New Uses for Family Mementos

Over the years I’ve inherited quite a bit of stuff from my relatives.

Dishes, jewelry, books, scrapbooks, pictures, clothing, keepsakes, letters, souvenirs from far away places, and even a trunk have all come my way as relatives have passed away or downsized their lives. For the longest time this stuff just sat in various places in my house. Some of it was in the attic because I had no real use for it and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to sell it, throw it away, or donate it somewhere. Despite the fact that some of it had no real use for me, it was still sentimental stuff. Sentimental stuff is hard to get rid of.

After a while, I got tired of the clutter. I got tired of tripping over stuff and having no room for other things because this stuff was taking up my space. So I sat down to think long and hard about what I wanted to do with it all. I sorted things in to two piles. One pile was for the things that I knew I wanted to keep in some form. The other pile was for things that I wasn’t as attached to.

I looked at the pile of things I wanted to keep. Very little of it was in a form that I could use or that would bring me joy. The trunk was a dirty mess. The dishes were still useful, but not my taste for table decor. The photos were nice, but photos in an album aren’t seen or appreciated. Same with the postcards from some far away places. I thought about all of those things and about what I could do with them that would make them useful to me, but which would allow me to still remember the past. Here are just a few of the things that I did:

  • I broke the dishes and embedded the pieces in concrete to make pavers for my garden. I applied sealant on top to make them weather proof and voila! I have pretty garden pavers that are more valuable to me than anything I could buy.
  • I turned the gravy boat into a home for a small violet which I keep it on my windowsill.
  • I laminated many of the photos, letters, and postcards and they now serve as place mats for my table. I have more than I can use for one setting, so I rotate them and people often remark on my “different” place mats. I also made a few into bookmarks.
  • I cleaned and painted the trunk and then decorated it with some embellishments from the craft store. It’s still my uncle’s Army trunk, but now it sits at the foot of my bed and is used for blanket storage.
  • I cut up some of the clothes and sewed them into a quilt. I still get to remember the outfits, but I don’t have to wear them.
  • I took some of the jewelry apart and either had the stones reset into something more my taste, or I combined parts from several pieces to make something I prefer.

The things you can do with old mementos are limited only by your imagination. There are tons of ways to convert or incorporate old stuff into items you’ll actually use. Before you resign yourself to tossing things or storing them forever, give yourself some time to think about what else you might do with them. Don’t be afraid to break it or use it for a different purpose. The point is to make these old items into things that you will love and use. It’s not sacrilegious or horrible to repurpose items.(Although I’ll admit that breaking that first dish did feel a little like that.)

Some of the mementos did end up being given away or donated. There were some things I just couldn’t repurpose and I had to make the hard decision to let it go. It was sentimental to me, but not useful. With limited space hard choices had to be made. I did feel badly for a little while, but then I looked around at the things I still had which were now very useful to me and I felt better. I can keep the memories of those other things and hope that someone else is enjoying them. What I’m left with are the things that mattered most and they are now in a form that serves me today, as well as honors the past.

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6 Responses to New Uses for Family Mementos

  1. Tom says:

    Very good thinking! I had some handmade items like blankets and afghans from my mother who is no longer alive. I had just been storing them as treasures. I decided to use them instead.

  2. Kim says:

    This is some GREAT advice, especially for people so afriad to let go of things from people who meant so much in their lives. Repurposing, but if not that, then freecycle or donation.

  3. shelly says:

    Great ideas. I suggest taking photos of those “precious” items you have to part with as a memento. A photo of all your old sports trophies takes up much less room than the actual trophies! Etc.

  4. Gail says:

    For years I had a very old vintage pewter bowl sitting around ocllecting dust. Wasn’t to my taste but a family momento. When we moved 5-6 years ago, hubby needed a set place for his keys and wallet and suddently that bowl is being used again. Even if he forgets to put his keys or wallet away, I know where to put them so he knows where to find them.

  5. tanmay says:


  6. nad says:

    Laminating items RUINS them. The plastic lamination literally eats up paper, and ultimately destroys the item you laminated.

    What happens when you move? Those dish-filled pavers are history. Why not sell or give them to other family members, and keep a few of your favorite dishes?

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