Ask Unclutterer: Trophies, plaques, and medals

Reader Jeannine submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

What to do with trophies and plaques? My brother had lots of medals and trophies from wrestling in high school and ended up just THROWING them all away because he didn’t know what to do with them.

That seems a bit extreme, but now I have a box full of speech plaques from high school (I wasn’t exactly an athlete!) in my basement and find myself wondering if I really want to keep them.

Is there a way to at least recycle these items?

Awards and gifts of appreciation are always difficult to part with, and I actually don’t recommend getting rid of all of them. It’s nice to have a reminder in your space that your hard work was worth your efforts. For instance, I think framed diplomas are appropriate on office walls.

That being said, I don’t think a person needs to hang onto a participation ribbon from a third grade sack race or bean bag relay. There is usually a clear-cut line between what is worth keeping and what isn’t. To find that line, ask yourself these two questions:

  1. Do I want to display this item? (Yes, keep. No, get rid of it.)
  2. Do I gain inspiration from looking at this item? (Yes, keep. No, get rid of it.)

If you aren’t willing to display the item in your home, then it’s not worth keeping. Take a picture of the award or scan it and get rid of the physical clutter. You shouldn’t waste space storing something you don’t value.

Instead of tossing the item directly into the trash, though, I recommend calling your local trophy shop and asking them what they do with old items. Many will tell you just to drop your items off at their store. Our local shop participates in metal and wood recycling programs. If your local shop thinks you’re weird for calling, check your county’s website. Often, local governments have recycling programs for metal and wood. If both of these contacts are fruitless, call your recycling center. One of these three resources should be able to help you.

Another idea, too, is to call the group that gave you the award or your high school/college if you were a student there when you won the award. My high school has a giant bell tower filled with trophies and the historical society accepts them for donation. If you have an Emmy, Oscar, Pulitzer, Nobel Prize, or Olympic medal, I know these make great gifts to friends and family members. I have a friend with one of his uncle’s Emmy awards and he displays it like it’s his own.

Jeannine, I hope this helps to answer your questions! Thank you for your submission. If our readers have more suggestions, please add them to the comments.

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32 Comments for “Ask Unclutterer: Trophies, plaques, and medals”

  1. posted by B on

    Another good option is Special Olympics. They use donated trophies as awards for their participants.

  2. posted by Alison Scott on

    I had a bunch of high school trophies just like the poster. We ended up using them as very amusing prizes at a convention. Great fun, and I felt it was a good use of these things that had just been cluttering up my house.

    But I also have some prizes I’m really proud of; those ones I display.

  3. posted by Sara on

    I have saved all the certificates I’ve received over the years, (from science fairs to art shows to random camp awards) and the fun thing is having them all one binder in clear sleeves in approx chronological order. It brings a smile to my face to remember all of those proud moments in my life, no matter how small! And its fun to see the diverse skills and silly quirks that have been recognized over my life.

    We also have all of my dad’s track medals arranged neatly in a shadow box, which is a very nice wall piece. A similar thing could be done with the engraved plaque plates after removing them from the wooden trophy base.

  4. posted by mstreemn on

    some shops will recycle them into “new” by reworking the pieces.
    The shop by our house buys old trophies for parts to make new ones.

    check with local schools/ sports organizations ect. They might be able to take the donated awards to the shop and have them updated for their current participants for less than the cost of new ones.

  5. posted by Julia on

    For running medals: http://www.medals4mettle.org/

    Nothing to stop you from taking a day and doing the same at a local hospital, nursing home, etc!

  6. posted by Jacki Hollywood Brown on

    I used to show horses and I had boxes of ribbons. You can’t hang them on the wall or they fade and get dusty. I took pictures of them (grouped by year) then made a database of all the info (horse’s name & owner, date, show, judge, class etc).
    Once that was done, I donated them all back to my Pony Club and they used the ribbons again for all their “in house” shows and prizes.
    My mother was a kindergarten teacher at the time so she took some of them to her class for “special awards” day.

  7. posted by TuringTestFail on

    @jacki I compete in agility with my dogs and I too have boxes and boxes of ribbons. One of my friends started a business making quilts or pillows for folks out of their old ribbons. You get to keep them and use them too.

