This Little Miggy Stayed Home: Memory Keeping Systems for the Lazy Mom

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Memory Keeping Systems for the Lazy Mom

When I married my husband I knew he came with baggage. Literal baggage. Specifically, ELEVEN 3 ring, 3-inch-wide scrapbook binders from his childhood. My mother-in-law was a scrapbooking goddess of sorts and each of her 3 children received a similar 100 lb. dowry of childhood memories preserved for their posterity. I, on the other hand, came with no such childhood memory keepers. If scrapbooks had monetary value, I was a pauper. No scrapbooks, no photo albums, no carefully preserved artwork. (Although I have received saved clothing items over the years--baby dresses and favorite childhood outfits--which, if you know my mom, is very fitting. Clothing is her love language.) 

As a mom I knew I wanted to have something to give my children when they grew up, but at the same time I also knew I was not going to replicate my mother-in-law's scrapbooking greatness. But I believe in memories and history. I've got boxes of letters dating back to middle school and photo albums I started putting together in college. I've got old love letters from people are no longer part of my life, but the story is a part of who I am today.

Today I want to share with you my memory keeping system for the lazy mom. Of course I'm not really lazy and I'm not calling other moms lazy either, but I'm talking about having a system that is as effortless as possible, because if there is effort involved, it simply won't get done.

Of course, as many people have pointed out, it does not get easier that Chatbooks. Agreed! (I should probably jump on that bandwagon soon.) Or the many other easy, breezy ways to create photo books online. BUT what about your kids special school work, or your ticket stubs to that Broadway show, or the subway map of Paris, or that special pair of baby shoes you want to pass down to your grandkids, or your 3 year old's first stick figure, or the Mother's day cards upon Mother's day cards? Those are the memories you can't organize with a one-click subscription.

Saying the word "system" is a little misleading as it's really about getting the right containers and storage pieces for each category you wish to store and having them on hand. Like the old adage says, everything in it's place and a place for everything. It's easy to keep things organized when you put the art in the art box and the school work in the schoolwork folder from the get go. Keep in mind, this isn't a perfect system. I have some overlap (school work in the scrapbooks for example) and I'm sure there are better ways. But this is MY way. This works for me. Maybe it will work for you too.

There are 4 different categories that I use to generally organize both my kids and our family's stuff and I'll go through each category with links to the storage supplies used for each one as well as some tips to make it easier.

First, my general categories are:
Family Scrapbooks
Memory Boxes

Each girl gets one of these acid free storage boxes (these are the same type of boxes I store my art in as well. I have these, but I think I'd use these in the future). And when they create a beautiful masterpiece it goes in the box. When they were younger this was a longer process (as we had more homemade art). They would take their art pile and divide it into keep, throw away, and take a picture piles. Naturally, we put all the keep in the art box and threw out all the throw away stuff. But if there was a piece they couldn't decide on, we would take a picture and then put it in their digital art portfolio. Every once in a while I make the girls look through their boxes (usually when they're adding something new) and make them edit the box a bit--that is, throw away a couple of pieces.

Each girl has a 3 ring binder (from Target--any binders will do) with clear plastic cover sheets to put their work in. Again, I try to keep only the best stuff. No worksheets (except from kinder so I can remember their handwriting), only school projects, small art projects, papers they wrote, awards, etc. Of course this is where the overlap can happen--do I put an art project from school in their binder or their art box? Depends. I don't stress about it too much and just put it in the best place.

Family Scrapbooks
This is where I keep all our family memories--again not just pictures (but yes I have some in there too). Here are some items I have put in our scrapbooks: Tickets and playbills from Broadway shows, our old NYC subway map, a fall leaf, Mother's Day crafts, ticket stubs and little momentos from vacations. A long time ago I bought two large scrapbooks (the company I bought them from is out of business, but similar here) and 2 large pads of scrapbook paper and I filled each page with one of these scrapbooks papers--so that there is a background to each page. Then as I collect little items over the years I add them to the books. The original idea was to add the items as I get them, but in truth they items tend to pile up until I absolutely need to sit down and go through the pile and add it to the books. But it still works great to have a place for these things to go.

