Turning Old Clothes Into Memories

Nearly every client I’ve worked with has some sort of textile that has transcended its original purpose and has turned into memorabilia. It could be baby clothes, heirloom linens, a beloved relative’s item of clothing, or T-shirts that are souvenirs from memorable events.

Sometimes these items are taking up valuable drawer or closet space. I encourage clients to separate these items from active clothing or linens and put them into a memorabilia box so that they don’t complicate decisions about what to wear or what to use now.

An even better idea for these items is to display them. What better way to honor your loved ones and relive your memories than making those items part of your decor?

Lavivi Love Quilts

One way to do this is to turn these textiles into a memory quilt. My colleague Harlan Sexton, a former Professional Organizer, is the founder of Lavivi Love Quilts. She will turn your fabrics into a beautiful keepsake that can be used or displayed. I have seen samples of her quilts in person, and they are stunning. In addition to clothes, Harlan says she can include household textiles, monograms, celebratory wine stains, chuppah cloth fragments, even your mother’s elbow-length evening gloves!

Harlan does not work with T-shirts, so if you have a T-shirt collection, consider Project Repat, which “creates a high quality, affordable t-shirt quilt with minimal carbon impact that ‘repatriates’ textile jobs back to the United States,” as their website states. Their background story is fascinating.

Another interesting T-shirt option is Too Cool T-Shirt Quilts which uses different block sizes to accommodate the variable logo sizes on T-shirts.

However you decide to turn your clothes and linens into memorabilia, the result will be something you will always treasure.


Conversation Piece

The first time my name appeared in The New York Times was in January of 2013. I had submitted an anecdote to their weekly column called Metropolitan Diary, and it had been printed! I had recently worked with a client who had also been included in Metropolitan Diary, as did her husband at another time. Both columns had been framed and hung in their kitchen.

So when my story got printed, I decided to get it ready for framing. Rather than cutting it out of the newspaper and watching it yellow, I contacted my colleague Cyndi Shattuck, who is an archivist. I sent her a link to the article as it appeared on the New York Times website, and also sent her what it looked like in the print edition. She returned to me a beautifully laid out and easy-to-read version printed on card stock.

Three months later, I was in the Times again, interviewed for a column called Market Ready, which appears in the weekly Real Estate Section. This was especially exciting, as it was related to my professional expertise. And then two months after that, my husband was in the Times television listings. I contacted Cyndi, and she prepared both for framing.

For several years, these ready-for-framing printouts sat in my closet. Despite my desire to frame them, I wasn’t quite sure where to hang them. The natural place would be in my home office. However, my home office is in the corner of my living room, and I didn’t know if it would work with my decor — and if it would be too boastful — if we hung these there.

The final push came in December of last year when I was once again in the Times, this time in an article called “The Post-Holiday Clutter Purge”. Not only was I quoted, but my picture was included! I contacted Cyndi once again, and she did a masterful layout featuring the entire article, my photo, and another photo of my closet that appeared only in the on-line version.

Now that I had four Times features, I was finally ready to display them. Over the summer, I took them to the local framing shop. The framer complimented me on my decision to have the articles reprinted on acid-free card stock rather trying to frame the original newspaper articles. Once they were ready, I cleared off the artwork that appeared on the wall of my home office, over my computer. I figured out the best way to arrange the new pieces and hung them up.

I’m quite delighted with the way they look! They complement that wall much better than the two mismatched pieces of art I had there before. And they have become a conversation piece.

From working with over 300 clients in their homes, I know that many people have items hidden in their closets that they planned to display, but something got in the way. If that sounds like you, I suggest you get those things out of your closet and figure out the best way to display them. Whether they are photos that feature significant people in your life, or certificates that represent achievements you are particularly proud of, or memorabilia from important moments, they are doing you no good sitting in a closet or a drawer. Honor those special people or memories by getting them out there!

I’m getting so much pleasure from having my framed items up on the wall, and I guarantee that you will enjoy getting yours out of the closet, too. If you need an archivist’s help, I recommend you contact Cyndi Shattuck Archiving. In addition to getting your documents ready for framing, she can help with making high-quality photo albums.


One of my daily pleasures is doing the crossword puzzle in the New York Times. In yesterday’s puzzle, the clue for 9-down was “Things meant to be used and then thrown away.” I knew the answer right away: ephemera.

I use this word frequently with my clients because I want to help them decide which paper items they should save and which they should let go. Dictionary.com further defines ephemera as “items designed to be useful or important for only a short time, especially pamphlets, notices, tickets, etc.” To this list I would add greeting cards, cocktail napkins, invitations, thank you notes, place cards, receipts, theater programs, newspapers and magazines, postcards, even business cards.

Holiday cards: to be tossed on January 1!

Holiday cards: to be tossed on January 1!

I have seen my clients struggle over all of these pieces of paper. I often hear the word “should” in reference to these items — as in “I should keep that”. There is apparently guilt associated with tossing someone’s wedding invitation or the thank you note they wrote you for the wedding gift. But why should you keep it? Does throwing away the paper signify that you are disrespecting the person or discarding the relationship? When I hear the word “should”, I hear obligation, not joy. We should only keep those items that stir us emotionally, that bring us joy to look at, or tug at our heartstrings in some way.

Some forms of ephemera do bring us joy. Many theater lovers like me enjoy collecting Playbills for shows we have seen. I save magazines in which I am quoted, and my husband still has an issue of a science fiction journal that published a story of his when he was in college. All of these can be stored standing up on the bookshelf. One client saves every card he receives from his wife — we set up a separate file just for those — as they all contain delightful, heartfelt notes.

