Are you interested in being intentional about preserving your memories?

Memories through Mementos vs Tchotchkes

Life is like a quilt, woven from memories of people and events. Your unique quilt reminds you of who you are, where you’ve been, and what you’ve done.

Ok, in full disclosure, I heard that statement with tapestries being used to represent life. But hey, of course, I had to use quilts instead. You didn’t expect anything else from me, did you?

I think we constantly battle with the accumulation of tchotchkes, trying not to inundate our homes and simultaneously keep the true mementos. I am not sure that is a battle you can win. But working towards it is the best we can usually do.

To get us on the same wavelength, here are definitions from Merriam-Webster Dictionary for both memento and tchotchke:

Memento – noun, something that serves to keep alive the memory of a person or event.

Tchotchke – noun, slang, a small object displayed for its attractiveness or interest.

Those definitions in and of themselfs tells us something. We aim to keep mementos while tchotchkes are more dispensable. I also want to say I am not referring to the $5,000 glass sculpture as a tchotchke.

Are you interested in being intentional about preserving your memories? Are you concerned the items that trigger the emotion will be tossed by someone that isn’t aware of the significance? Are you not sure where specific ones are? You may not be aware that an item gave you that emotional charge until you pulled it out of the dresser drawer ten years later. Maybe you’re on a cleaning spree and happen to have run into one or two. Now you are not sure what to do.

As you go through your items, the first filter to use to separate is mementos vs. tchotchkes. There are probably some items that may feel like they qualify for both. But only you can make that call. It can be a tough one. And maybe you keep something for a while and make the decision at a later date.

Organizing and identifying the mementos

We all buy knickknacks to bring home from vacation or events, and when we get them home, we aren’t sure why we bought them. At least that happens to me. Or it doesn’t match your decor AT ALL. What were you thinking? How much did I pay for this? It may not be as beautiful as you thought just 10 days ago. Or maybe they are fantastic at first and, over time, lose their excitement. Those are probably tchotchkes, not mementos, and can go. You most likely will not miss them.

In the popular, KonMari method by Marie Kondo, Marie discusses things that “spark joy.” That joy she refers to is an emotional connection; it’s the trigger point. If you look at something, smell something, hear something, feel something, say something, and it brings back the memories of the moments, you’ve got a memento. Oh, and I should say, we’re talking about bringing back those moments you want to remember. I’m sure we’ve all had those times that we really don’t want to remember. Yikes. That’s a whole different story for another day.

The moments we want to cherish, those that make you smile or laugh or send a text to your friend with a “remember when we ….” those are mementos. Some mementos do lose their luster, their excitement, over time. The experience may not be a “remember forever” type of experience. Enjoy it while it lasts, and then move on.

If you were head over heels about, say, stamp collecting. Now years later, you aren’t so hot on stamp collecting. You aren’t so interested in nurturing the memories that went along with that time in your life. Maybe you keep a small, limited amount of things to document that period. After all, it is part of your life. Or perhaps not; again, it’s a very personal decision.

As you decide whether something is a memento and whether to keep it or not, are you making decisions for others as well? Everybody’s triggers are different, and what you consider a knickknack could be emotionally valuable to someone else. Be careful. Be considerate.

Mementos – Acquired Mementos or Collection of Memories

You can think of mementos in several ways.

  • Acquired Mementos – The things you associate with a trip, event, or experience. It could be something you purchase on the trip or something you take for your trip.
  • Collection of Memories – Intentional creation of memories collections could include making scrapbooks, photo albums, and audio/video recordings of conversations. You could create memory shadow box frames or memory boxes.
  • Other Memories – Some things only live in your memories; saying, songs, etc. For example, one year, we took the family on a summer vacation, and the kids had seen a billboard with an advertisement that included the message “dance naked in your own backyard.” Well, there were plenty of opportunities to promote and recommend “dancing naked in your own backyard” throughout the vacation. That is a memory that lives in our family’s minds. Luckily it is a pooled memory that the 5 of us share.
Acquired memento

The trigger points don’t have to be something you purchase at the location or from the event. They could be something you take with you or you are buying for the event.

I have the skirt, jacket, and shoes that I purchased while I was home in Florida for my father’s funeral in California. I wore them to both my father’s and mother’s funerals 5-6 years ago, and the outfit is in my closet. I’ve never worn the skirt and jacket for anything else. My shoes are not comfortable, but I occasionally wear them, 3″ heels, go figure. But they will all stay in my closet for the foreseeable future because of their significance. Maybe someday I will part with them.

Most mementos are acquired at the location; artwork, t-shirts, photos, perfume, etc. You buy them because you intend for them to remind you of the trip or event or possibly just because they’re pretty, funny, and charming. Back to being intentional, I have recently started bringing back framable art that I can put on our walls at home. Every time I look at each of them, I think of our vacations. Do you smile as the thoughts of the experience take you back? Now it becomes tough to decide whether to keep them, especially if you are trying to declutter.

Cinderella's Shoe

Do you keep everything that triggers a memory? That is a very personal choice, but most likely not. All of you packrats, give some of it up! You may want to be more selective, more intentional about what you buy or bring back in the future. Of course, easier said than done. Do you know what the moments are that you will want to engrave in your memory? As Dr. Seuss said, “Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.”

Collection of Memories

Scrapbooks, photos, recordings, intensional memory keepers can be pretty condensed. I have scrapbooks filled with daily life activities and special events, vacations, etc. One year fits in one to two albums. It is not only about events, but also day-to-day schedules. The day in day out activities are worth memorializing when you are trying to remember a friend or family member.

The idea of recordings of elderly family members’ interviews or sharing stories of their lives sounds like such a great idea. Not only do you have photos of them and the stories, but you have their voices and their perspectives recorded to keep them safe for eternity.

I talk mainly about the good memories, but sometimes it’s good to know about the hard times. Is it a good thing to remember that you made it through a hard time, that you ARE tough enough, that you learned a hard lesson and are better for it? The answer to that question is also very individual. Personally, I would say yes, but you may disagree.

Solidifying the Memories

Have you taken your kids on vacation, knowing the younger one(s) may not be old enough to keep the memories of the vacation alive in their minds for more than a few months? One thing you can do to help fix it in their minds is tell the stories repeatedly. Have the older siblings tell their stories. Do it often. Share the photos with the youngsters. Frame a picture or two and place it in the living room. Sometimes the stories told become the memories more so than the moments themselves.

Ice cream for the kids

My daughter tells a few stories that she doesn’t remember herself, but I’ve told frequently enough to others as she listens that they have become her stories.

In Summary

Be intentional with all those mementos, memories, you have collected over the years. Whether you decide to dispose of them, keep them, display them, pass them on to someone, or something completely different, it’s all good as long as you did it with intention.

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