With saturated belongings piled on curbs and images of wildfires in the recent news, it’s hard not to think about the things that people have loved and lost. Many parents struggling themselves have sought advice on how to help children let go … of damaged keepsakes, water-stained photos, and ruined toys.

Our family recently downsized and until now, I hadn’t realized that what felt like a daunting task was actually a luxury and opportunity. Unlike victims of recent floods and fires, we made thoughtful decisions about what to save, donate, or discard. We took time to pause, reflect, and discern.
For me, this process of sorting and purging became a mid-life review and gateway from my past to my future. But for many others, decisions about what to keep and what to toss were made by rising tides and raging flames.

I encourage children with ruined possessions to create scrapbooks or memory boards by combining remnants of lost treasures with illustrations and stories about them. Children, like the rest of us, rely on stuff to provide security and predictability. By recalling and recording what was special about their favorite things, children might gain a measure of comfort in the midst of chaos. This process will introduce a concept that some adults never grasp: It’s never about the things but rather the people and places we remember and celebrate through those things.

We all know families who’ve been torn apart by things. Not items lost in fire or floods, but things that survived through the generations only to become the center of family feuds. Parents and grandparents likely distribute belongings according to what makes sense to them: “Bonnie would like my teapot because we had morning tea when her sisters were at school”, “David might like the hunting scene since Gramps took him out every opening day”, or “Tina will like the clock since she always ran ten minutes early”. But when it comes to the coveting and giving of things, the reasoning of one generation can easily be lost on another.

A teddy bear offers familiarity and comfort. Wedding photos represent commitment and love. An heirloom quilt signifies tradition and family. When it comes to the reasons we hold onto our things, all memories and roads lead home to the people we love and the places where we loved them.