Your Child’s Keepsakes, 30 Years Later

It’s a big question. What will you keep for your children as they grow older?

What toys and personal mementos are they going to want to remember and look through later? What will they treasure as adults?

I almost cried when I found my old, tiny dollhouse furniture. I didn’t know my mom had saved it. We placed it in Lane’s dollhouse to give to her for Christmas.

When it comes to saving toys and other keepsakes, there are three important considerations.

Three Questions

  • How much was it loved?
  • How big is it?
  • How well will it keep?

In other words, will it store well and is it worth keeping?

One thing I know we will save is the wooden play food from Haba. It’s small, it gets played with all the time, and it will look exactly the same in thirty years. I want to have a few toys available for small guests to play with at our house, and then pass them on to grandchildren.

Passing it Down

Here’s a question from a Small Notebook reader:

How do you explain to your kids who say we don’t want “our” stuff now, they want it later on in their life?  I have been trying to sort through memories like their scrapbooks, childhood trophies, art pictures from every elementary year, etc., and they are upset with me saying they do not want to have to store these things.  Yet I am wanting to downsize to a smaller house. I do not want my children to think their things are not important to me. My children are in their late 20’s, early 30’s and have smaller places so they do not have a lot of extra storage space.

How well I can relate to that dilemma! I’ve lived in an apartment my entire adult life, and I wasn’t ready to receive the big storage boxes of keepsakes my mom saved.

It’s “out of sight, out of mind” when it’s at your house, and most grown kids will be satisfied to leave their stuff at your house for as long as you’ll let them. Or maybe they want it, but not yet.

Either way, it’s delayed decisions.

It’s difficult to know what will hold sentimental value to another person, so the best thing to do is sort through it with their help. Just be careful to stay focused so that you don’t end up reminiscing and then putting it all back in the boxes when you’re done.

A couple of years ago I looked through those boxes with my mom, and together we were able to reduce how much stuff was being kept. I didn’t care about old trophies. I reduced a big storage bin of elementary school art papers down to one artwork album that I love to look at. A few other things weren’t looking so good, and the memories were better.

If you can’t work on it together in person, maybe you could do it over email. Send pictures of the item with the subject line, “Do you want this?”

Do your grown children still want the actual item, or the memory of it? Maybe you could find old pictures of them playing with beloved toys, to keep instead.

Don’t forget the golden rule of keeping sentimental things:

the fewer things you keep, the more special they are.

What is your experience? How do you plan to approach your own sentimental keepsakes, and the stuff you want to save for your children?
About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. I just went through 8 copy paper boxes of childhood stuff I saved/my parents saved. Hilarious! Seeing some of the earrings and a horrific pin in my jewelry box reminded me why I didn’t date anyone in high school….maybe it wasn’t because I was shy. I was able to go through it with my 5 year old and with his help I got the 8 boxes down to 1!

    Funny that you would write about this right after I did that on Sunday. I LOVE your blog. Your thoughts are wise and inspirational!

  2. Handmade items always take priority when I’m trying to whittle down her belongings. I also try to hold on to things that speak to me of a season in her/our lives as a family…something that, when I pick it up in thirty years, will immediately bring a laugh, a funny story, or perhaps a tear to my eyes.

    solstice letters´s last post…escape to open country

  3. Thanks so much for sharing! I have pack-rat tendencies and definitely need to remember your sentimental things rule – maybe I should even have it tattooed on my forehead!

    I was cleaning out one of our closets recently to make room for our baby boy who will be here in May and was amazed at some of the things I found that I’d held on to. I had absolutely no sentimental attachment to the small Minnie Mouse wind-up car, but for some reason, I’d kept it all these years, just because I’d had it forever. What in the world was I thinking?

    Amy´s last post…Lessons learned by eating from the pantry

  4. I don’t have any kids of my own, but my boyfriend (whose three daughters are in their 20’s) is very sentimental and has stored many childhood mementos in his attic. Each Christmas, he assembles a small box with four or five items for each girl to go through, and it is a joy to watch their heads together laughing and remembering each item. Then they take their respective items home with them. We don’t know if they keep them or not, but he shares their joy in the memories, and they have an opportunity to keep them or not. It works for everyone.

