they occasionally get pulled out if there is a group of friends from their Primary School as the class photos are in there too. I reasoned that this stuff was awarded to my child and it should be theirs as an adult to keep or discard.
    It’s probably a hang over of working as an archivist and probably the only sentimental collection in my house these days. I will give their folders to them when they their own homes.

    • Moni, I think you need to do what you feel is best for your particular situation. In your case, it sounds like these are things that do more than just sit and are never looked at or used.

  17. By coincidence I just found this on Flylady:
    Get a bundle of 9 X 12 envelopes for mailing papers. Collect the papers each week from each child in a folder. On Saturday have each child pick out their favorite work for the week. Put that on the refrigerator/bulletin board or on the wall in the laundry room. This can be your wall of fame! Then teach the children to address the envelope to their grandparents or aunts and uncles. Poof! The papers are gone! Your family loves to see what the children are doing and the kids learn how to let go of stuff. You also have only 52 papers for each child instead of several thousand for their scrapbooks.

    • Moni, this sounds like a good idea. I think at the end of the year I would have each child go through those that had been kept and have them declutter again.

  18. I have a scrapbook (for photos, ticket stubs, and the like), a file box and a large flat art folio for each child. They are in 4th grade here in the US now and still have plenty of space for the upcoming “stuff”. I’m finding that as they get bigger, they have fewer “masterpieces” and more things that can only be photographed rather than kept (for example: large poster on the state of Texas – no way we’re keeping that!). Almost all daily work is recycled; high scoring tests are mailed to their grandparents so they can share in the excitement.

    They have an amazing art teacher that works them toward one true masterpiece – this year an actual 10″ x 12″ oil painting on canvas – and those decorate the walls of our family room. Last year it was an 8″ x 8″ chalk drawing of a specific flower. The year before a 8″ x 10″ watercolor dragon. I love the artwork on the walls, the children are learning excellent art techniques and I get beautiful artwork for my walls. I buy used or inexpensive frames to hang them or reuse ones that I have. The work leading up the masterpiece is hung around the school and then recycled so it doesn’t even make it into my home. Love that!

    Thanks for all the great ideas!

    • Lea, it sounds like you have a good system set up for handing things. I love the story about the art teacher. She sounds like a really neat lady.