Preserving memories, banishing clutter.

This is not what I would call an easy task. Let me give you the back story…

My husband’s parents save everything. I mean everything. Christmas gifts are packaged in boxes from long-since-out-of-business companies. Empty bread bags are saved and re-used for freezing items. And, while they may not have been the most assiduous photographers of my husband’s early years, they sure as heck saved every piece of Sunday School artwork, every birthday party invitation (I am not kidding, readers. There’s a shoebox-full sitting in the basement), and this practice made an impression on my husband, who stores volumes of old school papers, obsolete electronics, and other “crippity-crap” in preparations for the day when he may need them again. And we’re not even touching the “collections” he was forced to start as a child and was drilled into making it a compulsory activity yet into his adulthood – never mind that he only stashes his collections into boxes and doesn’t display them.

My upbringing was slightly different. There was actually a bit of dissonance on any sort of records retention policy in my childhood. Some treasures were saved, but many toys and things went the way of the garage sale, for the most part. Purgings were a regular part of life. As the years went by, my sister and I began to learn that – if we wanted to keep it – we’d have to hide our treasures. As far as scholastic works went, I went with the assumptions that my institutions of learning would retain whatever information was necessary to prove that I was indeed educated there.

Despite these vast cultural differences, my husband and I found we had enough other things in common to wed.

Fast-forward to nearly a dozen years of marriage gone by. My in-laws still make very regular deposits of more of my husband’s “stuff” for him to sort through (read: they don’t want to hang on to it themselves any more, now that he’s a grown-up and all). My husband will open the box/garbage bag, become overwhelmed at the sight of all the items collected therein, and set it aside to go through later…and then forget he’s got the boxes piled up for a few years.

When we first started our married life, I took a page from my family of origin and designated a “Box of Youth” for each of us to preserve memories from our younger days: yearbooks, trophies, prize ribbons, etc. The idea being that, someday I would want to look back on a few tangible memories of years gone by. But not necessarily an entire storage locker full of them. Today I have two boxes of youth. My husband has more. I can’t bring myself to go up to the attic and count how many, but he definitely has more than two.

As our son started bringing home works of art he created at daycare, and progress reports started coming in, I paused at one point to ask my husband “what do you want to do with this?” “Keep it!” was the immediate reply. “Keep it all?” I asked.

There was silence. Along with avoidance of any eye contact.

And the artwork piled up.

Then one day, while on a shopping spree with our son, the little guy found this lovely purple box that was just the right size for holding various sizes of artwork. And it came with tabbed dividers. And it was 50 percent off. Sold! We had found the storage of our boy’s preschool artworks.

We brought home that box about four months ago. And the artwork piled up.

Finally, this past weekend, I brought it up to my husband. “We can’t keep each and every thing he makes for the next 15 years,” I pointed out. He understood. But this project could not be a team effort. I would have to instigate. So, while he was out delivering a presentation one evening, we tackled the growing mountain of art on top of the piano:

Okay, maybe it's not a mountain in the picture; I blame the lens. It was pretty big.

Sorted it by pre-determined age groups: 0-1, 1-2, 2-3, 3-4 (okay, that last one is yet to be filled, but now there’s designated space for it). And selected at most 12 pieces per group to save.

Protected from cat fangs, sunlight, and general neglect.

Now it’s all stored in a protected space that will conveniently fit into an attic, closet, whatever space is available when the day comes that he’s moving out of home and out on his own. And it won’t overwhelm him, either.







Better than a pile on top of the piano, no?

Our hope is to provide our son with some memories of his earliest days of creativity without overwhelming his future life’s partner with odds and ends that are falling apart after years of storage that he’s convinced he cannot part with. Or picking a moldy Hershey’s Kiss out of a 30-year-old ornament from his childhood. That would be really bad, don’t you think?

There is one catch: we haven’t thrown away the other pieces of art yet. The negotiation reached between my husband and I was that, after I had culled the works of art, he would be allowed the opportunity to review what was saved against what is set to be discarded, and make any changes to the collection. The hard-and-fast-rule, though, is: no more than 12 pieces per age group.

In the short-term, we now have space on top of the piano to proudly display his most recent works of art. Which will help us decide what else to add to his permanent collection:

Much, much better.

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