by Shane Fitz-Coy
You’re helping Grandma move into a smaller living space, and it’s time to head up to the attic where a sea of mementos awaits you. It’s tempting to just leave them in their boxes. But, with some clever crafting and sorting, you can preserve and enjoy those precious memories for years to come.
Here are the most common mementos you’ll encounter, and ideas for how you can preserve them for your family to enjoy:
Sending a handwritten note will never go out of style. Give those forgotten greeting cards a new life by turning them into postcards. Snip off the decorative front, write your note on the back, and send it off to a family member!
Nothing brings back memories quite like an old-fashioned love letter. If your Grandma kept up a correspondence with her loved ones, now’s the perfect time to organize them so they are easier to read. Bind the letters into a book that she can pull out and read over and over again, or frame her favorites so they are always in view.
You could also choose select passages, laminate them, and preserve them in a locket or around the edges of a picture frame. Those precious sentiments will be in full view, and that locket and frame will get a new life of their own.
If Grandma’s downsizing, you won’t have space for her big dresser and that never-used nightstand. Before giving them away, how about giving them a better chance at finding a new home? A little refurbishment goes a long way. A few minutes of sanding and a good coat of paint in a neutral color will make that old piece look new again. For the final touch, clean up or replace the hardware, including its hinges, handles, and knobs. A bit of elbow grease and that piece of furniture will have an increased chance of staying out of the dump.
Is there a pile of clothes that Grandma can’t bear to donate, but are not suitable for wearing? Create a bond between Grandma and her grandchildren by making a patchwork blanket or teddy bear out of those old favorites. You’ll be giving those treasured pieces a new life with the next generation.
Did you find VHS tapes of you and your siblings as children in those boxes? Copying the footage from VHS to a digital format makes a great present and keeps the footage from degrading. You can recycle the plastic on the outside once you’re done. But, you will need to find a special recycler for the internal magnetic strip. Feeling crafty? Do you or Grandma love to crochet? Search for “VHS tape bag” to make a shiny DIY purse!
You can’t enjoy photographs when they’re mixed up and loose in a box! Take time to go through the photos and spend some quality time with Grandma. Listen to her stories and jot down who’s who on the back to preserve the memories.
Once cataloged, it’s time to get crafty. You can organize photos in a binder, place them in a frame, label them in a scrapbook, or collage them into a poster or onto a box. For prized photographs, you can scan them, blow them up, and print them out to create a featured art piece for your wall.
But what about those photos of sunsets and flowers that aren’t personal and no longer have sentimental value? First, see if there is somewhere you can donate them. Some people collect old photographs, and others like to use them in their art projects. Ask your local art schools, day care centers, and after-school programs if they would like those photos to play with.
For those photos and negatives you don’t know what to do with, it’s time to recycle them. Unfortunately, old photographs are not easily recycled due to the chemicals they’re made with. You’ll have to search for specialized recycling centers. Look for companies that accept waste scraps from photographers. Search online for “silver recycling” and even “dental waste recycling.”
The easiest way to preserve both memories and attic space is to digitize the paper memories you find. It will keep them from getting lost or destroyed. Your digital files will be safe. Be careful to label everything so you can find it again!
With everything in digital format you will never run out of possible crafts. Everything is in reach, from holiday cards to vintage photos. You can create a family calendar with photos from every generation, or post your finds on social media.
With a little patience, you can turn those boxes of memories into valuable keepsakes. By remaking and reinventing what you can and recycling the rest, there’s no need to put anything into the landfill.
Shayne Fitz-Coy is the Co-CEO and President of Alert-1, an aging-in-place technology company headquartered in Williamsport, Pennsylvania with offices nationwide. Shayne has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Harvard College and a Masters in Business Administration from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Shayne hails from Maryland, and now calls the Bay Area home.