The Souvenir Dilemma via

The Souvenir Dilemma

In the immortal words of En Vogue, “Free your mind, and the rest will follow.”

The last time I moved, one of the biggest chores was packing up all of the cups collected during my travels. And then unpacking and finding homes for those cups in our new home. I could probably run a high volume café very easily with my collection, and it was very apparent that I was running out of room. It was time to stop buying souvenir coffee cups.

The Cup Man's record setting collection via

At least our cup collection isn’t this big! Charles Hubble could be the record holder! (Via Columbia Daily Herald)

Fast forward a few years, and our refrigerator had all but disappeared beneath a collection of travel magnets. It was time to stop buying souvenir magnets. In fact, as we surveyed our needs it became abundantly clear that we didn’t need souvenir anythings. We already had drawers full of t-shirts, a cup full of pens, hats full of pins, a house full of knickknacks. We realized we could live comfortably for a very long time without ever needing to buy another one of these things, souvenir or otherwise. Not to mention running low on physical space for our mementos. Perhaps it was time to stop buying souvenirs altogether. Could that actually be?

The question got me wondering why we buy souvenirs in the first place. Certainly, some tiny portion of it fills an actual need. Honestly, I need a coffee cup, but do I need fifty of them? Do we keep buying souvenirs just to jog our memory? Is it to have something to show off like a trophy, or to broadcast to the world that we’ve gone beyond our tiny corner? Or is it a deep psychological need to have something physical to anchor the ephemeral nature of memory?

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Whatever compelled us to stop in every souvenir shop we saw, we decided to fight it. We divorced ourselves from the notion that we needed some memento from every place we visited, and made the decision to not buy souvenirs a few years ago. We freed our mind. Sort of. Some planned purchases are mementos of our lifestyle more than souvenirs from a destination, and the occasional keepsake still finds its way into our luggage. On a winter trip to Washington, DC, I found myself without a hat or earmuffs on a cold, windy day, which is how I came to have a toasty headband from the Smithsonian. Is it a souvenir? Well, yes. But it was also a practical purchase, which has become a criteria for most purchases while traveling now.

A travel magnet souvenir board, via

Our favorite idea for showing off souvenir travel magnets, found on Pinterest.

That keeps the hoard from growing, but there is still the question of what to do with all of the souvenirs we bought in the past. This question became very real with the purchase of a new refrigerator. It actually looks…well, nice, without a mish-mash covering of mismatched magnets. So much so, that we’ve decided to keep it that way. But what to do with all of those magnets? Throwing them away seems wasteful, keeping them all seems like overkill. However, we have found a few tasteful ideas like the “picture frame” on the left. Maybe they’ll somehow transition to artwork with the added bonus of rotating our favorites on display.

Note: Our friends Phil & Garth have a wonderful post on how to display travel souvenirs. They have some creative solutions if you decide to keep a few (or a lot) of your favorite mementos.

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We are starting to realize that travel magnets and other souvenirs have a shelf-life on par with Twinkies and Keith Richards. About the only time one disappears is when it breaks. And, the first time that happened, it was a little depressing. It was a glass I “won” at Circus Circus with my cousins while visiting family in Las Vegas. I enjoyed that occasional reminder of the fun we had, and the trouble we got into later. Even today, decades after that glass broke and disappeared, I remember the trip vividly. The glass, not so much.

So, maybe we can live without the shot glasses. And the coffee cups, and the magnes, and… You get the idea. In fact, we’ll have to learn to live without them. (A better way to look at it is that we will get to learn to live without them.) We are on the cusp of empty-nesterhood and, like many others, we have decided to pare down the trappings of family life; to downsize our stuff in order to upsize our lives. The souvenirs, along with plenty of other things, will have to go.

We freed our minds, and the rest is following. We’ve already started with a healthy donation of gently but lovingly worn shirts from around the world. This time, parting with the souvenirs – and meeting the empty space that created – was anything but depressing. In a very real way, it was liberating. More importantly, it reminded us of what matters most:

We have hearts and minds full of great memories, and plenty of space for more.

20 comments on “The Souvenir Dilemma

  1. I’m with you on fridge magnets. I gave them up years ago when I realised that after a while they can stick so hard to the fridge that you almost can’t remove them. I’ve started buying little pots and carved animals but it is getting out of hand.

    • Hi Lyn! I am trying to break myself of the souvenir habit but it’s hard! I’ve really got too many of a lot of things…except maybe passport stamps! 😉 Thanks for your comment!

