4 Ways to Keep Mementos from Feeling Like Clutter, According to Experts

published Dec 4, 2021
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writing a into a notebook at a desk with some present wrapping supplies
Credit: Erika Layne

I’ve always felt that sentimental items are what turn houses into homes. They’re the pieces that can make a space uniquely yours, and can represent happy memories and personal accomplishments. And while some sentimental items can be easily displayed and enjoyed, what about the sentimental items that you don’t know what to do with, such as the pile of photos you may have in a shoebox at the back of the closet, or grandma’s china that’s neatly stacked in a box in the attic? These items may be taking up valuable storage space in your home, and can begin to feel like clutter. 

According to Marie Kondo’s tidying process, sentimental items are last on her list of things to tidy and organize, simply because of how challenging it is. It’s not easy to let go of things that have sentimental value, but the good news is, you don’t have to. Just take my winter task for example: I have a small plastic storage bin that hides behind my closet door, filled with sentimental items like our wedding invitations, cards, love letters, and more and I’ve been inspired this holiday season to go through them.

Apartment Therapy talked to two experts on ways to keep and honor your mementos in your home, and below are four tips on keeping them from feeling like clutter. 

Frame Your Favorite Notes, Letters, and Personal Items

Sarah Smith, the founder and CEO of the greeting card company Notes of Hope by Sarah, believes in the power of uplifting words, and keeping the cards that mean the most to you. Framing your most cherished cards or letters is a wonderful way to keep and display them. “I had a friend who recently got married, and she didn’t want to throw away her wedding greeting cards, but she didn’t want to keep them either,” Smith tells Apartment Therapy. “I suggested keeping the back of the cards that had written sentiments on them, and putting them in a large frame. So now when she walks down her hallway, she can continue to see and be encouraged by these words.”

Most cards will fit in inexpensive frames, and having them on your wall is a nice alternative to having cards on top of a shelf or mantle. Best of all, not only will framing letters protect the paper and handwriting, a frame will safeguard the letter from getting crumpled or lost in a pile. 

Framing doesn’t have to be limited to cards or letters — there are frames large enough to display things such as t-shirts or sports jerseys. “I’m a firm believer that your home should tell a story of where you’ve been, who you are and what you aspire to be,” interior stylist Jenna D. Morrow tells Apartment Therapy. “I’m a theater lover, so when I looked at my pile of Playbills from various theaters, I knew I wanted them on display at home. I’m framing each one to create a gallery wall that tells the story of the shows I’ve seen and the theaters I’ve visited.”

Create Photo Books or Scrapbooks

Putting your treasured photos into a photo book is a great way to minimize that pile of older photos in the shoebox in your closet (or free up some digital clutter in your phone!). Sites like Shutterfly have tons of photo book designs with a variety of sizes to choose from, or you can opt for monthly photo books sent to your door from places like Chatbooks. If you prefer to create a book yourself, Morrow suggests building an old-fashioned scrapbook.

“When I became a mom, I collected so many items along my pregnancy journey, from small ‘mommy’ mementos to ultrasound photos,” Morrow says. “I’m using those items to create a scrapbook that will double as a coffee table book at home to tell the story of who I am: a new mom who experienced her first pregnancy during her first pandemic.”

Repurpose Your Keepsakes As Everyday Items

Displaying or keeping sentimental items doesn’t have to be complicated, and you can even use them as items you use in your everyday life. Smith recommends using a greeting card as a bookmark. “Let’s say you are truly in love with the words that were on the inside of a card,” she says. “Maybe someone who’s no longer here wrote you something of encouragement or joy. You can make the greeting card a bookmark, and let it hold your place. That card can encourage you throughout the month or throughout the year.” If you’d like to make sure it stands the test of time, get the card laminated before you slip it between the leaves of your latest read.

If you’d like to give new life to a beloved piece of clothing that you no longer wear, Morrow suggests refashioning it into upholstery. “Own a dress that doesn’t fit anymore and is taking up space in your closet because you’re not ready to let it go? Have a pillow cover made with the dress’s fabric,” she shares. “Explore ways you can use your clothing to upholster everything from seat cushions to ottomans. This frees up your clutter but still allows you to enjoy old clothes in a new way.”

Store Your Keepsakes in Beautiful Boxes

Sometimes there are sentimental pieces that you don’t want to let go of, but you also don’t feel the need to have them out all the time. There are still ways to organize your treasured items, without them feeling like they’re just thrown in a box. You can easily find decorative storage containers made specifically for storing items like photos or mementos. Smith even creates traditions around organizing boxes of cards that mean the most to her, including what she calls a confidence box. 

“I have a nice box of greeting cards that are full of cards where people have encouraged me,” she says. “I’m able to sit and reflect on the past love, words, thoughts, and encouragement that people had for me.” 

You can create boxes for different events such as birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and more, and block off some time to revisit them. Simply put the holiday cards you want to save in a beautiful box, and set aside time next holiday season to pull them out, enjoy them again, and perhaps add to it with the new batch of holiday cards you received from loved ones.