Organizing Painful Memorabilia

The following is a guest post from regular contributor, Rachel at Useful Beautiful Home.

I want to touch on something usually left unsaid or easily avoided – how to start organizing items that represent heartache or loss. I had trouble finding content on this matter. I’ve read an assortment of suggestions and opinions about organizing happy memories, but the painful ones are rarely written about.


Three years ago my husband and I experienced a game changer in our family plans, I had a miscarriage just days away from my second trimester. From that point forward, I have been unable to carry another child.

Prior to that emotional event, we were blessed with a healthy daughter. I’m sentimental in general, but when it comes to my daughter’s baby items, I’m ESPECIALLY sentimental. Those things aren’t just things to me, they represent what we may never get to experience again and they contain a mountain of treasured memories from yesteryear.

Looking at her pink bouncy seat reminds me of my new mother stage and a host of early family memories. Each precious keepsake holds sentimental value and sweet memories… Newborn clothes, pretty much all in pink… Crib mobile she cooed her first “song” to… Bumbo seat and chubby thighs… Push-carts for early walking steps… On and on I could go.

Originally, I kept it all. But, like most parents, we soon found this collection to grow wildly. I hesitated to donate or sell what we accumulated, in hopes of being blessed with another babe. However, I finally came to grips with the fact that I can’t continue storing everything. In other words, it’s time to stop dedicating our attic to motherhood memories. No more contributing to a mini museum of baby artifacts. It’s time to pursue organization for the sake of personal healing and boundaries.

So where to begin? It helped me to look at the facts… Does holding on to stuff insure another baby blessing? No. Does holding on to stuff rewind the precious days? No. Does holding on to stuff change a miscarriage outcome? No.

If the above is true, then why hold on to these things so tightly? For me, it’s because I’m hopeful for more children. And, of course, that sentimental side contributes largely. Yet, reality tells me we’re running out of room. I can’t possibly store more belongings without spilling out of the attic and into the guest room.

Generally, I try to only keep that which remains within a boundary or can be contained. Remember Laura’s Organizing PROCESS (HERE and HERE)? It’s my guiding star when it comes to organizing. Remember her expansion on the topic of purging (HERE). It’s no secret, purging is a key ingredient when it comes to organizing. Therefore, purging is an important step in organizing yet often times it’s the hardest.

Our walk-in attic is a rather large boundary and we’re reaching it’s limits. It’s cause to re-evaluate and it hurts. It hurts to address the memories that represent painful points in my life. If you’ve ever lost a loved-one, can’t have more children, or have tucked away other painful memories – it hurts to let go. It hurts to purge. And really, I’m not suggesting you do unless you think it’s time.

Don’t get me wrong, professional organizers have some marvelous suggestions for purging while preserving your memories. For example, many suggest taking pictures of what is precious to you and then donating or selling the item itself. In theory, that’s a wonderful idea. In practice, you must be ready to take that kind of plunge.

When it comes down to organizing and purging sentiments, maybe you need to tread slowly like me. Maybe you need to take baby steps in the purging stages of organization. Not because it overwhelms you. Not because you’re unorganized. Not because you have no clue what to do next. Sometimes, purging at a slower pace needs to happen for those of us who still feel the pain. Our tender wounds may not be completely healed. So, we need to go easy on ourselves while continuing to press-on through the stages of grief.

Initially, the first small step I took was only taking pictures of my treasured things but not purging them at first attempt. I took several pictures of what I had the most trouble letting go and saved them on a hard drive. All the items themselves went right back into storage. In the process, I was able to find things to sell/donate but a portion got neatly packed away for another day. I didn’t say packed away forever, but for another day when I was a little stronger and less emotionally impacted.

One day, I will have healed enough to purge the rest but will always have the pictures. Pictures to keep the memories alive but not things that overcrowd our space and congest our home. For now, I have a mixture of the pictures and the things until I’m ready to say a final goodbye.

Does that make sense? I began with just taking pictures but not getting rid of the extremely sentimental items that still fit in our storage space. It’s starting the process, taking a step, but not executing a permanent decision until I’m ready.

I’ve gone ahead and let go of several things but that bouncy seat might just keep her spot on the shelf a little while longer. I’ve rounded up a tub of outgrown children’s clothing to sell but those dainty little newborn clothes are still waiting in their own tub with the hopes of being worn by another baby in our household.

I’m not perfect in this area yet. At times, I’m still learning the balance between what makes the most financial sense to keep, what holds significant sentimental value, and what must be reasonably moved out to make room for the next stage of life. However, it’s been helpful to remind myself that what I give away helps meet another young mother’s needs. And I smile despite the inadvertent tear that escapes, knowing my donation helps someone else during her hardship.

