“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery

When conducting an organizing presentation or teleclass, I often mention the idea of creating a Memory Box for each family member.  Many participants share that the Memory Box tip is their favorite, and one they cannot wait to act on. (See, for example, this blog post by June Bisel of BusinessCardContacts.com).

A Memory Box is a container in which each family member can store his or her most treasured possessions. The size should be big enough to fit the prized possessions, but small enough to grab and carry out of the house, in case of an emergency. The actual container can be a no-nonsense functional type, like a plastic bin, or it can be a lovely decorated stylish box, bin, or basket. My personal Memory Box is an old trunk that has handles on the side to carry it in the event of an emergency evacuation.

The location for storing the Memory Box is also a personal decision. Often, because of the confidential or personal nature of the items in the box, it makes the most sense to store each person’s Memory Box in his or her room, at the top or bottom of a closet, under the bed, etc. But some choose to store all of the Memory Boxes for the family in a basement or attic, so that they do not take up precious space in the living areas of the home, and can be grabbed easily in one fell swoop if need be.

I would not recommend storing vital documents such as your will, birth certificate, etc. in the Memory Box. Those items should either be stored in a safe deposit box at the bank, or at home in a fire resistant box (remember, there is no such thing as a fireproof box for the home!). Some people store their vital documents in a regular file folder in their filing cabinet, and keep copies (or the originals) in a separate location. In the event that an emergency causes a very quick evacuation, the people and pets go out first, followed by the vital documents, and then the Memory Boxes.

What goes in a Memory Box? Well, that is up to you, of course. But here are some ideas.

  • Start a Memory Box for your children’s prized artwork, sentimental childhood possessions, schoolwork, etc.  They can decide, with you, what goes in it.  You can have a master Memory Box, and one for the current school year.  At the end of the school year, your child, with your help, can revisit the year, purging any items that are not vital enough to go in the master Memory Box. 
  • If you have a few sentimental favorite articles of clothing that you just can’t part with, but don’t wear, store them in your Memory Box.
  • Want to revisit your love life? Store old love letters, poems, your corsage or boutineer from your high school prom, a playbill from the first date with your spouse, etc.
  • If you plan to store documents or photographs in your Memory Box, consider getting an archival quality document or photo box to insert the paper and photos in, and then store the document or photo box inside the larger Memory Box. This will ensure paper and photos do not get destroyed over time.
  • If an item is much too large to fit into the Memory Box, and you can bear to part with it, take a photo of the item, and store the photo with a description of the item in the box. This works well for items that you are merely keeping out of obligation. For example, that hideous painting your aunt made for you that you will never hang up! Take a photo, write a note saying, “Aunt Gertrude meant well” and donate the painting to someone who will appreciate its unrecognized beauty.

People are often surprised to hear that I have a Memory Box. “You, a professional organizer?” Yes! Organizing is about decluttering your life of the stuff that does not serve your goals, and letting the cream rise to the top. It is about giving your favorite possessions a place of value in your home and life. My personal Memory Box includes select sentimental items, including my handwritten journals, my baton (yes, I was a baton twirler – don’t laugh!), my middle school graduation dress (loved it!), love letters from my husband from before we were married, letters and cards from friends and family members that are precious to me, and poems that I wrote growing up.

Ms. Bisel shares that her new Memory Box will contain her kid’s baby books, drawings from elementary school, some treasured photos, and other memories from her kids’ childhood. She says that her kids love looking through the stuff, and it would be great to have it all in one place. Before she attended my workshop, the items were scattered around the house, and now they will be stored conveniently together, in a place of distinction.

So, what’s in your Memory Box?

About Lisa Montanaro

Lisa Montanaro is a Productivity Consultant, Success Coach, Business Strategist, Speaker and Author who helps people live successful and passionate lives, and enjoy productive and profitable businesses. To receive her free Toolkit, Achieve Powerhouse Success with Purpose, Passion & Productivity, visit www.LisaMontanaro.com/toolkit. Lisa is the author of "The Ultimate Life Organizer: An Interactive Guide to a Simpler, Less Stressful & More Organized Life" published by Peter Pauper Press. Through her work, Lisa helps people deal with the issues that block personal and professional change and growth. To explore how Lisa can help you be purposeful, passionate and productive, contact Lisa at (530) 302-5306 or by e-mail at .

7 Responses to “What’s In Your Memory Box? Creating an Organized Home for Your Prized Possessions”

  1. Tami

    My kids all have a Memory Bin. It’s a large tupperware container that I started for them with items such as the newspaper from the day they were born, their baptismal outfit, etc. But once they were old enough, they get to choose what goes in it. And when it’s full, they cannot add anything without removing something. It’s funny, because the things they saved that meant something a few years back, they can’t even remember why they kept it when going through it later! The items they’d like to save that are too big for the bin get photos taken of them or pictures drawn or stories written about them. Which leads me to their Electronic Memory Bin. Each kid has a folder on the computer that gets electronic memories. Pictures, scanned in report cards, artwork, etc. This doesn’t have a physical capacity so, they need to go through it on a regular basis. Our rule is yearly.
    Two things I think are really important are 1. The bin is maintained by the owner. Only the memories important to that person go in it. If a piece of artwork my kids made is nostalgic to me, but not them – it should go in MY bin. And 2. There need to be rules set up in regards to how to store things, space issues, and how often things are sorted through.

  2. Lisa Montanaro

    Hi Tami-

    Thanks for your comment. Great points that you made. I love that you let your kids take ownership of their Memory Boxes. That makes a huge difference. And I also agree that if you want the item, but they don’t, it goes in your Memory Box.

    It is true that so many people are using their computers these days to store photos and other memories. As long as you back it up (which I am sure you do, Ms. fellow Professional Organizer!), and have a way to retrieve it (small drive to carry out, or regularly upload to an online site) in case of an emergency, it is a great option and helps to decrease the physical clutter!

    Thanks for visiting. 🙂

    – Lisa

  3. Janet Barclay

    I started with a large Rubbermaid tote, but after my mom passed away, I acquired a lot more memorabilia (some pertaining to her, and some from my childhood which she had kept) so I removed all the paper items and put them in a banker’s box. I’ve recently acknowledged that I’ve kept quite a bit of stuff that doesn’t mean that much to me, so I’m planning to purge it back down to fit in the Rubbermaid tote one Sunday afternoon this winter.

    Thank you for this post! You’ve helped me see there is value in what I call my Treasure Box, and not just junk!

  4. Lisa Montanaro

    Janet –

    You are so welcome! Glad my post helped in some small way. You did a “first pass” and now will make some final decisions. Good for you!

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.

    – Lisa

  5. Janet Barclay

    Wow, have I really been thinking about cleaning out my treasure box for more than a year? Sounds like a good way to pass a rainy summer Sunday afternoon…


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Anti-Spam Quiz:

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. On Your Mark, Get Set, Go! The Clothes Closet Overhaul | Lisa Montanaro Inc

    […] you have a few sentimental favorites you can’t part with but won’t wear, store them in your Memory Box or out of season storage […]