On Tidying: There’s a Reason You Should Leave Mementos for Last

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There are some things that are much harder to throw away than others, and this is why, tidying experts say, we should save those things for last.

These mementoes are different for every parents. Some parents like to keep their kids’ teeth, for example, while that makes me throw up a little in my mouth. Some parents like to keep their kids’ hair cuttings in a little envelope or sealed container, to remember how soft and fine it was once upon a time. Some parents like to keep old clothes or a stuffed animal that’s been slobbered to death or a pair of “first steps” shoes.

Me, I have trouble throwing away art work or anything that has my kid’s handwriting on it, with a little added personality.

This means I have a bin in my closet where I put all the amazing stuff (which is really anything at all they create, although I’ve gotten better at differentiating between what’s really amazing and what’s just a normal part of my child’s day—mainly because they create six billion pieces of art a day). That bin is bursting at the seams.

In it is the piece of paper on which one boy wrote a little essay so full of personality and voice that my writer’s heart jumped for joy that an 8-year-old could find his voice so early (now if he could just keep it). In it is the drawing the 6-year-old did of the grinning cat with a curling tail that’s simply amazing, if I do say so myself. In it are the spider-like people the 3-year-old twins like to draw and call “Mama and Daddy.” In it is the first piece of paper where the 5-year-old wrote his name in all caps just after he turned 4. In it are all the “graphic novels” my 8-year-old has written in the last year, because I think he’ll be glad I kept them someday (my mom did the same for me, and I am forever grateful.).

These things are incredibly hard to throw out.

So I’ve been leaving the bin alone, letting it continue to grow and expand. It’s quite easy to ignore this bin, because it’s tucked away in my closet, and, also, I don’t have the time or energy or emotional capacity right now to sort through its treasures. So much of it is sentimental, because one thing we can’t do with time is turn it back, and that’s a sobering reality when we’re faced with the choice of “throw this away or keep it forever?” Will I be glad I kept that drawing of the fox he did before he could even write his name? Will I be thankful I kept that word problem that had fractions and used his family as the slicing-up-a-pizza example? Will I know exactly why I kept those drawings that look nothing like portraits?

I like to think I will.

I’ll go through that bin, eventually, but I don’t know that I’ll get rid of much of what’s in it. Because, for me, those papers dig up memories. And when he’s starting his last day of school, the last last day, I think I’ll be glad that I can pull out the sheet he filled out in kindergarten that says he wants to be a movie producer when he graduates high school and compare it to what he actually wants to be now. I think I’ll be glad that I can show him the drawings he used to do up in his bed at night, when we were no longer paying attention because as soon as our heads hit the pillow we were already asleep, so we can talk about how far he’s come in his art development. I think I’ll be glad I kept this bin that takes up arts and crafts space in my closet, because it holds pieces of them.

Every one of those papers brings some kind of joy. They remind me of a crazy-yet-simple time, when my kids were little and they were content with just a piece of paper and a pencil and a day didn’t even contain the word “bored.” It reminds me of a time when they were adding six plus three instead of doing complicated calculus equations on three sheets of paper. It reminds me of a time when they used to leave love notes wherever they wrote them.

They’ll be glad, too. Because in that bin is also something that they will want and need someday: the encouragement and blessing notes the members of our family wrote for them every time they celebrated a birthday or started a new year of school. That’s something valuable, too.

Or maybe they’ll just think it’s cheesy that their mom kept all of this junk. Either way, they’ll still have to go through it, which means they’ll have to see what I saw: that they are amazingly creative, full of potential, and deeply loved.

This is an excerpt from The Life-Changing Madness of Tidying Up After Children, the second book in the Crash Test Parents series. This excerpt originally appeared on Crash Test Parents.