So, sweet friend, if you’ve listened to organizers and felt twinges of guilt for what you’ve kept in the back of a closet or in the recesses of your attic, know that I understand. While it isn’t commonly written about in the organizing sphere, it’s understood. Sometimes, your boxed-up memories have deep roots and represent a great deal of pain that only time can heal. And in time, small strides eventually add up to big progress.


In the professional world, I’m a nurse by trade. But, around our house, I’m known as Mommy to our young daughter. My two worlds collided and began shaping into a blog. Useful Beautiful Home represents the hours I’ve dedicated to managing my household as efficiently as possible. I offer you motivation to keep your home healthy, organized, and welcoming. My goal is to share what I’ve implemented in my home to inspire you with fresh ideas and to encourage you to keep up the good work in yours!

Filed under: Guest Bloggers, Keepsakes, Rachel


22 Responses to Organizing Painful Memorabilia

  1. 1
    carole says

    So sorry to hear about your “history”. My husband and I experienced infertility and tried for years to have children but I never had to deal with the miscarriage side of pregnancy. We now have 2 kids, 13 and 16. One thing I would do if I had to do it over again is find a way to make a quilt of my favorite outfits/blankets.

  2. 2
    annie says

    Thank you for this post. We have been hoping for another child for 4 years and the bins of baby and toddler and now kid stuff grow and grow and it is so hard to decide to get rid of.

  3. 3
    Robyn@LivingtheSimpleLifeNow says

    So sorry for your loss. :( Some things can be so hard. My husband has lost both of his parents. When we cleaned out the house, his sister took so much she had to rent a storage unit. His brother’s house became very full.

    I told my husband to keep anything he wanted but knows I don’t like having a lot of stuff. I told him that didn’t matter. But we have been able to contain his “memories” to a few large Rubbermaid containers.

    Everyone handles this issue differently and I don’t think there is any wrong way.

  4. 4
    Penguinlady says

    I am so sorry for your loss. Getting rid of some things is so painful, but sometimes necessary to healing. I have the belief that some items are toxic and keeping them actively hurts you, psychically. For instance, I held on to my high school boyfriend’s class ring for years, even though the relationship ended very badly and the thought or sight of the ring brought me bad, sick memories. I tried to give it back a few times, but he wouldn’t take it and third parties also refused to take it. In the end, I pitched it in the trash. It was like having a stone that I carried around, and finally threw it into the river; I felt free. Wishing you good thoughts on your journey to be free.

    • 4.1
      Mary says

      I wish I could’ve known about that sooner, I so would’ve wanted that ring, I’m a ring collector

  5. 5
    Momkat619335 says

    So sorry for your loss. I was in the same predicament having lost quadruplets over 18 years ago at 21 weeks. I held onto nursery decorations for more than 12 years, not being able to bear to dispose of them. Of course I did use them for the two children I ultimately had but it was still a pain-staking task to do. Over the years I did narrow things down to four bears that my oldest niece had given them and a memory box from the hospital. Even though others think the baby items are just taking up space, don’t rush yourself. You’ll regret it in the long run. This type of healing is different for everyone. Even today, I still have days….not many but times they are on always on my mind. Do it your way. It’s a tough road but one only some of us have traveled. Just know you’re not alone.

  6. 6
    Lynn says

    9 miscarriages over 5 years before we were blessed with my daughter, then 1 more in-between her and her brother. We were so incredibly blessed to be able to have more children. But it was only in the past couple of years that I was finally able to let go of the baby outfits that I had purchases back in 1998, before my first miscarriage. Even after finally carrying a child to term, I just couldn’t bring myself to put those outfits on them. I can’t explain it. I kept them all those years in hopefulness, I guess, but when it was time to put them to use… i just couldn’t. So they sat, along with the other various baby items I collected from my living children, because like you, I just couldn’t bear to part with it.

    What finally got me to move on it was discovering that I could donate pretty much all of it to the crisis pregnancy center. Knowing that it was going to help young mothers made giving it away so much more bearable. It’s become a little more painful to give things away now that I know I will never have another one, but what I do now is lay things out and touch each item. If I have clear, fond memories, I tend to keep it. (Clothing, not gear) As someone else mentioned, I plan to eventually put together memory quilts for the kids. You know, once I figure out how to sew or have enough money to pay someone. :)

    Thank you for such a great post! You’re right, no one ever talks about this. I’m glad you did.

  7. 7
    KRoss says

    I like this article & would love similar info. I have 2 friends who can’t part with anything. One lost her mom at an early age and keeps everything from her mom. One lost a spouse and had a hard time getting rid of stuff before he passed and now it’s worse.

  8. 8
    Quiltin Jenny says

    Thanks so much for sharing this special post!

  9. 9
    Linda@Creekside says

    What a beautiful, sensitive approach to grieving well. Thank you for making yourself so vulnerable and putting this needed yet unspoken conversation on the table. As a counselor, all I can do is say thank you. And may you be blessed as you continue to walk through your grief toward the healing place.

