Works For Me: Keepsake Boxes

I realized a long time ago that the paper/ keepsake/Very Important Document deluge each year had to be managed.  I have four kids; that’s a lot of Thanksgiving turkeys made out of paper plates and construction paper.  I needed to get on top of it.

I came up with a system that has been miraculous:  first, because it may be the only organizational system I’ve stuck with for longer than 15 minutes, and second, because it really works.

Every year I get a plastic bin with a lid (roughly twice the size of a shoe box).  I keep it in the floor of my pantry.  Every year, as important papers float past me, I stuff them in the box.

At year end, the box is invariably flowing over the sides.  I sort through it, culling away the things that really aren’t keepsake-worthy.  With the right amount of stuffing and sorting, I’m able to get each box to the point that the lid will snap on.  If it won’t snap shut, it means I have to do more culling.   (And I also need to find more reasons to use the word “culling”, because seriously, what a great word.)

(And no, I don’t have the stuff sorted by kid.  Everyone’s keepsakes–all six of us–go in the same box.  After my funeral someday, my grieving offspring will just have to sort and fight amongst themselves for the construction paper turkeys.)

The box then heads to the deepest recesses of my daughter’s closet, to join its cohorts from previous years:


I hesitate to show you that picture, because it seems a little misleading, as if all my closets are neatly stacked and labeled.

They’re not.

In the interest of transparency, here’s the other side of that same closet:


And here (brace yourselves) is the floor of the closet:


That stuff you see on the floor is dried acrylic craft paint, the result of an incident that easily tops my list of Worst Parenting Moments, a moment so heart-stopping and terrible I still cannot, a year later, discuss it in detail without inducing an anxiety attack.  There was paint involved, and carpet, and a very cheeky three-year-old girl.  Let us never speak of it again.

Anyway, my main point is that limiting myself to one box of keepsakes per year has been a very manageable way to control all the stuff.

(And my secondary point is that you shouldn’t inadvertently leave acrylic craft paint within reach of a three year old.)

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101 thoughts on “Works For Me: Keepsake Boxes

  1. LifeAtTheCircus says:

    Great tips! Both of them. I currently have a file for drawings the kids make that I think are must keepers… but now that one kid is 3 and they are actually able to draw, I need something bigger. This is a great idea.
    And I too have learned the hard way about acrylic paint and toddlers…but that is another post for another day.

  2. Blue Castle says:

    Your idea could very well solve my biggest problem. My boys supply me with at least 4 pieces of their artwork each day. Some days it’s 10 times that. Maybe now I won’t feel so guilty about throwing so much of it away if I save the best. 🙂
    Thank you!

  3. Carol says:

    D’oh! Forgot to include my topic in my linky. That’s what I get for trying to better my status from that of bowels of the triple digits to that of the more noble teens.
    Oh well. At least there’s no acrylic paint on my rug.
    Of course, I never do manage to get to the culling stage with my boxes of keepsakes. The incoming deluge does slow down after elementary school. Something you can look forward to.
    You rock. (But not in my dryer.)

  4. Kim@ForeverWherever says:

    You’ve done a great job! I just have one large box per child with their name on it. I can’t really tell you how old they were when they made each item. Oh, and let’s just say I understand your closet!

  5. Hillary says:

    I love your boxes. That’s a great job to CULL down that much! And I didn’t mean to, but I think I hit the wrong link the first itme and then registered twice- it’s 46 AND 47. It’s my first time to link, so I’m excited. I just didn’t mean to be THAT excited. 🙂
    My oldest’s turkey this year was 3-D with stand, tee-pee, pilgrim and play-doh turkey (since one wasn’t enough). What am I to do wtih that treasure?
    Oh- the carpet looks familiar. I won’t reveal what’s on mine.