  8. posted by Kari on

    I took pictures to scrapbook of all my trophies, plaques, medals, etc. For some trophies/plaques, I was able to pry off just the plate attached the trophy/plaque, which are generally thin/light enough to put on a scrapbook page with the picture, and they take up much less space than the entire thing.

  9. posted by Kimberly on

    Kari – great idea using the plate in a scrapbook. I wish I had thought of that. My poor mother-in-law packed up all of my husband’s math league trophies and shipped them out to us. I’m sure it was expensive with all that marble. I hadn’t thought of recycling them at a local trophy shop. I’m sure the marble bases are completely reusable.

    We lined them all up, took a few photos, picked out the best one (most prestigious) to display, and threw the rest away.

  10. posted by Becky on

    My sister & I had bunches of medals from running in college. I picked out some of the nicest looking ones (and ones from our most memorable races) and mounted them in shadowbox frames.

    If you have the rosettes (top part, not the streamers) from horse show ribbons, I imagine you could do something very similar.

    I have a friend who is a *very* successful runner. He had a coffee table made with a glass-covered inset. He displays all of his belt buckles (won from 100 mile races) “inside” the table.

    There are also companies that will take your running t-shirts and create a quilt from them. (It’s also relatively easy to do yourself if you are handy with a sewing machine.) Having the quilt is a great memory of all of the races that I have run through the years — without having to store all of those t-shirts in my little closet.

  11. posted by Rue on

    I’ve got several medals and plaques from elementary through high school that are in a box in my mom’s garage that I’ve been wondering what to do with. So now I have some ideas. Thanks for this question! :)

    It may seem like a silly idea, but I’ve seen a BUNCH of trophies at a local thrift store. Don’t know if anyone ever buys them, but it’s an option if you don’t want them and can’t find someone else that can use them. At least you don’t have to feel bad about just throwing them away.

  12. posted by Jennifer Lavender on

    Kari beat me to it! I was also going to suggest taking just the inscribed portion off of the base/plaque to stick in a scrapbook.

    A photograph also takes up a lot less space than the actual trophy, so take a picture of the award recipient holding the trophy before you disassemble it. Then make sure you record the story of how/why they received the award and you’ve got a great scrapbook page half done already.

  13. posted by infmom on

    My kids won lots of contests in grade school and junior high (math contest, reading contest, etc) and got interesting looking trophies. I’ve got a selection of them on the top shelf of the tall bookcases in the living room, just for decoration. They’re high enough up that people can’t just look and see that they’re from so many years ago. :)

  14. posted by Laurie on

    ummmmm…if someone actually had an Oscar or an Emmy, would they REALLY give it away?

    its one thing to give away or toss that ribbon from the 3rd grade sack race or whatever, but an OSCAR???!?!

  15. Profile photo of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @Laurie — If you only have one or two, I’m with you. But think of Allison Krauss … she has more than 25 grammy awards … You can’t put that many grammy awards in a display case and not laugh every time you walk past it. At some point, I’m sure that she has passed on some of the awards to people who helped her get where she is today.

  16. posted by JB on

    I know someone who used to collect the hardwood on the back of plaques, sand it down and re-make stuff- they used to be made from beautiful hardwoods and he made hair barrettes, hairsticks, jewelry etc to sell. Not that you’re going to do that, but they were really nice wood scraps. If you know of a woodworker, vocational ed program, or a shop class at a high school etc they might be interested in the wood…

  17. posted by Cliff on

    Take a series of careful digital photos of the item, perhaps with other memorabilia associated with the event when you won. Then, once you’ve got your own (space-saving digital) record of it, donate the trophy to Special Olympics or a similar organization. They can remove the name and re-use it.

  18. posted by Guen on

    I gave away all my trophies years ago at a yard sale; just tossed them in a box marked “free.” Sure enough, someone took them. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure!

  19. posted by Nancy on

    I wish now that I had thought to take pictures of our trophies, but we did donate them to a worthy cause. The gym teacher at my son’s elementary school put out a request for trophies for the Special Olympics. They give a lot of pleasure to the kids.

  20. posted by Another Deb on

    Funny, I am one of those people who has never been awarded a trophy for anything in my life. It was sort of nice to marry a guy with a couple of trophys on display.. on a shelf… over the washing machine…waaaaaay up high over the washing machine.