Big Memory Boxes
I think I actually did get this tip from another blogger, but I can't remember where. Anyway, I have one of these large, heavy duty storage boxes for all 3 girls and one for myself. They aren't just cardboard, they are stronger and they really are bigger than you think (check out the measurements.) For my girls I use these mostly for my favorite baby clothes, shoes, moccasins, etc. that they each wore and that I couldn't bear to give away or get rid of. Most of the clothes are still in really good condition and could be worn by one of their daughters one day (sob!), however some are lived in through and through with holes and lots of love, not meant to be passed down but just cherished. I also have little lovies, and other larger items that could never fit in a scrap book and now have a lovely home tucked away in a special box for them.

The memory box for me is a lot of the same--my old baby clothes that my mom passed down to me, (some of which my girls wore),  Zuzu's pink binkie, Mother's day cards, Valentines, little love notes, necklaces made with dental floss and beads--all the sweet things my kids have made for me. It's nice to have a set aside place for all their little treasures, as opposed to being stuffed in the top drawer not sure what I'm supposed to do with it, but not wanting to throw it away either. Also, see that yellow floral dress? That's a pioneer style dress my great-grandma made in the 1930's that's been passed down for 3 generations. My grandmother, my mother and I have all worn it.

As I said, It's really about keeping the right tools on hand.
Here are some of my additional tips:

The great thing about having a place to put things is that it gives you time and perspective to see which items you really want to keep forever and which, upon second thought, are OK to get rid of. Sometimes Zuzu does a series of paintings and in the moment I want to keep all of them, so I put them in her art box. The next time I get in her box I have a clearer eye as to what I really want to keep--perhaps I have too many that look alike or too many from a specific age, so I keep 1 or 2 of the group and let the rest go. Same with school work and memory boxes. I don't want to be a pack rat, I want to have a small but treasured collection of my kids childhoods.

You could even suggest that the one big box is all your kids get to store from their childhood and so they must be very judicious about what they put in there.

Get Your Kids Involved
Ask your kids what THEY want, it will likely be different than what you want. Also, its great to have them as part of the editing and throw out process. Just like you, overtime they many not want certain papers or projects they once thought they'd keep forever! But, I've also overruled them at times when they wanted to throw something out that I knew they'd love to see years later.

Also, here are some other resources I found online for easy and unique ways to preserve memories:
Organize and Save Artwork, Schoolwork and Mementos online.
Turn your child's drawing into a keychain
Have a memory quilt of your child's baby clothing made
Or have their clothes turned into a stuffed animal
Keep a daily one-line journal for 5 years

That's it! What are your tips, secrets, hacks? Are you a pack rat that wants to keep it all, or are you the opposite where the idea of having some folders and boxes of all this stuff would drive you nuts?


  1. This is similar to what I do with my kids. Binder for school work, photo albums and boxes for their treasured items like baby shoes.
    The only other thing I have a hard time figuring out what to do with is birthday cards and letters. Especially the ones they get from my Grandma, their great grandma.

    1. Nicole3:55 PM

      FOr cards I have considered hole punching them on one side and using binder rings to hold them together and make a sort of book.

  2. I do chatbooks-I have it linked to my instagram and I occasionally add pictures directly to the chatbooks that I didn't want to instagram (i.e. like a potty training pic that I didn't want to share on instagram but was so sweet I wanted to remember). I also take photos of the kids' art and then put those photos in the chat books. I like that I have a growing collection on the shelf but I'm not sure that the print quality has been amazing so I'd be interested if someone had a similar company suggestion that had better quality printing.

  3. I have been writing a monthly letter to my children since they were born (except for my oldest, I started the whole thing when she was 8 months old). I do it on the day of the month that they were born (e.g. if their birthday is July 14th, I do it on the 14th every month) and in the letter I tell them about things they did that month, developmental milestones, funny things they said, etc. It's usually 1-2 pages. I save it on my computer in a folder with my favorite 5-10 pictures of them from the month and my plan is to publish the letters along with the pictures in one big book when they turn 18 and give it to them as a gift. This probably doesn't feel low-key to some people, but it's been fun for me to reflect each month and kind of a journal for them of their lives when they're less likely to be doing their own journaling.