  6. Col @ life by muse says:

    What an AWESOME awesome thing Shannon! I’m an organizational-system addict … and I cheat on my organizational systems, incessantly creating new and seemingly more wondrous organizational systems all the time before I have time to fully implement the former wondrous organizational system.
    Oh and the transparency especially rocks Thank you for making us all feel both inspired and normal! 🙂

  7. se7en says:

    We have memory boxes too, one for each kid. And they are absolutely jam packed with correspondence to and from the tooth mouse – the day they find out the truth will be along hard day in motherhood land!!!
    I have posted today on finding food that can work for your whole family, including the resident diabetic.
    Have a lovely day!

  8. It Feels Like Chaos says:

    I loved the part about your grieving offspring fighting over the construction paper turkeys! So funny! Yes, I, too, am in over my head in keepsakes. I love how yours are sorted by years. I have a box for each kid but only recently did it occur to me to date the artwork on the back. Thanks for doing Works for Me Wendnesday! This is my first time to post a link. I love the idea of knowledge/experience sharing! I need all the help I can get!

  9. Tiffany says:

    I just don’t keep anything, yet. I throw stuff away like crazy, I am a bad mom. Maybe I am not sentimental or something. I do take lots of pictures though and scrapbook so that is good right.

  10. Em. says:

    I love this idea! We somehow end up with a ton of keepsake papers and after only a short time they get out of control … plus I can never remember exactly when/where they all came from necessarily. Great tip!

  11. EveryChapter says:

    What a great idea! I stress about how to keep it all together without scrapbooking it- I am NOT a scrapbooker. (Nothing against scrapbooking- I just don’t have the time or patience). Thanks for the tip!

  12. Stretch Mark Mama says:

    Oh! Suddenly I feel better about the wad of gum stuck to my carpet, in a rather obvious place.
    That is one hilariously horrible disaster! I would have had to leave the country for a week in order to get my composure together after THAT.
    I don’t save many treasures but I save my son’s teeth. Ew! Why? Because MY MOM did, that’s why. I cannot for the life of me figure out one GOOD reason for keeping them around.

  13. Heidi @ Blue Eyed Blessings says:

    What a great tip in having a special space for all of things collected throughout the year.
    And, I think my mouth dropped open when I saw the carpet. I could see why it might induce some anxiety. I have yet to discover a disaster such as this, but my children are only 15 months and 2 1/2, so who knows if it’s coming!!

  14. Tess says:

    I’m going out to buy 2 boxes tomorrow – one for last year’s stuff littering the house and one for 2009 and I’ve got just the right space for them in the top of my wardrobe. Thanks for the tip!

  15. Leanne says:

    What a great idea. I had originally started to photograph all Toots artwork but I just feel too guilty throwing all the originals away. Some things are just meant to be kept.

  16. Kim says:

    Who would have thought that it would be fun to parade our mishaps on the world wide web lol. I love your storage idea.
    I have some quick advice. Don’t leave your lipstick near a 2 year old who should have been napping.
    That’s a story that needed a camera and make up remover!

  17. Sarah says:

    I love the one box for one year…and not one box for each child for every year, like I am doing. I don’t have enough space! I mail a great deal of art away with every birthday, Christmas, and thank you card that goes out. I even used it as packing material for gifts this year (although you have to be a little more creative then just balling it all up, otherwise the kids don’t think the idea is as special).

  18. amy@flexibledreams says:

    My two year old found a bottle of hot pink acrylic paint at my SIL’s house last summer. I don’t know how much actually made it to her stomach but I do know the inside of her mouth was pink, her face and hands were pink, her brand-new-just-took-the-tags-off dress was pink and the floor was pink.
    Not the highlight of my parenting-in-public life.

  19. Trish says:

    My girls have bunkbeds, so I keep the box right under their bed. I tell them that they can put anything they want to keep into their box. If it doesn’t fit they need to decide what gets recycled. That way I’m not the “bad mommy” who throws away their masterpieces. They each actually have their own box and at the end of the school year we weed through it and combine into one box to keep.

  20. pam at beyondjustmom says:

    You relived my guilt that my scrapbook/archive/memory preserving system is exactly that–a box where I stash random things from the kids. AND the other closet photos help women everywhere breathe easier. Thanks!

