Organizing Memorabilia

For several months, I have been working with a client who had moved into a new apartment and wanted to ensure that it was set up in an organized and maintainable fashion. As we unpacked boxes and put things away, we set aside two categories of items that I knew would be time-consuming to tackle: photos and memorabilia.

When we were done with every room and every storage area in the apartment, it was time to tackle the photos and memorabilia. I suggested we start with the memorabilia.

My client describes herself as a sentimentalist. She was also quick to point out that we would be organizing memorabilia from three homes: her adult apartment, her childhood home, and her mother’s apartment. Her mother passed away recently and that memorabilia had ended up mixed in with my client’s stuff. So what to do with a lifetime’s worth of memorabilia and then some?

The answer is: divide and conquer. The sheer volume of memorabilia was overwhelming, but breaking it down into smaller groups would be the key to making it manageable.

We started by going through each piece of paper and deciding what broad category it belonged to. Was it related to my client’s parents, to her childhood, to her work life, to her adult years? Was it a card she had received at some point ?

We spent several sessions going through the unsorted papers, always with a garbage bag nearby. For every piece of paper that she saved, another one went in the trash. As we performed this exercise, I recalled the words of Australian organizer Peter Walsh, who said, “If everything is important, then nothing is important.”

Once we had touched every single piece of paper and sorted it into a category, we focused on each category and reviewed every paper again. I sorted things into subcategories to ensure that there were no duplicates. We eventually ended up with a core set of papers that my client considered special.

Now it was time to figure out how to contain everything. I measured the size and shape of each pile and later e-mailed my client with some suggested purchases. She ended up buying four boxes of different sizes and colors made by Bigso, ordered via Amazon.

The picture below shows what the end result was. We settled on these four names for her categories: My Cards, Professional, Mom & Dad, and Memorabilia. (The last category encompasses everything that didn’t fit into one of those other categories). I used my labeler to label the boxes, and then we found a shelf in her closet where they all fit and which is easy for her to access without a stepladder. That means she can continue to add things to the boxes as her life goes on.

She was thrilled with how things turned out, and I was thrilled for her. Now we are turning our attention to the photographs, which is even more challenging than the memorabilia. But we are forging on, with the vision of orderly, labeled photo boxes dancing in our future.