The Button Box and Other Stuff I Should Toss by
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Prompted By Get Organized

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I have a button box in which I save all of those extra buttons that come with clothing… just in case. I also have a box filled with many tiny spools of thread in every shade imaginable, shoe boxes marked “cards to save,” and a drawer labeled “things to save.” Currently, that drawer holds another shoe box filled with cards from my wedding 51 years ago, my peignoir set from my honeymoon, and, for reasons unknown, a piece of coral.

Goodbye to random 1968 wedding cards from people I don’t remember

My husband has shirts and sweatshirts hanging in this closet that fit into the category of “I thought I had a shirt that I used to wear with this sweater but it’s gone.”

I was having lunch with a group of friends I have known for over 40 years, all of whom keep talking about organizing and downsizing. Thus far, only one of us has actually done it, and she shared what she had learned from the process in three simple words: throw it out. Your kids don’t want the photo collage poster from a special birthday. You won’t be able to sell your grandmother’s silver tray or your mother’s cut glass bowl. Give it away if you can, although sometimes you just have to toss it.

Her advice: start with one closet at a time. That seemed reasonable to me, so I took a look at the one in my youngest daughter’s former bedroom. Well, this is going to be a challenge. My daughter has a family and home of her own, but her adolescence still lives in my house. Plus, my husband and I just stick things into our kids’ closets that don’t fit in ours.

The shelving that runs along the top of her closet is filled with bedding that might be useful someday. Right. When I offered her sister the matching pink floral comforters and pillow shams from her childhood bedroom for her twin girls, she turned me down flat. They languish in the closet next to a torn throw pillow I might fix one day. And then there are the extra hangers (you never know). Despite taking loads of them back to the cleaners to be recycled, they seem to reproduce like bunnies.

I’m guessing my daughter no longer needs her middle and high school graduation gowns, her skating team jacket covered by award patches, or her skating dresses. But I paid good money for those dresses and when I look at them, I’m filled with happy memories. So I took pictures of my favorites and donated them to the rink. There is also the scribe leaning against a corner. No, that’s not a little guy taking notes about the state of this closet. It’s an instrument used to scratch figure eights unto the surface of the ice so she could practice her edges. Do skaters even do that anymore? I don’t think so. That will need to land in the scrap metal pile.

I finally find something that could be useful. She has fifty special t-shirts in there with logos depicting important things in her life like the Bulls victories, college hangouts, shirts from her friends’ colleges, an Alanis Morissette concert, a state track meet, the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, and Earth Day 1999. I plan to donate a few obvious rejects but will give her the rest to distribute to her kids or make a memory quilt.

But that only makes a small dent in the stash of far too much stuff crammed into that closet because I’m the anti-Marie Kondo. I can’t part with things that once gave me pleasure but now hang unused. Like my dress up clothing. I rarely have to dress up these days, and I have photos of myself wearing these things that date back more than twenty years. Resolved: I will donate anything that appears in a picture prior to 2010 or doesn’t fit but might someday if I lose weight.

My husband has shirts and sweatshirts hanging in this closet that fit into the category of “I thought I had a shirt that I used to wear with this sweater but it’s gone.” Or “I don’t have a sweatshirt to wear” if the weather calls for layering. Maybe he could find these things if we removed the empty hangers and the ironing board gathering cobwebs in the corner. Sigh. It’s just too much. We planned to get rid of stuff last winter, and we did clean out part of the basement. But here we are, one winter later, with little to show for that effort.

My friend is right. Start with this one closet. Or maybe a shelf or corner of the closet. After my father died, I helped my mother “edit” her belongings to move into a senior living apartment. That was tough, but after she died, it was even harder for my brothers and me to figure out what to do with her stuff.

I vow not to put my own kids through that experience. Today, I’m throwing out my peignoir set, my wedding cards from people I don’t remember, and that button box. I’ll get to that closet another day.

My husband’s old t-shirts as a quilt

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Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: been there, funny, right on!, well written


  1. Good start Laurie, and you can guess that I hold with the “throw it out” approach, but somehow I can’t part with my button box either!

  2. Suzy says:

    This is a great story, Laurie, it totally resonated with me! I too am the anti-Marie Kondo. And I love your line about your daughter’s adolescence still living at your house. We have that too, with my two older kids, although when Molly wanted to move into Sabrina’s bedroom because it was bigger, she was pretty ruthless about getting rid of things. And Molly is not a saver at all, which means her Brownie and Girl Scout vests are in MY closet. I know I should start getting rid of things, but I just can’t do it. They bring me joy! So that means I should keep them!

    • Laurie Levy says:

      I feel like you Suzy, but do I really need all of their trophies sitting in boxes in my basement? They brought me joy at the time, but I think I’m going with the “take a photo and toss” approach, if I ever find the time.

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    A valiant pursuit…one closet at a time. Everyone tells me not to leave all my relics for my kids to have to clean out. I’m sure they are correct. Going through my father’s photo albums was one of the toughest tasks of my life (it felt so personal to throw away photos of people I didn’t know, but must have meant something to him). I have cousins in London who would appreciate my silver, but how to get it to them? (They own and run a catering business, so it would be useful for them, but the cost and duty to ship it…I may just put trays in my suitcase the next time I go). My husband encourages me to throw away my kids’ school stuff. I ask them when they are home to go through it, but they still don’t want it thrown away, live far away in small apartments, so what am I to do?

    Keep up the good work…I have a friend who calls it “lightening the load”. I’m sure it feels good. One closet at a time.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      The school stuff is a tough one. They enjoy looking at it when I ask them to take it, but claim they don’t have the room. I did finally toss their notebooks from high school and college and gave away the texts they didn’t want, but I can’t let go of report cards yet (LOL). So, yes, one closet at a time.

  4. How did I miss this one? Seems like quite a few of us are on the same page here. I wonder if men have the same dilemma, and if not, I wonder why.

    It should be so easy, but it’s wrenching. Clearly we’re hanging on to the memories, and if we let go, might we lose the memories???

    I love the T-shirt quilts — there’s a pile of my husband’s old T-shirts in the closet and I could do that, IF I had a sewing machine. Of course, I still have spools of thread, bobbins, and sewing machine attachments, but must have loaned out or given the sewing machine away somewhere along the line. Surely I can get rid of all that . . . but I love the old spools, the gorgeous colors. You never know what color you’ll need to sew on that button, right?

    I have a tiny woven box filled with my daughter’s baby teeth; her first diary; some oddly shaped glazed ceramics, supposedly animals; and a card she made me in grade school: “Why I Love My Mommy.” No way I will EVER be able to toss any of this.

    And so it goes.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Barbara, I also saved baby teeth, although I’m not sure which of my 3 kids they belonged to or if they were some from each child. When I mentioned that I had these, their reaction was the it was gross and to toss them, so (sigh) I did. There are actually people out there who make these quilts. You could google them. I’m not sure if it is expensive because the one we have was done by a friend of my daughter’s in Indiana. Would probably cost much more in urban areas. I still have a much smaller button box and a reasonable assortment of threads. Granddaughter of a tailor whose grandkids don’t believe buttons can be sewn back onto clothing. I tried to give my daughter back some of her ceramics, which she declared junk. Not to me, so I still have them.

      And so it goes, indeed.

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