    • I think this is such a neat idea! Everyone gets to share in the joy of the memories. Thanks for sharing.

  5. This was a great post. When I was younger I saved so much and overtime we cleaned out and gave some things to close friends. I also had a dollhouse. Luckily was saved the house, but none of the furniture. Now that I have kids of my own, there are things I wish I had saved. It is true that the less you keep the more sentimental the things you do keep will be. I am trying to figure out what clothes and toys to keep for my kids, knowing that space is always an issue as well as will they work 30 years from now? I have some simple everyday items from my grandmothers home that mean the world to me and have such memories and she thought I was picking some odd things at the time I did- her juicer, that she got as a wedding gift, an old flour sifter, an old basket from my great grandmother I never knew. This was such a great post, thanks for the ideas and sharing your thoughts!

  6. I have a friend who scanned all her childrens artwork and even schoolwork and shrunk it down to still keep it readable, but she could put 5-6 paper on each page. I think that it is the memory that we really want to keep, not necessarily the thing itself. The same concept could apply to toys and keepsakes, photograph it, and write a description and what it meant to you. You will get some much needed space and keep what is really important.

    Hannah´s last post…Eye Candy from the Typophile Film Festival

    • Oh, I totally agree. I photograph and scan everything. With a shortage of space it’s a necessity for me. There’s a certain amount of tangible things you want to keep and be able to hold, but for many other things, looking at a photograph brings back the exact same memories. And the photos can be scrapbooked, where you get to write down and document the story of the object. And if you scrapbook digitally you can print a copy of the scrap page for the child, and one for your own scrapbook, maybe even one for each grandparent if the item was significant to them also.

      A cautionary note though, back up, back up, and back up your digital photos.

      Ally´s last post…Digiscrapping Pages

  7. I have memory boxes (photo boxes) for each of my kids. In it I have some stuff from right when they were born, and small keepsakes. Artwork is kept to a minimum here. We send some off to the Grandparents.
    As they get older I’ll reevaluate the boxes, only the real sentimental stuff goes in there.

  8. Loved this post for its thoughtfulness and common sense approach. I started out keeping lots of my children’s things, but as the years wore on (and I had more kids) I started becoming a bit more selective. Now, with three kids ages 22, 19 and 11, I have whittled things down to a box each, plus their scrapbooks. Believe it or not, my scrapbooking brought the keepsake issue into focus for me when I realized I couldn’t save every drawing, every report card, every awards ceremony program and every nearly identical photo. Less is definitely more!
    When my 22-year-old graduates college this spring, we’ll go through his box again and let go of a few more items, I suspect. Especially when I let him know (gently) that this will be his to lug around in life.

    • “Especially when I let him know (gently) that this will be his to lug around in life.”

      EXACTLY!!! I think here is the root of the issue. My grandparent’s house has an unnatural amount of stuff in it. I can’t believe the things they let their children store there. I have too much stuff, and getting rid of it is an ongoing project at our house, but it is all AT MY house. I would never dream of expecting my parents to store and care for my belongings. Lord willing, our children won’t have to deal with our clutter either. Life it too short.

  9. mandy falgout says:

    i had this same exact doll furniture pictured at the top. wow, it made me have some great childhood memories just now. i got it for Christmas when i was about 5 or 6 maybe. AWESOME! thanks for sharing.

  10. Hi Rachel,

    I have that exact same doll furniture that you have in the top picture. My mom recently pulled it out for my Niece. We even have the little doll that you have there and his wife/sister with the black hair. Amazing. :) We had a small plastic doll house that my sisters and I used to play with. Oooh memories!

    I agree with a lot of other people here that handmade items are what I plan to keep for my boys. Also a lot of their firsts in terms of art work and hobbies etc… But I’m limiting myself to one little box so they aren’t overwhelmed by it all when they get it.

