Mom’s Boxes Part 3: Trip down memory lane

Me and Mike enjoying a picnic of lemonade and raisins in 1964 Indiana.

My brother, Mike, and I have agreed there’s something about going through Mom’s boxes that we hadn’t fully bargained for: Going down Mom’s memory lane includes going down our own memory lanes. This can be heartwarming, and great fun…and also embarrassing, sad, and exhausting. It feels like my life is flashing before my eyes in excruciatingly slow motion.

Going down Mom’s memory lane means going down my own memory lane. Click To Tweet

Trip down memory lane

Me climbing back over the fence, out of a locked cemetery, during a genealogy research trip with Mom, 2000. See the gravestones in the background?

So many family holidays! Christmas, Easter, birthdays, weddings, graduations… the usual.

So many trips! Camping trips, cross-country road trips, train trips, genealogy research trips, trips to visit my grandparents in Albuquerque…and the time I got to take my mom to Paris, just us.

So many concerts, plays, and art exhibits! Both attending and participating. Both mom and us kids. Piano recitals, Art in the Park, craft shows, musical productions, church choirs, bands and orchestras. Not to mention the music store where several of us worked at one time or another.

So many botanical gardens! Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia, was a highlight, certainly, but mom never met a garden she didn’t love. (We have a nice one here in Albuquerque, too!)

So many people we have known in our lives! Relatives, friends, neighbors, church family, schoolmates, work colleagues, piano teachers, scouting companions.

So many places where we have all lived as a family, and where we have all gathered as adults! Idaho, Indiana, New Mexico, California, Missouri, New York.

Photo album from our “just us” trip to Paris, 1999.

Not just her memories, but mine, too

And it’s not just our family life together, with our other two brothers and our parents. It’s personal stuff about our individual lives as adults:

So many photos, letters, and other reminders of my own past!

So many different haircuts, apartments, jobs, and relationships!

So many mixed feelings – does anyone encounter only good memories along memory lane?

Particularly touching are the cards my boss sent her, unbeknownst to me – Get Well, Mother’s Day – during her final illness…the boyfriend she kept in touch with after we broke up (he was very sweet, and worth keeping in touch with, as have I)…other people in my adult life, whom I’d forgotten she’d ever met, who also had their photo snapped by her, or wrote her a note or a card. They’re all there in Mom’s Boxes.

Do we all have the same boxes?

An SDSU engineering school “Can-Grabber” project for which we had to create a device that would pick up a full soda can, and deposit it on a shelf 20 feet away. Judged on accuracy and weight. Made of balsa wood and powered by rubber bands. Mine made the school paper and evening news. Early 1980’s.

I have heard from many of you since starting this blog series. It seems we all have the same boxes… although maybe not so many of them!

As I wrote in Keepsakes: Legacy or Liability?:

I can’t tell you how many clients I’ve had with a garage or storage unit full of stuff they inherited from a loved one. These items represent a mix of emotions – memories good and bad; guilt over wanting to reclaim the space they occupy; fear that they will accidentally discard a priceless heirloom. They are paralyzed with indecision: Am I be

traying my loved one if I part with this? Will I forget them if I don’t keep all their stuff? (I promise you won’t!) How, and where, can I get rid of it? How, and where, can I keep it?

Some clients’ homes are decorated with grandma’s artwork and accessories, which are not reflective of their own taste. Some are seeking moral support during box-opening time, not knowing, or not remembering, what’s in the boxes and anticipating an unwanted flood of emotions. Once the last flap is lifted, though, often as not, the reaction is, “What the heck is that?!”, and laughter ensues rather than tears.

My advice

My advice? Take it easy. One box at a time. Let yourself feel the feelings that your own memory lane evokes.

But do it. There’s no need to do it right away, but also don’t keep putting it off for 16 years like I did.

Ask for help if you need moral or organizing support.


Do you have the same boxes I do?

How did you deal with them? Or, are they still sitting there?

Please share with us in the comments below!


Mom’s Boxes Part 1: The shed

Mom’s Boxes Part 2: Panning for gold

Mom’s Boxes Part 3: Trip down memory lane

Mom’s Boxes Part 4: Grandma’s Lawn Chairs

Mom’s Boxes Part 5: The Old Man of the Mountains

Mom’s Boxes Part 6: Sometimes Organizers Need Help Too!

Future Mom’s Boxes episodes: The Gangster Hideout, Saving the Photos, Sharing the Photos, ???

Copyright 2017 by Hazel Thornton, Organized For Life.
Social media links directly to this page are encouraged!
Please contact me for other types of reprint permission.


Share this:

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Janet Barclay on August 28, 2017 at 9:00 am

    I can’t tell you how much I’m enjoying this series – learning more about you, but also feeling a bit of the emotions you are going through. It does remind me of a book I read earlier this year, They Left Us Everything about a similar situation. I’m going to see the author at the public library in a couple of weeks!

    • Hazel Thornton on August 28, 2017 at 9:12 am

      Thanks, Janet! I read that book the moment you first recommended it. Am saving my thoughts for a later post in this series. I loved the book, but reached a different conclusion than she did. Cool that you get to see the author!

  2. Seana Turner on August 28, 2017 at 9:04 am

    The comment about having artwork up that doesn’t really fit your taste resonates with me. No one should feel burdened to display something that they don’t like. It doesn’t mean you didn’t love the individual if you let go of an item they left to you.

    • Hazel Thornton on August 28, 2017 at 9:13 am

      Exactly. Keep — and use or display — what you do love, and donate/sell/gift/toss the rest!

  3. Cary Prince on September 3, 2017 at 11:15 am

    Oh, Hazel — how I love hearing your sweet stories and the touching emotional journey you are taking through your mom’s 33 boxes. Your experience has eased my fear about the bounty of family treasures, photos and keepsakes that I am sure to inherit one day. I will heed your sage advice, enjoy the discovery and open one box at a time!

Leave a Comment