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Treasures, Not Trash: Why I’m Holding Tight to My Box of Memories

by Shelley Pearsall

Photo credit: Images by Fabio, Moment Collection/Getty Images

When I was a kid, I kept a box of important things in my bedroom closet. From the outside, no one could have imagined the treasures that lay hidden inside the old shoebox taped shut with masking tape. In the event of any natural disaster — tornado, flood, earthquake (okay, we don’t have too many earthquakes in Ohio) — I promised myself that I’d save the box, no matter what. I could always buy new clothes or replace a bunch of crummy toys, but the objects in the box weren’t replaceable. If the house was on fire … the shoebox and my dog and my family were coming with me.

I still have my box of important things — although the box has grown much bigger. Now it is a blue plastic Tupperware bin with a locking lid instead of a bright yellow Thom McAn shoebox. It is stored in the basement with a bunch of other plastic bins that contain things like holiday decorations, so it still doesn’t look like anything special from the outside.

But I know you are dying to find out … what’s inside the box?

Well, let me say first, there is nothing valuable in it, money-wise. No gold coins. No rare jewels. No winning lottery tickets. However, since most of the things in the box are one-of-a-kind and can’t be replaced, they are kind of priceless too.


They fall into a couple of different categories:

There are things that remind me of other things: a sand dollar from my first Florida vacation, a Navajo toy I bought during a trip out West when I was in third grade, a curl of birch bark from my family’s fishing camp in Canada.

Things that remind me of special people: a dried-up rose from my first high school boyfriend (kind of weird, I know), a handkerchief my great-grandmother embroidered, a fishing lure from the last fishing trip I took with my dad.

And there are a few things I’ve honestly forgotten why I saved them: a golf ball, a piece of driftwood, a shard of beach glass with the letter “E,” and a Pilgrim figurine that’s missing its arms…

One of my favorite things in the box is a note my grandpa wrote when I was 10 years old. The note says: I believe that someday you will be a known author. Forty years later, I’m a full-time writer with six published books for kids. So, I think the box of important things also has a little magic inside it too…


In my new book, The Seventh Most Important Thing, the main character Arthur Owens must collect seven things from the neighborhood trash as part of his punishment for a crime. Every Saturday, the same seven things.

As the story unfolds, Arthur discovers that “there could be a lot of reasons why people decided to save some things and why they threw others away — reasons that might not make any sense until you dug much deeper.” On the surface, the seven things he’s collecting don’t seem to be very important at all: old glass bottles, broken mirrors, cardboard, burnt-out light bulbs…

But eventually Arthur begins to realize that each of the objects has a special significance and the “trash” he’s collecting is being used for a pretty spectacular purpose. (You’ll have to read the book to find out what that is, though!)

For me, saving a shoebox of important things was a way to hold onto my identity. Many are clues or touchstones to who I am as a person — a romantic, an intrepid traveler, a tomboy daughter who loved hanging out with her dad. They hint at who and what matters most to me. They provide a tangible link to my past.

In this era of fleeting photos, texts, and tweets — perhaps all of us, young and old, need a box of important things to remind us of who we are in a fast-changing world. Sometimes it is the small treasures of our lives that matter most.

Sometimes the real treasures are not always the ones we expect.

If you could choose seven important objects from your life, what would you save and why? What is their value? And what do they show about you?


Suggested Activity: Using a discarded box, decorate with magazine cutouts, foil, stickers, glitter, and other found objects to create your own magical Box of Important Things.