    Sherri Kruger´s last post…Top 10 Essential Family Values

  11. Jenni at My Web of Life says:

    I have been using this concept this year to really help down my children’s toys and books that they are CURRENTLY using. I look at the item and if it is something that I would want passed on to a potential grandchild, it is worthy of my chidren NOW. Anything else is really just clutter and ready to move on to someone else’s home.
    One of our keepers is also our wooden food set. Classic!

  12. I keep a box for each kidlet with goodies from their lives… the first books they have made and little letters written to the toothmouse… but I hadn’t thought of on or two special toys… thanks for reminding me before it is too late!!!

    se7en´s last post…Sunday Snippet: Se7en Valentine Bible Games…

  13. Each of our girls has two large rubber maid containers. One has their baby items and things I think they should keep, the other contains things they think they should keep. When It starts to get full, I have them go through it and remove what they don’t want anymore. (I keep an eye for things I might want to scoop up and add to the first box).

    Other than that, we only keep hand made quality items – such as a table and chair set made by their dad for the dolls – and items that I used for teaching them (mostly manipulatives and games that teach – all of which are in excellent condition and can be used no matter what trends may come and go).

    Amy blogs @ River Rock Cottage´s last post…Making Soft Goat Cheese

  14. Karen (Scotland) says:

    This is such a tough issue, actually. My (now) husband moved over from Holland early 2000 to my one bedroom flat in Glasgow, Scotland. He brought a LOT of stuff (including bits of ship engine).
    But I dealt with it, got him to put up more shelves (benefits to a man moving in ;-) ) and we learned to share our space.

    Then his parents came to visit in the summer and brought, I kid you not, a whole car full of “memory” stuff that they felt he should have. They lived in a four bedroom house with no plans to move but felt the stuff should be with their son, including old toys etc.
    They needed a room each for playing the clarinet and doing the ironing…

    I was gutted to lose our calm, uncluttered home. Even more so when I realised that my in-laws had passed on the hoarding gene to my husband who still hasn’t gone through some of those blooming boxes, ten years on.

    Now I’m a parent, though, I totally get their point – most of the stuff is being saved for the kids’ sakes, not mine. I am saving stuff for my little ones but I will get them to go through it when they reach certain ages and say “Mean anything to either of us? Nope? OK, bin it.” Ruthless, but they’ll appreciate it when they are handed a moderately-sized box when they reach adulthood. And not a car-full.

    And, being slightly less selfish than my in-laws, I may wait until they have more than just a one bedroom flat so that they can actually store it easily and therefore appreciate it! :-)

    Sorry this was so lengthy but this post just brought back strong memories of that very day when I saw the car arriving at our door and my rising panic!

    Karen (Scotland)

  15. I come from a family of pack rats, so, at 29, I am already trying to take steps to not have a cluttered house! Here are two things I am doing:

    1) I took a quilting class, so I can make a quilt of scraps of the most special of my children’s clothes once they have outgrown them.

    2) My daughter makes a craft in her nursery class every week. We keep the craft for a week and discuss the symbolism of whatever it is. We then trash/recycle it to make room for the next week’s craft.

  16. They each have a medium sized rubbermaid of stuff I saved from their babyhood, toddler and preschool years. When they are old enough they can go through it and sort the things they want to keep for their adult years. They are now old enough to decide what they want to add to that bin, if anything. But one bin is all they get. Plus a binder every year of homeschool and life memories (their portfolios).

  17. I gasped when I saw that furniture. I had the same thing and totally miss it.

    We recently cleaned out our storage area and I found that I was less of a pack rat than I used to be, a good thing in our little house!

  18. Great things to think about! My son is only 20 months old, so at this point, we are of course saving everything…thanks for a good thing to think about though! I like the idea of having a rubbermaid as an allotted amount of space to put something in, as well as scanning artwork so that you will always have “fridge art!”

    Shannon´s last post…Continuing with health tips…

  19. what a sweet idea to keep in mind! thanks!

    Sandhya Ganesha´s last post…Phenomenal Woman

  20. Goodness. This is a hard dilemma and one I have not yet mastered.

    That said, I completely agree with the statement, “the fewer things you keep, the more special they are.”