    We also inherited his bronzed “baby” shoe when his mother decluttered. The sight of an orthopedic shoe in all of its bronzed glory made for many, many laughs over the past few years.

  21. posted by catmom on

    Love the ideas of what to do with trophies that are no longer wanted. I’m sure there are people who have some and they are just taking up space in their homes. Never thought to call up a trophy shop, it’s always worth a shot. I happen to have 2 small ones, they just sit in a box in my “catchall room”. To be honest, they really don’t mean much to me.

    For those with unwanted trophies, I send this out to you in cyberspace and hope you catch it!

  22. posted by Jennifer on

    I had years of horse show ribbons, plaques, etc. languishing in boxes and finally, many years later, threw everything away. I sometimes think all the money spent by clubs and organizations on these types of prizes could be better spent on gift certificates or something useful related to the sport. I knew a rider who always handed back her ribbons at the end of shows. She said they were just clutter to her, and the show committe was happy to get them back to use again.

  23. posted by Deb on

    I recently uncluttered in the garage and found a handful of sports trophies from my son’s younger years. I cleaned them up and put them on a shelf in the playroom we’ve made in our home for his daughter. Now, though, I will combine photos of the trophies, with the actual plates from them, into a shadow box and donate the pieces to a trophy business. What a great solution for everyone!

  24. posted by melanie on

    During this past election I found myself with all types of knick knacks, posters, pins, flyers etc which, on the 1 hand, I wanted to keep and display, but on the other hand, had a difficult time figuring out how to display in a manner which as creative, but not “college dorm like”, my solution (which I think works for all collections of things as I plan do do it with my elementary school swim team ribbons) is find a large frame big enough to hold all of the things, and make a collage out of it. now everything I get related to the topic goes in the frame, super glued, posted with colorful tape etc. once it looks the way I want, I stop adding. if i find something new, i have to rearrange, but it keeps everything in 1 area and not scattered all over the house. The collage is now posted in my kitchen!

  25. posted by disconnect on

    Two simple words: trophy night.

    http://cockeyed.com/trophy/trophy.html

  26. posted by Jen on

    Might want to send them to a local theatre group or high school theatre group for use as props.

  27. posted by Deniz on

    I think it may have been a recent Real Simple article that suggested spray painting each trophy the same color, then putting them on display. You can still read the name plate outlining the award, but at the same time add a cohesive design element to a room.

  28. posted by Kate on

    Horse trophies and ribbons are very gratefully accepted by therapeutic riding centers. Our daughter with cerebral palsy rides weekly at such a center, and last year, she received a “recycled” trophy. She doesn’t care that you can see the spot where the former name was pried off.

  29. posted by oklagirl on

    I had a ton of old trophies, ribbons, medals, and crowns. I spread them all out on the floor, plopped a crown on my head, sat in the middle of it all, and had DH snap a picture. Then I promptly posted them on Freecycle. SEVERAL people wanted them. The lady who got them wanted to use them for prizes at a family reunion. I have never missed them–in fact, I had forgotten all about them until I read this post! It was much less traumatic than I thought, apparently…

  30. posted by Margene on

    WE HAVE LOTS AND LOTS OF PLAQUES GIVEN TO MY HUSBAND THROUGH THE YEARS FOR HIS SERVICE IN DIFFERENT WAYS. I MEAN BOXES FULL. TOO MANY TOO KEEP. IT SEEMS LIKE THE WOOD OR MATERIAL THEY ARE MADE FROM COULD BE USED FOR SOMETHING ELSE. ANYONE KNOW OF SOMEONE IN THE SACRAMENTO OR PLACER COUNTY, CA WHO WOULD BE INTERESTED.

  31. posted by KGP on

    My husband & I have all of our road race medals on a sleek stainless steel hook we got at the Container store. We hung it in our tv room. Since we’re both in that room so often, it acts as inspiration.

  32. posted by valletta on

    I saw a really neat idea in House Beautiful or House& Garden, can’t remember.
    They took a bunch of old trophies that had “good” lines, painted them all one color (like white or some other accent color) and then displayed them as bookends or as visual interest in bookcases. Sounds weird but it looked great!

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