This is a good time of year to be thinking about ephemera, as you probably have been receiving a lot of holiday cards and you’ll need to to decide what to do with them.  We display ours on our piano so that we can enjoy them during the holiday season, but come the first of the year, out they go. And we have a renewed appreciation for the uncluttered piano once they are gone.

I’ve written in the past on different types of ephemera (see Will This Magazine Change Your Life?, Our Love-Hate Relationship with Greeting Cards, and Business Cards: Information or Clutter?)  If piles of ephemera are creating havoc in your space, ask yourself which ones truly move you, and which ones you are holding on to out of sheer habit. Buy an attractive box and use it to limit the size of your ephemera. Your collection should be small enough that you can sit down and review it in less than an hour. And it should bring you joy to do so.

Sharing Priceless Family Photos

After my father passed away earlier this year, I took possession of his priceless family photo albums. These were photos that he had obtained over the years from his parents. Some of them showed his parents when they were teenagers back in Hungary in the early part of the 20th century. Others were of him and his brothers during their youth in Brooklyn. Some included their young wives, including my mother.

I knew that these photos were special and needed to be shared. I was a little overwhelmed with tying up the loose ends of my father’s passing, and these albums sat for several months in a shopping bag in the corner of my living room where I have my office. Eventually I got tired of looking at the clutter and made some decisions about how to proceed.

My grandmother and her four sons, circa 1935. My father is on the bottom right.

My grandmother and her four sons, circa 1935. My father is on the bottom right.

The first thing I did was remove all the photos from the album. My father had marked in the photo albums identifying information about some of the photos — who was in them, and what year they were taken.  I transferred that info to the back of each photo. The next thing I did was to sort them. Photos that focused on one person were separated from those with multiple people. I made a pile for each of my father’s three brothers, plus a couple of other relatives whose survivors I was in touch with. Then I sent pile of photos off to each of the appropriate cousins. They were thrilled to have these old photos of their parents when they were young! I even sent a package overseas to my father’s one remaining brother, who lives in Europe. His wife told me was really touched to see them.

The next phase of the project was to share the photos that had multiple people in them, or that were of general interest to everyone, such as the photos of my grandparents and great-grandparents in the old country. I decided to have them professionally scanned. I sent them to ScanDigital (www.scandigital.com) to be digitized and stored on a CD. I sent the package in early August, and they finally sent me back the photos and the photo disk in October! But they communicated with me throughout the process, and the final result was very high quality.

I did a little bit of research about the best way to share digital files. I wanted my cousins to be able to view the photos in high definition, and to print them if they wanted. I also wanted to ensure that the photos would remain secure. I decided to share them via Dropbox. I have been using Dropbox for a long time to share files, but my main concern has always been that it is too easy for a user to drag a file out of Dropbox and onto their own hard drive, and then it’s no longer available for anyone else to view. I discovered that Dropbox has a feature that enables you to share just a link to the folder, which let’s others view the files but not remove them. I tested it out and seemed exactly what I needed.

I copied the 120 photos to Dropbox and shared the link with my cousins a few days ago. The photos have been getting good reviews! I was also able to share via e-mail the identifying information about who was in those old photos taken in Hungary before my grandparents emigrated to the United States almost 100 years ago.

Many of my clients have photo projects sitting in corners of rooms, and you may have one as well. Here are some of the things I learned as I progressed through my project:

  1.  It is time-consuming. Don’t expect to get it done overnight
  2.  Not all photos are created equal. Throw away blurry photos, unflattering photos, and photos of people that no one can identify.
  3.  Don’t agonize over every decision. It doesn’t have to be perfect.
  4.  It felt great to get these photos into the hands of my cousins. You’ll feel great, too, to get these photos out of a box and into a viewable format.


I know that my father would be pleased to know that these photos are bringing joy. After all, that’s why we take them, isn’t’ it?

My Parents’ Legacy

After my father passed away at the end of January, my sister and I took two months to clear out our family apartment (as I described in Home is Where the Heart Is). Although most of our parents’ possessions were sold, donated, or discarded, I brought home a bag of things that I just didn’t feel right about throwing away.

These things were not valuable or even of great sentimental value. They were simply items that my parents had held on to for many years. I felt that it would be disrespectful to my parents to simply throw these things away. I vowed to get them into the hands of people who would appreciate them. For that end, I turned to eBay.

I sold some New York City subway tokens that my father had saved from different eras (to which I added a few of my own), as well as a set of three newspapers with the headline “Nixon Resigns”. In both cases, I brought in a very small amount of money. Still, I was glad to find people who wanted them.

Opera memorabilia

Opera memorabilia

I had a harder time figuring out what to do with some opera memorabilia from the 1960s. Both of my parents were huge opera fans, and they had a Metropolitan Opera subscription for as long as I can remember. They saved only a few special Met Opera programs, some of which were autographed. They also saved a few copies of Opera News magazine featuring articles bidding farewell to the old opera house, or introducing readers to the new opera house at Lincoln Center.

There didn’t seem to be much market for these on eBay, so rather than try to sell them, I decided to donate them. I started with the Metropolitan Opera itself. I was told that they had a full collection and were not interested. Then I tried the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts. They, too, did not need them. These conversations actually took many e-mails and phone calls to resolve.

Finally, I put them up for sale on eBay. Surprisingly, they sold, and for more money than I expected. As I wrapped them up for shipping, I felt a tug at my heart seeing my mother’s handwriting on the sticky notes she had used to identify which programs were autographed, and by whom.

All told, I spent way too much time trying to dispose of these few items. I’m not sure it was really worth it. The demand for them was apparently quite small. If a client had asked for my advice on whether it was worth trying to sell or donate these, I would have probably said not to bother. Sometimes the recycle bin is the best solution.