  10. 10
    jean says

    What a beautiful article. I miscarried in my sixth month but now I have 2 beautiful healthy kids. God bless you.

  11. 11
    Crissy says

    Hi – thanks so much for such a lovely post about a sensitive topic. I myself have a beautiful daughter, but have also suffered 2 losses since having her – so I can totally get where you are coming from. Its really hard to let go of the past in this way, and its good to know that others feel the same about treasured items. Thanks for sharing x

  12. 12
    karen says

    Even after a prolonged period in trying to conceive, after the birth of our daughter I just assumed I would go onto have a 2nd child. My marriage has fallen apart & I know with some certainty that I will never have another baby. The pain of not cherishing things more the 1st time causes me to hoard more. Yet the need to pair down & simplify my life to start over is ever present. The purging is imminent but I remain unconvinced at how much I can let go! Such an important subject to acknowledge. Thankyou so much for sharing. However I’m sorry for your loss x

  13. 13
    Becky L says

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It will be good for those you read your post who are in the same situation. Keeping memories of the items is a good thing. Then when you let the items go, eventually, there are still photos. I have a hard time getting rid of a few things of my mom’s since I have no use for them any more. A table lamp. She’s in a nursing home and won’t be coming home. She can’t use it. Sigh. Life is hard and we struggle through our emotions, up and down and mediocre. We go on and live our lives with memories of what could have been or the way life was. So thankful that God is with us every step of the way. If we believe! Hugs and sorry for your loss. Have a good week!

  14. 14
    Kemi Quinn says

    Thank you for sharing this difficult topic. We too still have the items from our first pregnancy. We were expecting a boy who was stillborn. We went on to adopt a girl but we received so many things for her I still have baby boy stuff stored in the garage. We are hopeful (even as time runs out) to one day be able to use those items. The one thing I do plan to hold on to was the plant given to us in his memory.

  15. 15
    Sarah says

    This was such a beautiful and heart wrenching post. I really appreciated it, because I too have had to deal with loss when my mom died 7 years ago. Initially I was able to purge all of her clothes, but it took years to really go through and get rid of everything. In the end I kept only a few key things that were most precious to me, like her sunglasses, perfume bottle, and a broach she always wore on her coat. I intend to put all those items in a large shadow box with a photo of her to display on my wall so that I’ll always feel that she’s near to me and my family. ?

  16. 16
    Anna@stuffedveggies says

    Thanks for posting on a very helpful topic. My dear late Mother was traumatically widowed at a young age. She kept so many memories of my Father for the rest of her life – unable to get rid of them. She became unable to get rid of other things, too. And, unable to organize things, too. After she passed away, we kids had the task of cleaning out her stuff. After so many years, many things were just ruined – moldy, dusty, dry rotted, eaten by termites, rusted, etc.

    Now, I have so many of the things that were still left that I need to sort thru. Like all of the sympathy cards that were sent when my Father died. All of the congratulation cards that were sent when I was born (very close to the same time).

    I also have my own tangible memories from my little girl, and from a later miscarriage – like you.

    I try to go thru and keep a representative sample in each category. I well written Sympathy card from someone I remember. A favorite baby outfit. A symbolic piece of jewelry.

    It gives me great joy to know that the other things – those I don’t keep – are being used & enjoyed by someone who needs them -not rotting in the attic.

  17. 17
    Ann says

    I’m having this same trouble myself; having lost my father & now having to go through all of his stuff & decide what to keep & what not to. it helped that I had to pay to have things shipped back to California, but I still have so much that I haven’t been able to part with yet.
    It helps to know that I’m not the only one having trouble letting go of “stuff.”

  18. 18
    Heather {Woods of Bell Trees} says

    I’m so sorry to about your loss. These are great tips to deal with the belongings of loved ones. Thank you!

  19. 19
    Kim says

    I have always said cleaning is like therapy. A little different when its relative to a lost loved one. Touching story.

  20. 20
    Carrie says

    Thank you.

  21. 21
    Wendy says

    I understand not wanting to get rid of the clothes. It was/is hard for me. I told myself there was no logical reason to keep them. So I decided to make a quilt out of her clothes. I could not find any ideas that I liked and I had to make it up as I went. Freestyle quilt piecing with my precious baby clothes freaked me out! With an idea in mind, I sat down to work and could not cut the clothes. After some time I finally got a section together, I thought it was great! However, I went through that emotional roller coaster every time I started to take a pair of scissors to some cute outfit, shirt, or dress. Sometimes I would get so overwhelmed that I would throw all of it in a box and stick it back in the closet. That quilt was literally made with my blood, sweat, and oh so many tears! It was one of the hardest things I have ever done and took me nearly five years to finish it but I am glad I did it, I can’t think of a better way to keep those memories. Now, my five year old looks at the quilt and just can’t believe she used to fit into some of those clothes! :)


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