  2. I am a souvenir hoarder and buyer 🙁 This was a great read because it is so us. My husband did the whole Hard Rock T-shirts collection and hats. Our refrigerator still holds all the magnets. I think I keep them as bragging rights and sometimes, when one catches my eye, it brings me back to that special place. I love your idea with the magnets.I need to just start being satisfied with photos and memories. Slowly getting there…

    • Oh, Mary, that is so much easier said than done! I like to think I am recovering from Souvenir Syndrome. Some days are better than others, but it’s all about progress, not perfection. Right? 🙂 Thanks for your comment!

  3. Hi Rob,

    When I get souvenirs, I make sure that they are useful – well for the most part. I got over the idea of getting magnets and T-shirts that I will never wear. instead, I try to pick local spices, music or even books. Great post!


    • Hi Zaria – Thanks for your comment! I love the idea of bringing home music – there are some destinations where music is such a strong and distinct part of the culture. What a great idea that is! Thanks for sharing.

  4. I have to agree with you, Rob – Souvenirs can quickly become clutter. As a kid I brought home a postcard and T-shirt from every place we visited, until I realized I had a drawer full of shirts and never looked at my postcards. Now we take photos and try to bring a recipe home to make for those we left behind.

    Occasionally I have purchased a special item that came from the place we were visiting. In Panama I bought a couple of baskets woven by native Embera women (which I use daily) and someday I hope to buy a tea set in China and purchase a Persian carpet in Iran.

    • Hi Linda – thanks for your comment! I love bringing home souvenirs that have a useful function at home. It’s fantastic to have that special reminder every day, or sometimes on special occasions. And I am with you on bringing home a tea set from China! 🙂

  5. Shot glasses used to by main thing as well as magnets. Shot glasses take up so much space (when you have so many) and I’ve accidently broken several. I’ve had a lot of the same thoughts – are they REALLY necessary? I like having things from around the world surround me in my home but couldn’t pictures do the same thing?? Postcards (that I send from the location I’m in to myself at home) are my newest thing. Cheap and they take up very little space. Thanks for linking up to #WeekendWanderlust!

    • Hi Ashley – thanks for the comment! We had started picking up shot glasses as a smaller alternative to coffee cups, but still…you really can have too many of them. I like the postcard idea, and they’re easy enough to display in a few frames or collages around the house. An idea I’m getting from everyone’s comments is that variety might be the name of the game. A little bit of everything from every where!

  6. I hardly have any souvenirs from my world travels except magnets which reside on my fridge. I love looking at them and remembering. But the other stuff is just clutter to me so I try not to buy anything or I’d have a houseful of crap!

    • Hi Andrea! Thanks for your comment – I envy your smart approach to souvenirs. The clutter is the killer, and it kind of creeps up on you! All of a sudden, there is stuff everywhere! Much better to have not started than trying to figure out what to do with it all.

  7. Souvenirs are indeed a dilemma! I normally buy one thing that is unique to the area I’m traveling to that I can incorporate in my home décor (i.e. mini Athena statue from Greece) and a postcard. Postcards are cheap, light and super easy to transport in your luggage!

    • Hi Amanda! I love finding local things we can take home and incorporate into the decor. Housewares with local flavor are awesome too. They’re useful, but are still reminders of our travels. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your ideas!

  8. Souvenirs truly are a dilemma! Good for you for making the commitment to stop the souvenirs. We made a similar decision a few years back and stopped buying the magnets, shot glasses and picture frames. Instead we use the money we would have spent on them and treat ourselves to an extra activity.

    • That is a great idea! You guys are geniuses. We really hadn’t thought about doing something with what we would have spent on souvenirs – but we sure will now! 🙂 Thanks for your comment.

  9. I stopped buying souvenirs long time ago. If I buy something, it has to be useful. For example, I went to Barcelona last fall and it was colder than what I expected. I had to buy a jacket and a scarf but I have used those items during the California winter. We like to bring ingredients to cook. In that way, we remember the flavor we tasted.

    • Hi Ruth! Edible souvenirs are awesome 🙂 I picked up some goodies on our last trip to Mexico, and a cookbook. That turned out to be fun because I got some great recipes but also am forced to practice Spanish! It helps that este muchaco loves to eat and still remembers at least a few things from high school. 😉 Thanks for the comment – it’s fun seeing how everyone else handles the “souvenirs”.

  10. I really enjoyed this post. What compels us to buy souvenirs? Interesting question to ponder. Years ago collecting souvenir spoons you displayed on spoon racks was a thing. I had a few of those that I’ve since gotten rid of. Later I liked to buy something to add to the decor of my home. Now I just collect memories, although every once in a while something catches my eye. I admit it is nice to see it in my home and be reminded of my trip. I like the Pinterest frame idea.

    • Hi Donna – Thanks for your comment! Try as we might, it can be hard to resist some things! But then, that happens sometimes when we just run to mall for one thing…and come home with a couple others. (What, is that just me??? 😉

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