Ask Unclutterer: What to do with your cherished childhood comfort item when you become an adult?

Reader Emily submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

I am having trouble letting go of my old worn out and resewn Pound Puppy stuffed animal that I have been told to cut up and burn due to allergies and asthma. What should I do with it now that I am thirty eight years old?

I think most of us have a favorite item from our childhood that has traveled the years into our adult lives. For me, it’s a small pillow I got when I moved into my big-girl bed. My husband has a stuffed animal that is missing an arm. My cousin has the tattered remains of a blue gingham blanket. These items provided comfort to us when we were scared or lonely or simply needed another guest at our tea parties.

As long as you don’t have a menagerie of these items taking up unnecessary space in your home, I see no harm in keeping your single favorite comfort item from your childhood. However, there are ways to keep the item without upsetting your allergies or asthma.

It’s more expensive then you might expect, but you can send your Pound Puppy to a stuffed animal repair hospital to be cleaned, restuffed, and repaired. Your Pound Puppy will look different, though, when it emerges from the hospital, so only go this route if you’re okay with your stuffed animal looking like new again. (My mother-in-law had my sister-in-law’s favorite doll repaired after some hair loss, and my sister-in-law was so traumatized she never touched the doll again.) Most importantly, after a makeover at the stuffed animal repair hospital, you should be able to keep and snuggle with your comfort item without having an allergic reaction.

If a restoration isn’t for you, I recommend retiring your comfort item to a display box. This way, you can still look at and admire your stuffed animal, but the dander on it will no longer upset your allergies and asthma. Before putting it into the display box, you may want to first have your Pound Puppy cleaned at a stuffed animal repair shop so the mites on the item don’t continue to feast on it. But, in this case, I wouldn’t go for the full-body makeover, just a cleaning.

If displaying your stuffed animal isn’t a priority, you may want to get an archival box to store your item in for the longterm. Again, you’ll likely want to have the item cleaned before going into storage. Once in the archival box, you can place it in a plastic bin to keep other pests from invading your cherished friend.

Clutter is anything that gets in the way of the life you want to live. In this case, I think the mites and dander on the Pound Puppy are the problem, not the Pound Puppy. I also think that if you got rid of the comfort item entirely, you’d likely spend a significant amount of time regretting your decision and having that regret clutter up your thoughts.

Thank you, Emily, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. Please check the comment section for even more ideas from our readers.

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23 Comments for “Ask Unclutterer: What to do with your cherished childhood comfort item when you become an adult?”

  1. posted by Jane on

    Take photo’s from every angle then have a “funeral” of sorts. The photo’s will live on & thepuppy will have been honored with a funeral.

  2. posted by Jenn B on

    I’ve had this same issue before. I have an odd assortment of items from childhood that I couldn’t bring myself to part with, including a small teddy bear that my mom placed in my crib when I was born, a pencil case my dad got me for my first day of school, some shells from a beach trip, small souvenirs from here and there and so on. Most of my items are fairly small, so I put them all in an apothecary jar and it is displayed on a bookcase. People always ask about it, and it’s a fun reminder about the odds and ends in it. I also recently put my cat’s collar in it (I had to put him down last year), so I will continue adding to it. It’s a good conversation piece, and it keeps the sentimental trinkets in one place, displayed and dust free. As Peter Walsh says, if it’s in a box somewhere, you are not honoring the item(s) you value. I made it part of the decor, and if I need to keep adding to it, I can always get another apothecary jar. The one I got was from Target, about $20 if memory serves.

  3. posted by Steven on

    Maybe I’m fortunate to not have stuff lingering from my childhood … because it seems sort of “odd” to have such a strong emotional attachment to an object … likely because I’ve never had the opportunity to experience such a connection. BUT, that being said, I do still feel pangs of desire for things from my childhood; Goosebumps books and Dr Dreadful toys being amongst them. It seems silly, being 29 years old, that I’d sit down to read a Goosebumps book or play with the Dr Dreadful toys, so I try to marinate in the nostalgia of the moment for a bit, then move on.

    If you’re having trouble parting with this one item, I don’t see the problem. But if you’re holding onto many things from your past that provide no usefulness to your life today, you might want to seek a good therapist. I think a lot of people turn to material possessions as a way of filling an emotional void in their lives. Seeking professional help to sort through those issues will do wonders. I know it’s still taboo to see a therapist, or suggest that someone else do so, but if it’s becoming a real problem, it might help.

    Though, a single Pound Puppy probably ISN’T worth seeking professional help over. ;)

  4. posted by Julie on

    There is a lovely woman who runs this site: http://www.customtoyportrait.com that specializes in toy portraits! This way you have both a lovely piece of art AND you are preserving the memory of your beloved stuffed animal. Good luck!

  5. posted by Aslaug on

    My stuffed Snoopy has slept in my bed for 35 of my 38 years and he certainly won’t be leaving. He’s been part of my life longer than most people, he’s always there for me and he never talks back or criticizes me. I would never let him go.

    If I were in Emily’s shoes I’d find a way to get the poor guy cleaned up (is microwaving him an option?) so he can keep his rightful place in her life.

  6. posted by Makine on

    46-year old weighing in here. I have both my parents’ and my single stuffed animal treasures retired in Zip-Lock baggies in my cedar chest. My kids know that digging into the cedar chest is like opening a time capsule, with several generations’ treasures and mementos (WWI!) to be marveled over. This keeps history and genealogy alive for them, and allows them to connect to generations before them who were children once, too.

  7. posted by Mike on

    Have it cleaned up, and then give it to your (young) child, if possible. The woobie lives on!!!