    I love the idea of taking the time to organize specials into one album or one manageable keepsake box makes would not only make it easier to store but also easier to enjoy.

    One thing that does work well for those items that don’t quite make the cut but are still sentimental… Scan or take pictures! This works particularly well for artwork.

    What an encouraging post! I think I have some jumbled boxes to tackle…

  21. Love this post. Last summer my parents sold the house we’d lived in for 20 years and I was forced to actually go through my childhood stuff and cart it from the OC to Seattle. I was too emotional dealing with never seeing the house I grew up in to sort through everything so I paid the big bucks and hauled everything up.

    A month later I went through it all and was able to narrow everything down to a chest of memories. It’s now all in one place and in something that’s pretty and useful, and when we move it won’t be a pain to move. I actually used a lot of the tips you give on the site to sort through the old first grade drawings, favorite dolls and girl scout badges. Thanks for the help with that.

    Kait Palmer´s last post…Wardrobe Challenge Day 19 & Run for Mobility

  22. My mom and grandmother kept e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g down to the pieces of paper I scribbled on! There was so much crap to sort through when I a)moved out, b)moved back, c)my parents moved, d)my parents moved again, e)my mom passed away and f)when my dad moved and I acquired all of my mom’s family stuff. I vowed 10 years ago not to do the same to my kids.

    I wish I did scrap books but I don’t currently have the time or the patience. There is 1 box in the top of my daughters’ closet that has keepsakes in it. There are other things in various places that I will keep but I haven’t been organized enough to sort through them yet.

    Important clothing such as my favorite outfit while my first daughter was in NICU, report cards, awards, hand-made or specially ordered items such as embroidered blankets and such, hospital bracelets (if I know where they are), favorite toys. I was so happy to find the pledge cards from sorority pledge week when I cleaned out my mom’s things several months ago. It meant a lot to me.

    Sarah´s last post…January Month-end Progress Report

  23. My favorite items that my Mom saved for me were artwork, school work (like writing), gifts that I made for my parents that were special to THEM, and favorite books. I do have some of my old toys, but most of them were from when I was so small that I don’t remember playing with them. I think my mother was more sentimental about those items than I was.

    Megan´s last post…book love

  24. My mom did save my FP Mandy & Becky dolls, and my 4 year old daughter loves to play with them at their house. Recently I did find an old picture of me when I was six with Mandy. My daughter loved looking at the picture. You comment about taking pictures reminded me of this special memory. Thanks for all your great advice and encouragement toward a simpler life!

  25. We, too, do the bin thing. Each boy has a good-sized bin where we store special things: first outfits, hand-made baby blankets, their baby books, cards and letters from their great-grandparents and grandparents, first passport photos, a few special toys and books, etc. The bins force me to really edit out the things that aren’t that important to save. We keep very few craft and art things–only 1 or 2 a year that have sentimental value.

    My mom was a packrat who saved EVERYTHING! She still have every corsage I received for every dance I ever went to! I have tried to weed out stuff for her, but she can’t part with it. I pulled out everything I truly wanted to save and it’s all in my hope chest. There really wasn’t much at the end of the day: a couple of toys, some books, photo albums, journals, letters from friends, some baby things. It really is true that the fewer things you keep (or have), the more special they are.

  26. Would you believe I still have that dollhouse & all of the people & furniture in it? Yes, the one in your first picture! It was one of my favorite & most cherished belongings when I was little. I played with it until I was way too old to still be playing with dolls, but I took good care of it. When I was ready to move from dolls to boys, my mother kept it safe for me, and even redecorated the interior. I’m so glad we held onto it – not just because my daughters now love it so much, but because of the fond memories I have of it too.

    Sofia’s Ideas´s last post…Happy Earth Day 2010

  27. The hardest thing to deal with is what to do after Mom has died. I’ve had to deal with thing that my mom and grandmother saved. Now I’m helping to deal with the things saved for my stepson. He’s 20, so it’s hard to know what he’ll be interested in having 10 years from now.

    It’s funny. I don’t care much for my elementary school report cards, but find those belonging to my mom fascinating.