  21. Vicki Arnold says:

    What a great system! I will be using this for sure.
    I can second the acrylic paint tip, too. My son was about 3 when he blew up a bottle of pearly pink acrylic paint IN THE MICROWAVE. We haven’t had one since, actually it is kind of nice.

  22. Traci says:

    I love the keepsake boxes…great idea…I do have containers with all the cards my hubby has given me…it’s fun to look back at them every once in a while!

  23. Suzie says:

    I buy one of those plastic file boxes per child and put folders in for every year. My oldest loves to look through it and reminisce about those good ole’ preschool days. But then I get all twitchy because he doesn’t put the papers back in the correct folder…

  24. Wanda says:

    Oh my, prais-a-luu-ya! I was so starting to hate you! Thank you for showing some messy in the midst of that fabulous organization!
    I am totally inspired to get it together!

  25. Kara says:

    Oh this is great! I sort of do this but each child has a folder which is already overflowing. I love the one box for everyone idea:) Thanks for sharing.

  26. MamaHenClucks says:

    I think I could seriously use your system. And, we have an incident involving nail polish (red), a one year old and my worst parenting moment ever. It never gets spoken of, either.

  27. Raise Them Up says:

    With three kids to save for, and limited space, I have reduced my allowable space for keepsakes to a mere manilla folder per child per year. I know it sounds drastic, but files I can fit someplace, boxes, I cannot. lol!
    I like the idea, though, and even the closet! Maybe you could hand the paints back out and let the artist finish. I think I see the start of a bunny in a vest picking flowers…

  28. Jewel says:

    Nice idea on the keepsakes Shannon. I like how you have it seperated by year – that will come in handy if you decide to do a memory quilt. I do memory quilts and it would be great if some Moms were as organized as you are.

  29. Suz says:

    My little guy is in his first year of preschool, so I was looking for an idea to make keepsakes work for us. This is great, although with one child it may take us 2 years to fill a box, I will just have to be more diligent about writing the dates on the back before putting them in the box.
    Thanks for the idea!

  30. dawn says:

    great ideas..and I’m not one to store anything..need to though instead of chunking everything.
    I hit enter before posting the “idea” opps..hopefully my name alone with draw some readers..oh well not everyone can be a “blog diva” like U!
    Thanks for hosting this!

  31. Tabitha (From Single to Married) says:

    what a fantastic idea! For Christmas my mother gave each of us a large box with “keepsakes” that she had kept throughout the years such as love letters from her and my dad, bills they paid when we were kids, and her report cards from when she was in school. It was by far one of my most cherished gifts! In fact, I wrote about it in a recent post on my site:
    And speaking of organizing and labeling and such, as part of my New Year’s, I reorganized all of my shelves with boxes similar to yours. I finally put labels and stuff on them too – it’s amazing how much of a difference it makes! Pictures here if you want to see:

  32. Amy says:

    love the transparency 🙂 my idea was swiped by a cousin many years ago, filed away for future use. it makes for unique and treasured thank-you notes after the holidays!

  33. Crayl says:

    My sister used a dresser, each kid had a drawer. Then at the end of the school year they would sort it and keep special things, some were hung in frames and some stored in a similar fashion to yours. Kept it neat and tidy.

  34. Aunt LoLo says:

    Do you think your love for the term “culling” has anything to do with the recent popularity of the name Cullen?? 😉 Just curious.
    No, I didn’t sleep last night – why do you ask? ha!

  35. patois says:

    An excellent idea. I have on my list of things to do the task of sorting through more than 15 boxes. More were generated in the early years because we had photos rather than digital pictures. My question would be: what did you do with all your early photos? Are they elsewhere or do you slash & burn through those as well?