  8. posted by momof3 on

    I have three of my favorite “stuffeds” in an antique trunk my dad helped me refinish. When we got married, added my hubbies “loveys” and our scouting stuff. I added a bag of cedar chips to discourage pests from entering.

    Our kids each have theirs in a “space bag” and up in the garage rafters. All is good after two years, just the bags getting dusty from being up there!

  9. posted by Kathy on

    I still have a stuffed rabbit I got for Easter when I was about 6 (I’m now 51!). I took it with me to college; it lived in my closet for some years, but now it’s on the bed in my spare bedroom. In fact, I found my cat curled up with the bunny yesterday.

    I see no problem with keeping your Pound Puppy! I think people get the wrong idea about decluttering sometimes. To me, it doesn’t mean getting rid of everything, but rather keeping only things that are meaningful and/or useful and attractive. If it’s not interfering with your life or prompting difficult emotions, I don’t think it’s a problem. I find items from my childhood stir a lot of good memories for me and give me a sense of continuity. But I’m finding I don’t need a lot of things, just a few that are especially meaningful.

    I like Jenn’s idea about displaying small mementoes. I have a box in a closet with memorabilia, and I’d like to have some things on display, maybe rotating in and out from time to time. My birthday is coming up, and I think I’ll look for a display case as a birthday present for myself. Thanks for the idea!

  10. posted by Kate on

    I have read that freezing plush toys periodically for a few days kills dust mites.

  11. posted by Anne on

    Photograph that thing and throw it out. That will preserve the memory but also free up some space and cut the risk of allergies. Also consider getting a 3D camera and TV, or a Nintendo 3DS. Having a 3D photo of an object is an even better way of keeping the memory alive without all the clutter.

  12. Avatar of

    posted by Another Deb on

    The thought of these old toys being loved to pieces reminds me of the Velveteen Rabbit story .

    That said, I would take pictures, have it cleaned and hope for the best.

  13. posted by Suze on

    I had the same problem last summer with a stuffed kangaroo from my childhood. I took a few pictures with Hipstamatic, then memorialized her on my blog. Although I still feel a little pang, knowing I actually threw her out, I’m really glad I took the time to write down the memories connected with her. I realized it wasn’t so much the kangaroo that meant something to me, but a neighbor woman who so graciously let me spend time at her home.

    Here’s what I did if you’re interested: http://littlehouseon44th.blogs.....orial.html

    I have not regretted throwing out my old kangaroo, and occasionally going back and re-reading that blog post is so much sweeter than having another piece of physical “clutter” in my home.

  14. posted by Alyssa on

    Bun Bun, my stuffed bunny, has been with me 22 years. Took him to college and have no desire to get rid of him. He sits on a shelf in my bedroom where I can admire him and occasionally cuddle with him.

    I may have to have him cleaned, though.

    It makes me happy that so many others cherish their stuffed animals. I used to have over 100 when I was a kid, but gave them all to less fortunate kids. Bun Bun stayed with me.

  15. posted by Mary on

    Last year I washed a load of old stuffed toys, hoping that I would be able to discard some afterwards due to death by washing machine. HAHA. Our Miele front loader seemed to wash the surfaces very well (far better than any past attempts at handwashing), and damaged none of the toys. However, it made giving most of them to the Op Shop a guilt-free choice.
    If you have access to a front loading washing machine, I recommend you try washing some other old soft toy in it (maybe ‘on loan’ from the op shop). If it survives, maybe your Pound Puppy could be washed regularly without harm. If not, well, there are other good suggestions here.
    I wish you luck.

  16. posted by Gina on

    I would definitly go the cleaning route. You mentioned the issue is allergies and asthma, not really clutter per se, so I’d focus on that. I have my teddy, and for years he lived on my bed, than sat on my dresser, then a shelf and now in my daughters room. He’s gone through the washer and dryer periodically – can the pound puppy do that?

  17. posted by Heather on

    I ask myself, “do I love it, need it, or use it?” Childhood things usually fall into the “love” category, and they go one of two places: in my son’s room for him to play with (he has all my old stuffed animals), or into my hope chest if they are not play-with-able but I want to keep them for kids or grandkids to have one day (and then they can decide whether or not they want to keep them). It’s okay to love a few old, grubby things. :)

  18. posted by Marcy on

    I like the idea of having it cleaned and putting it into a display box. I have a hard time letting go of my children’s toys, but I finally went through and got rid of the ones that I was not that sentimental about. If I go through the storage box in a few years, I bet there will be more that I am no longer sentimental about.

    I even saved the broken pieces of a garlic container that my dad had made, but I was finally about to throw them out after using the idea to take a photo of them.

    I wrote about it here if you are interested: http://www.tootimidandsqueamis.....f-a-cliff/

  19. Avatar of

    posted by djk on

    Keep it! Once cleaned it won’t be an allergen-inducer, and it can bring continued pleasure for years ahead.
    I’m personally not sentimental about these things, but if it has meaning and brings you joy-then by all means wash it and keep it. Uncluttering to me means making space for what matters to you and getting rid of what doesn’t.

  20. posted by Her from there on

    @Suze. I’ve just read your story and think it is just gorgeous. What a fabulous memory page you have made. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  21. posted by Chris on

    “Clutter is anything that gets in the way of the life you want to live.”

    Whoa… that was seriously a lightbulb moment for me! Thanks for that!

  22. posted by Ann I Ball on

    Fronts of T-shirts from summer camp will be placed on large quilt squares and sewn into a cover.

    The memories will still be fresh, I will have “honored” the things, and I’ve made them functional instead of sticking them in an unmarked plastic tub in storage.

  23. posted by Dusty on

    This makes me think of my stuffed Alf character. I bet a lot of us have those things in our parent’s basements :). Great ideas.

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