Left unchecked, random memorabilia can be overwhelming. Old clothes with sentimental value, kids' school projects, piles of old college notebooks—and the few treasures buried among them often get ruined. This month's project is to rescue what's meaningful to you and organize it so it's accessible and protected.
Is It a Keepsake—or Just Junk?
True memorabilia encapsulates your most significant moments, transporting you in time with a mere touch or glance. If you can no longer remember why you're saving all those old birthday cards, get rid of them. Save one pair of embroidered bell-bottoms for nostalgia's sake, but not eleven. Be selective, and feed the wastebasket generously.
High and Dry Is Best
Once you've decided what to keep, make sure it's in a clean, climate-controlled location, such as the guest bedroom or family room. Avoid the basement and the garage, which are prone to water damage and grease. Invest in archival-quality containers (acid-free, lignin-free), which protect against dust and help slow the breakdown of chemical structures. I recommend:
Costume storage boxes and textile storage kits—ideal for quilts and clothing.
Anticorrosion envelopes, which protect metal objects like watches or a baby's silver cup.
Pigma pens (acid-free, fade- and waterproof) and artifact identification tags, which let you safely label memorabilia.
There Is Such a Thing as a Quick Fix If something you love has already been damaged, look for affordable restoration products. In particular:
A pH-testing pen measures paper's acid content (that's what causes paper to yellow and break down), and deacidification spray safely neutralizes it.
Absorene cleaner works like a soft, pliable eraser to absorb dust, dirt, and smoke from books and paper.
Make a Show of It It's satisfying to display a few signature pieces.
Shadow boxes, curios, and velvet-lined tabletop glass cases allow you to arrange such diverse items as a pocket watch, reading glasses, and an opera program in a still-life tribute.
Lucite and acrylic wall display cases in custom shapes can provide a place of honor for a seventies poncho or game-winning Little League bat.
Scrapbooks are great for travel souvenirs and family relics such as a first lock of hair, a first tooth, or report cards.
Quilts and wall hangings are a way to turn beloved old textiles—e.g., your kids' baby clothes, a vintage T-shirt collection—into art.
Preserving what you care about will free you to relish memories. Take your time and enjoy the process—it's an opportunity to reconnect to lost and lovely parts of yourself.
From the October 2004 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.