  36. Susan says:

    My 63-year-old husband got a couple of cartons of his first-grade artwork this past year. His mom died several years ago, and one of his sisters bought the family home. In cleaning out the upstairs (where I’m sure Mother hadn’t been in 20 years, at least), these boxes were discovered. We’ve really enjoyed looking at his work, and he’s enjoyed telling us about it.
    As to the mess on the closet floor, same man says, “She needs to cut that patch of carpet out, frame it, and put new carpet down in the closet.”

  37. pendy says:

    When we were in college, we used the word ‘cull’ to refer to a boy we stopped dating…as in “He was so rude to the waitress that I had to cull him.”
    We also used it for anything else we were getting rid of…

  38. pendy says:

    Oh, and I forgot to tell you this. I have a bad spot in a closet, too, and use a pretty bathmat type rug to cover it up. That way I don’t have to think about what’s underneath and I get style points, too.

  39. Amy says:

    Oooh, spectacular! I think I’ll have to go buy some boxes now and get to organizing! Maybe… if I can convince myself to commit to it.
    I think our problems would be solved if teachers across America would stop having their classes make paper turkeys every. single. year.

  40. Kelley says:

    I started this for my future hubby. He files NOTHING. His filing was to stuff it in a drawer. We’re making progress to a file cabinet, but this certainly helps! Great idea!

  41. Abbi says:

    Oh I did enjoy reading your post! You write in such a fun way. Good for you for being willing to photograph the rest of the closet. That made the post much more interesting.

  42. Heather Salas says:

    We have a file folder for each of my four girls’. They get to pick one art project or paper from the week to keep the rest get trashed. Then at the end of each school year their projects and papers may be added to their own personal file folder. This is till it is full and then it gets weeded through.

  43. Kristen says:

    Love it! Although with my 5 its a binder. I hole punch everything and put it in there. They each have their own. I try to sort the fabulous from the “just threw it together” ahead of time. Sometimes it just piles up!

  44. Allison says:

    I don’t have a Works For Me this week (maybe next week—I never think I’m smart enough to come up with advice for others, since no one I’ve ever given advice to has ever really taken it to heart), but I LOVE yours, and I love this idea…I’m going to have to add it to my bookmarks, because I’m comin’ back!

  45. Allison says:

    P.S. Your carpet looks a bit like our carpet, only ours are food or drink stains. The landlord is going to flip when he sees the place when we leave, if I can’t get some pros to come in here and clean it up first!

  46. MaryBeth @ FourSillySisters says:

    This is a great idea. I have four kiddos myself and only one is old enough for preschool yet…. I will be drowning in keepsake papers by the time the triplets are in preschool if I don’t get a handle on things now! Thanks for the tip!!

  47. Lizz @ Yes, and So is My Heart says:

    Now that is an organizational system I can get behind. I’ve been thinking with three kids, the oldest who will soon be in Pre-K, that I’m going to have to figure out how to sort and store all of that stuff. Thanks for an easy and reasonable solution! I also appreciated your transparency. I panic at the thought of even bringing paint (other than the washable kind) inside of my house for fear of what would happen should my children get a hold of it when I’m not watching. I’m only sort of kidding.

  48. warillever says:

    I display everything in the “gallery” for a week, then into the recycling bin it goes. I do save a few special somethings, but limit it to a file folder each per year as some others have mentioned.

  49. jan says:

    I do 2 things- I am so sentimental about my daughter’s artwork. I take a picture with my digital camera of every piece of preschool artwork that comes home. The really cute stuff gets to hang on the door for a few days. The rest I can throw away without guilt! I got one of those brown accoridian folders- like you use for bills and I use one slot per age (year) and that’s all I keep.

  50. Audrey says:

    Oh my gosh. When I see my daughter’s carpet in every house we’ve ever lived in, I just shake my head wondering how on earth she had yet again stained a carpet. It’s been paint, nail polish and more LOL.

  51. Sandi says:

    Oh, my, Shannon — you make me laugh almost every time I come to your blog. If I weren’t one of, like, 856 people who read your blog, I’d think that we’d be great friends in real life. Of course, the other 855 people probably think so, too.

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