Ask Unclutterer: What should I do with old awards?

Reader Shannon submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

Hello! Thanks to your great blog I have been working hard at decluttering my house. In sorting old memorabilia, I have found my large collection of award ribbons from the many fairs and shows that I competed in as a youth. There are some that I plan to keep that really meant a lot to me. But I literally have a large Sterilite container full of these. Do you have any suggestions on a nice way for me to store these or some sort of way to use them? I hate to just throw them out.

Start by going through all of your awards and setting aside the ones that don’t matter much to you — participation awards, awards you won for knowing the name of the person who won, 12th place. If you have a twinge of sentimentality about these lesser accolades, snap a photograph of them before getting them out of your home.

If you live near a medal and trophy shop, give the shop a call and find out if they recycle these items. Some stores will melt down the metal, affix a new nameplate and a different bowler to the top of a trophy, and repurpose old ribbons (fingernail polish remover takes off old text). I also know that the shop in my hometown donates refurbished medals and such to non-profit organizations for fundraising events — the shop sands off “3rd Place Best of Show” and replaces it with “1st Place 5K Walk/Run.”

If you don’t live near a medal and trophy shop, give a call to some of your favorite charities and teachers to see if they could use them. When I was a teacher, I gave away funny awards to my students on paper plates. Actual ribbons and medals would have been a lot of fun to distribute instead. (“I know it says ‘2nd Place Rabbit’ on it, but that is teacher code for ‘Perfect Attendance.'”)

After sorting, you have numerous options for what to do with the ones you have chosen to keep. If most of them are ribbons and lightweight, you could put them in a scrapbook. A couple readers suggested in the comments to “Ask Unclutterer: What to do with diplomas” about creating fun fame walls. Hang up the diplomas alongside the 4-H awards and other blasts from the past. If you have children, frame up their school awards, too. A shadow box could work well if you want to keep all of your awards together.

Or, you could do what I did, and lump them all into a zip-top bag and toss them into a memorabilia box. As long as you limit yourself to one, relatively small box of trinkets, I think it’s fine to store such happy, nostalgic things. I think of this box as a scrapbook for someone who doesn’t scrapbook. Edit wisely before putting something into this box, though. It should only be for the best of the best. Being uncluttered doesn’t mean you have no objects of your past, but it should mean you only have the really great stuff with you in the present.

Thank you, Shannon, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. Check out the comments for even more award storage suggestions.

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24 Comments for “Ask Unclutterer: What should I do with old awards?”

  1. posted by Marla on

    Thanks for sharing! These are great ideas. My daughter is a teacher and I will pass these ideas on to her!

  2. posted by claire7676 on

    There is a fantastic re-purposing store in my town called The Scrap Exchange . They literally take ANYTHING that hasn’t contained food or medicine, and can’t be recycled, but you want to get rid of (this includes old binders, half-used spiral notebooks, fabric remnants, unrecyclable plastic packaging, really anything. The unwanted awards would go perfectly at a place like that. There may be other similar stores around the country.

  3. posted by Ethaisa on

    I’m working on a quilt to use up some of ours.

  4. posted by Mary on

    Finally something I can contribute to, based on my own experience! I am 34 and my mother had hung onto at least 40 trophies that I had earned mostly from high school soccer and track. Although they were incredibly meaningful, there was just NO way to continue hanging onto them. Too cumbersome, not to mention there’s just no reason – that was decades ago! Still, they were very sentimental. So here’s what I did:
    1. I spent an afternoon going through them with my mom. We reminisced about almost every trophy/metal – what it was from, the memories that surrounded the events.
    2. Took a few photos of me with the trophies/metals
    3. I kept a few that were very sentimental, like first trophy from kindergarten (which happened to be small). 4. For some of them, I took the “metal” label off the front, which peels off easily and can be put into a scrapbook or memory box.
    5. Then it was time to say goodbye and toss nearly all of the trophies (most were in pretty bad condition from having been stored in a damp basement, although I wish we had thought about donating them).
    That’s it! I’m glad I have a couple that are really special and I like the picture of me standing in front of a mound of special trophies and metals. And I love the memory of sifting through them with my mom before saying goodbye to them.

  5. posted by Ann on

    I have a huge box of trophies from my son’s early athletic days…unfortunately, most are “participation” trophies from that period when “everyone is a winner” and they really don’t mean something. They are on my list of things to trash – things that mean something to him are in his room.

  6. posted by Paula Johnson on

    I had a small stack of plaques that I knew I’d never hang on a wall. A friend who was involved in community theatre took them for the group’s prop department. So my old awards may have ended up as set dressing.

  7. posted by Holly on

    Medals4Mettle recycles medals to give to children dealing with life-altering diseases/handicaps/similar struggles. This isn’t applicable to everyone, as they ONLY accept medals (finisher’s medals) from marathons, 1/2 marathons, and triathlons.

    What’s pretty neat is that you can include your “story” [what you ran, why you ran, why the medal is meaningful to you] in the submission paperwork, and that gets passed on to the recipient.

