How to Organize Kid Memorabilia (Without Losing Your Mind)
Written by Lauren Weldon May. Lauren is a Certified Professional Organizer and the founder and owner of Manifesto Home + Office, a home organizational firm specializing in paperwork systems and organization for military families. Lauren started her company in 2013 and has spent thousands of hours organizing hundreds of clients across the country. Lauren and her Army JAG officer husband have a hilarious and busy 18 month old son. The May family is in the process of PCS’ing to Vicenza, Italy from Charlottesville, VA.
I once had a lovely client who had not thrown out a single piece of paper her child brought home from school. When she hired me to help deal with the situation, her son was 22. Let me tell you, this was NOT a quick one-day organizing job. We sat on the floor going through box after box of elementary school math worksheets, funny junior high drawings, high school term papers, and hundreds of school pictures (including a cash-filled order envelope that was sent to school for said pictures but never got turned in to the teacher)! She kept commenting that she wish she’d met me twenty years before. I adore helping parents set up a memorabilia system when their children are very young so we can prevent this hassle! I rarely prescribe one-size-fits-all solutions to my clients, but over years and years of organizing kiddo paperwork, this is the process I’ve found works best.
Lauren’s Kid Memorabilia Process + Tips
1. Do. Not. Purge. As. You. Go. This sounds like crazy advice from a professional organizer, right?? I promise it’s not as nuts as it seems and there are great reasons to wait to edit this collection at strategic points during the year. Let’s say your daughter is in 3rd grade. At the beginning of the year, she’s super interested in drawing, makes hundreds of pieces of watercolor art in the fall, and spends the spring doing painting classes after school. Fast forward to the last day of school...and she’s now really into astronomy! Because you couldn’t have predicted how she would progress through that grade, you might have thrown out too much and not kept good examples of her artwork before her interests changed OR tossed the very first science project that got her interested in STEM. Our kids change so quickly each year that it can be overwhelming to decide what is important vs. what is trash on any given day — not to mention no one has time to do that in the hustle and bustle of the school year!
2. In order to tame the madness, give each child a generously sized box — preferably in their own room or in a common entry space like a mudroom — where they can put everything they bring home throughout the year that might be worth keeping. It should be clearly labeled to remind them what the box is for (Lucas’s Keepsakes, Davey's Memorabilia, Ella's 2nd Grade Stuff, etc.). Even very young children can help if you ask them to put something in their special keepsake box! It’s amazing what giving kids ownership over their things can do to help keep things neat (and retain your sanity). And I do not believe in mixing childhood memorabilia papers with adult paperwork — the last thing I want for you when looking for an insurance policy packet is to have to wade through a sea of macaroni artwork and glitter.
3. After the last day of school, set up a special date with each kid to go through their box. Make it special with their favorite meal and one-on-one uninterrupted time with you! Save the things that capture what their year looked like and try to pull a variety of stuff from their experience in that grade. This is especially important for military kids as the end of school often means it’s time to move on from the friends they had the past few years and on to a completely new set of friends. Giving them this ritual to help them process their feelings about moving on is worth every moment.
4. Once you’ve pulled the best of the best from that year, it’s time to store it for safekeeping. I really like using acid-free shoe boxes because they’re a reasonable size and small enough to segment by year and protect those precious memories in an organized way. You can find these at most craft stores in both 4x6 photo sized boxes and 12x12 flat boxes. Plus, they have built-in label holders! I love large art portfolios for oversized artwork and projects. My favorite place to store these memorabilia boxes is actually in the top of their closet if that’s an option in your home. You can also use the space under their beds for memorabilia storage, but I would advise you to invest in watertight (or at least water-resistant) boxes in case of a flood.
5. I like to do this at the end of each summer with each kid as well! It creates a really nice bookend activity for the summer and helps mentally prepare everyone for the next adventure.
6. As tempting as it is, do not do any of this alone! Involving your kids in this exercise provides an amazing opportunity for a special family ritual and tradition, but also gives them ownership over their things. This is the way we teach our kids the importance of organization — by making it special and showing them how much better it is to take care of our belongings so we can enjoy them for years to come! Shoutout to my mom who helped us purge our memorabilia every year and store them in nice boxes under our beds. I actually just got out our childhood toys at my brother’s house to let my toddler play with while visiting family on our pre-PCS road trip!
7. When you get stuck, always come back to the GOAL of keeping childhood memorabilia: to capture their little personalities at different points throughout their years growing up. If you keep this in mind, you’ll keep the right things that will pull at your heartstrings twenty years from now.