Organizing Memorabilia

Before you dive in …

Before you dive in to organize your memorabilia, think about your reasons for wanting to do so. Some typical possibilities are:

  • Connect your present with your past. Honor the past, without getting stuck there.
  • Pass along the key memories, the treasures.
  • Understand which belongings are important to your family history.
  • Understand how your memories fit into your broader community and culture.

Organizing is usually not just about getting things organized. If you reflect a bit on your project, you’ll often find a motivation for organizing your memorabilia. A reason, a theme, or a value – something you stand for.

Four benefits to choosing a reason, theme, or a value

  1. You gain focus. There’s a purpose, a goal, an event, or a theme behind what you’re doing. I like to ask the question this way: “You’re organizing your memorabilia so that …. “
  2. Knowing these answers will motivate you when your inspiration is a little short one day.
  3. As you start your walk down memory lane, you’ll be searching for the treasures which support your reason/theme/value … and spending more time on these memories, rather than on every single item.
  4. It will be clearer what you might let go of, or find another home for.

We are all story tellers to some degree although some of us don’t think of ourselves as “good” story tellers. Some people consider themselves the family historian. Some remember stories well which our earlier generations told us. Some of us take our inherited items and re-purpose them. We write, paint or quilt our stories.  So how we each tell our stories is different and is a personal choice. What IS important is that we record them in some fairly permanent ways to preserve our memories, legacy and personal history.


What do you have to say and to whom?

Melissa, was about 70 years young, when she decided to start writing her memoirs, potentially a daunting task to some. To start herself, she took a writing course. She told friends what she was doing, enlisting motivational support. She narrowed her focus slightly, to only those stories and memories which mattered to her. This was instead of a chronological recounting of her life. And even then, she got stalled; life got in the way.

Her 50th wedding anniversary was coming up, so instead, she turned her focus  to organizing her photos, writings and memories around this event. She had a goal – the anniversary party – so she could organize her photos with the end goal in mind. The goal was to share photos and memories of their life of 50 years together. A focus, an audience (close family/friends at the party), and a deadline! Instead of  “someday,” she had a real date.

Melissa and her son, a web site marketing professional, designed an easy-to-update web site and he taught her how to add content. This gave her a way to share her memorabilia, as she went through the photos — and I’m sure our comments on the posted memories were inspirational to her. She created a community through her memories. She had focus. She had the support around her she needed.

Today, Melissa has a website with annotated photo albums, poems she’s written, her paintings and some writings. She is a creative sort, an artist, so organizing her memories in this fashion suited her well. Additionally, she is all about family, so having a web site where people could connect and write their own comments – well, imagine how that made her feel about organizing her memorabilia! So at this point, she has recorded many memories,  and if she wants to, she can give away the objects – the writings, the paintings – because they are all permanently recorded for the future viewers and new family members.

Where, how and when will you start … and keep at it?

Consider where you’ll work on your organizing of memories.

  • Do you need a special dedicated space or not?
  • Are you inside or outside?
  • Is it quiet or do you have music or other noise?
  • Are you writing? Recording? At a PC? At an art table?

And consider how and when you’ll organize your stories and memorabilia.

  • To get inspired, choose a time of day when you are most energetic or creative.
  • Think of other projects you’ve started for clues on how to start this effort.
  • Do you like to get into a project and stay focused on it for awhile?
  • Or is it easier to get started for a short period of time?
  • How you start and how you continue may be different.
  • Once you get going, if you find yourself feeling burnt out, take a break. Work on something else or just do nothing for a while. Come back fresh.
  • Decide whether you do or do not want to work on this alone. Some take classes (We are working on a webinar around this). Some work with family or friends in a group. Some prefer working on their own.

Look backward to move forward.  Decide what to keep in your story and what to let go. Think about what you want to carry forward into your next chapter of life.

If you’re interested in putting your life in context, please consider joining our Facebook group, located here

We are  sharing stories around themes, like food memories!

Sharing, so we can get a sense of what’s important to pass along … and therefore, what we can let go of.

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5 Responses to “Organizing Memorabilia”

  1. Sandra Allen says:

    I will be embarking on a large interwoven family project of organizing and preserving my parents’ many photos (a few are in albums), a boot box of my grandparents’ photos, and a shoebox of my great aunts’ photos (single, business woman). Currently, I am preparing to do my parents’ estate sale July 30; as my father has moved into a house with his NEW wife, he has open business files to close out and care for his sister with Alsheimer’s. I will be executor of her will should he pass away before her. I am collecting and sorting boxes to organize family histories in the fall, when the house project is complete. I really like your suggestion to decide on a reason or theme! I told my father that today, suggesting that he expand his WWII memoirs to a book, eventually, with a underlying theme, suggesting “God’s Providence in all things”… (He is 86!). I have organized for years, but life went a bit upside down for a while and I also inherited the lion’s share of photos. It is my passion to share our family history with the coming generations that we might try to convey God’s rich blessing as Christ began to transform our lives, one at a time, years ago. I want to come up to speed on technology to preserve photos, etc., but I also need to decide what to do with the hard copies… I will be reading to get your tips. Thanks, Sandy

  2. Sue West says:

    Wow, Sandy – that is an “interwoven” project – how fascinating. A wonderful preservation resource is Melissa Mannon, at Check her blog – educated and experienced in the archives field, she is all about preservation, whether hard copy or digital. Good for you for choosing a theme – and I read a few “deadlines” in your post, too. Great ways to stay focused on something so important – now and in the future. Nice job.

  3. […] found an interesting post about organizing memorabilia on Organize for a Fresh Start by Sue West.  Here’s what she […]

  4. Sue West says:

    Lori, thanks for including my suggestions and the book! I’m not retired, though I did ‘retire’ from high tech and corporate about 10 years ago. So this world of thoughtful and holistic organizing for the second half of our lives is my passion. Your site’s beautiful – and so interesting our paths have crossed. Another person’s “work” (life passion!) you may want to read about is Melissa Mannon, at ArchivesInfo. She is a modern day archivist – memorabilia expert. We’ve worked together on a book about our memories of food – an intangible sort of memorabilia. And she may have some other blog posts of interest to you – like this one about how to preserve your memorabilia and heirlooms.

  5. […] week, I mentioned a post about organizing memorabilia on Organize for a Fresh Start by Sue West.  Sue suggests establishing a reason, a theme, or a value – something you stand […]

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