    Find out more here:

  8. posted by Katie in PA on

    The therapeutic horseback riding center where my daughter rides gratefully accepts used trophies for its annual awards picnic. They pry off the nameplate, sometimes sanding off the glue, and hand it out to a disabled child who has completed the 8-month riding program. You should see how happy the recipients are with their trophies!

  9. posted by Marie on

    This reminds me of the passel of trophies I had from when I was in competitive baton twirling. One year, my mother tried to give me the whole box to get it out of her house. They were all very colorful and varied, but I could not see carting them around forever after. So I arranged them in the driveway and took pictures before cheerfully tossing them out. I still have a medal from a national title, but that’s small enough to tuck into a box of meaningful mementos.

    On the same note, I threw out lots of old competition sheets and evaluations. Many of those were by nature very critical, looking for flaws … and I realized that I didn’t want to hold onto anything with that much negative energy! That was very freeing.

    When my husband’s father brought out a ton of boy scout, piano and track awards that he’d saved for decades (because his late wife “would have”), I took pictures of some things, and DH culled one box worth of documents he wanted to save. The hard part was that my FIL could not understand why we didn’t take ALL of it! We just said Sorr-ee! No space! I hope he found the strength to throw out the rest of it.

  10. posted by Guen on

    When I got rid of my trophies, I put them in a box of free items at a yard sale. People took them! Don’t know what for, but they’re out of my way. If I hadn’t gotten rid of them at the yard sale, I was going to call Easter Seals or another organization that could repurpose them.

    In fact, one or two of my trophies was originally recycled when it was passed to me. My class took an after-school field trip to the bowling alley and I got the highest score, and won my largest trophy from that. Didn’t have a nameplate, but who cares?

  11. posted by Becky on

    (“I know it says ’2nd Place Rabbit’ on it, but that is teacher code for ‘Perfect Attendance.’”)

    OMG, I laughed right out loud at this. I am a teacher, and being proficient in “teacher code,” I thought this was brilliant! Thank you for the chuckle!

  12. posted by Another Deb on

    I SO would have gotten a “2nd Place Rabbit” award when I was in school.

  13. posted by JC on

    I have one trophy that I still display on my bedroom dresser. It is very small and means a lot because I was not socially adept in HS and the band members voted on it, rather than the teacher giving it out. I have one other quite small trophy in my cedar chest. I’ve kept it because it is funny. I was “most improved” swimmer for the season. (I joined the team without knowing HOW to swim, I couldn’t even float.) My children get a laugh because they gave a male trophy to their mother. I like the idea of a fame wall. Both of my children have awards/trophies from state karate tournaments. It would be fun to put them all together and appreciate our diverse interests and accomplishments.

  14. posted by Stella on

    Great post. Now I have ideas. I think a Family Awesome wall would be good, as long as you don’t have one family member with way less to nothing on it! The ribbon quilts were gorgeous.

  15. posted by Lisa on

    I was at the state fair yesterday, and someone had made a lamp project that was an empty clear glass lamp for the base, and it was filled with their 4-H ribbons. The ribbons weren’t placed in there in a pattern, but were arranged so the front of the ribbons showed through the glass so you could see what they were earned for, but kind of looked just dropped in there. It looked like the lamps I’ve often seen with seashells in them. It was a pretty way to store and display them that didn’t take much room.

  16. posted by maryann on

    we’re donating the kids’ Participation and 4th (Last) Place Trophies here:

  17. posted by Kushla on

    I kept one Gold, one silver and one bronze medal and then I looked at all the rest allowing the memories to flood and then happily turfed them. I loved it.

  18. posted by Carla on


    I have close to 100 medals from my competitive highland dancing days. I took all of the ribbon off them so it’s just the medallion, and then put them all in a large glass vase. It’s displayed next to one of my favourite highland dancing pictures on a shelf.

  19. posted by Shannon on

    Thanks s o much for all these great suggestions! This was my big project this weekend. Hopefully now I can find an awards shop that can use all of them. I also appreciated the trophy ideas. I have a good collection of those to also sort. Thank you!!!

  20. posted by mydivabydesign - The Diva's Home on

    What a great idea about giving the ribbons to a teacher. I also didn’t know about the trophy shops recycling. Thanks!

  21. posted by Shannon on

    So I called around my area with no luck on I place to take the ribbons. But I found this – They recycle the ribbons for theraputic riding and I’m so excited to send my ribbons and tell my friends about it!

  22. posted by okgirl on

    I took all my ribbons, trophies, and medals, and spread them out on the floor. I plunked the tiara on my head and sat down in the middle of all my awards. My friend took a digital picture. I put the whole mess (minus the tiara!) and posted it on Freecycle. I had TEN replies! The recipient wanted to use them for awards at a family reunion. I have all the memories on my photo card, and someone else has that 10th place ribbon and spelling bee trophy. (I hope they recycled them, too, after they decluttered.)

  23. posted by Leah on

    another comment seconding Metals4Mettle — great organization! My workplace just put on a half marathon, and it was great to see many people turning in their old medals. I love all the innovative approaches people are taking to reusing items.

  24. posted by Marcia on

    As far as the ribbons go, if nail polish remover does take off the text, then you can simply “clean” them up and give the ribbons to the local childrens library. They would make really good bookmarks!

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