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Family Keepsakes | Family Organizing | Kids/Families

What to do with family keepsakes & inherited items

Updated Oct. 5th 2022

Whether you are considering childhood memories or family keepsakes that have been passed to you by a loved one, following these guidelines should help you to sort through inherited family keepsakes and make decisions with confidence.

1. Don’t keep family keepsakes out of guilt.

How we value our belongings is very personal. And the memories attached to an object are personal as well.  It is easy to hold onto items that do not have any personal value to us simply because we think that someone else would be disappointed if we let them go.  Why would your loved one want you to hold onto a family keepsake that you don’t really want?

2. Don’t keep any family keepsakes that trigger negative memories.

When making a decision about a given family heirloom, pay attention to the way each item makes you feel.  If it sparks joy and a happy memory, then keep it, if it does nothing for you emotionally, or if it triggers any negative thoughts, by all means, let them go.  Why keep anything that brings us down or reminds us of something negative?

3. Don’t keep other people’s treasures.

Just because your mother treasured a set of china, does not mean you are obligated to treasure it as well.  Decide for yourself how each family heirloom makes YOU feel, if it does nothing for you, it is okay to let them go to a new owner who will treasure the china and give it the love it deserves just as your mother did. The same goes for keepsakes that have meaningful memories attached to them for someone else but not for you. For example, your father’s golf trophy, just because he cherished that achievement, and proudly displayed his 3-foot trophy, doesn’t mean you are required to keep it.

4. Find an honorable home for personal family photos and family keepsakes.

If you have too many vintage family photos and other antiques from past generations, choose the ones you want to keep and offer the others to any family members who might be interested in having them, then call your local historical society or a local museum to see if they want what is left.  Museums appreciate these items and what better way to honor family heirlooms than to proudly display them for others to see?

family heirlooms

5. Tackle family keepsakes last.

Family heirlooms are the most difficult category to make decisions about, and they also trigger the most emotion, so if you have a large amount of home organizing to do, hold off on these items until the end. Then, tackle them at the beginning of the day when you have the emotional and physical energy to go through them and make decisions. This will allow you to give yourself time to walk down memory lane, without getting frustrated.

6. Only keep a sampling of each collection.

Rather than keep an entire set of your grandmother’s dishes, consider keeping one place setting and let the rest go. If your mother made multitudes of beautiful quilts, choose a few of your favorite ones and gift the rest to others so that they can enjoy them.  A sampling of a given keepsake collection will bring you just as much joy as the whole set.  It will also allow you to honor the memory of your loved one without taking up too much storage space.

7. Keep in mind that we hold special memories in our hearts, not just in material objects.

You don’t have to turn your home into a shrine of the past in order to hold onto or honor the memories of a loved one.  Material objects will never measure up to the memories that we have in our hearts, so it is okay to be selective about what to keep.

8. Set tangible limits for yourself.

If family heirlooms are taking up too much room in your home, reduce your load by setting parameters for what is an acceptable amount to keep. For example: Choose 1 or 2 plastic totes, and stay within that limit.  As you sift through family keepsakes, place only the most cherished items into the bins and when you have reached your limit, be willing to let the rest go.  You can also take photos of items before letting them go and place the photos into the bins with the rest of the keepsakes.

9. Consider displaying your family keepsakes.

If you have made a decision to keep something, consider displaying them in your home rather than leaving them stored away in a box.  After all, if they are worth keeping and you enjoy them, perhaps others should enjoy them too.

10. How to store family keepsakes.

Once you decide what family heirlooms to keep, store them in a sealed plastic tote that will protect them from water damage, dirt, and critters. They should be stored in a temperature-controlled, dry space.  Since you will not need to access them often, store them in deep storage. An out-of-the-way location, such as the very back of a closet or storage room is perfect.

To get more tips for organizing and storing family keepsakes read my other posts: What to Do With Grandma’s Set of Dishes and  How To Organize Kid’s School Keepsakes Simply.

The Simple Daisy professional organizing services also offers virtual one-on-one expert advice. Schedule a virtual appointment and let me help you with a specific organizing project or receive a whole home assessment. 



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