We often gather keepsakes from far-away travels, but the more familiar places in our lives are also well worth remembering.
I have a collection of souvenirs that remind me of the exotic cities I’ve seen and the life-changing moments I’ve had on the road.
There’s the tin of fish spices from Kaohsiung that reminds me of my first trip to Asia, where the rituals and temples were so unfamiliar that I felt euphoric to realize I hadn’t yet seen it all. There’s the wooden Pinocchio puppet from my trip to Venice that reminds me of the long days I spent exploring the city, skipping the rest of Italy and learning the value of slowing down.
There are wooden giraffes from Johannesburg and pottery from Fayoum, all filling my bookshelves to remind me of distant cities I’ve explored.
But I hardly have anything to remind me of where I grew up, went to school and spent most of my life. Because who collects souvenirs of home and old, familiar places?
We collect mementos when we travel. And when we’re in familiar city, we sink into routine and can’t often pick out anything remarkable about our surroundings.
Yet I’ve been thinking the familiar places are the ones I want to remember most.
I spent most of my childhood in Arizona, where beige rows of houses cut off at the bases of mountain ranges and desert. I spent years as a teenager wishing I lived in London, which I imagined was filled with punks and the loud music I loved.
It took years of travel, and later leaving Arizona, to appreciate the state and see it with new eyes.
But I don’t have much to remind me of the years I spent there.
To replace my few postcards of the Grand Canyon, laying somewhere in a shoe box, I found a Hand Embroidered State Pillow (from Uncommon Goods’ collection of gifts for bridesmaids) that perfectly captures Arizona’s quirky towns and deserts. Handmade by fellow travel junkies Carmel and Terrell Swan, the pillow features a maze of visuals that capture the wide-open and varied landscapes of Arizona – from its surprising blue lakes to its bohemian towns.
It also brings back a rush of memories. The red and yellow stripes of the state flag give me a sense of home. They always greeted me at the state lines, signalling the end of long road trips. And there’s the blue water of Lake Havasu that reminds me of the town’s London Bridge and its high-end boutiques – a reminder that Arizona is far more than cowboys and cactuses.
Sedona is one of my favorite Arizona towns, known for its red rock buttes, canyons and pine forests. It also has a quirky arts and New Age scene, drawing legions of yogis and seekers who believe the gorgeous landscape holds mystical powers. There are dozens of galleries that feature everything from abstract photography to Navajo baskets. The state, perhaps because of its vast deserts and chameleon landscapes, has always inspired artists.
Tim Hull, based in Prescott, draws inspiration from the American Southwest and even cites punk rock as an influence in his Zen-like, deconstructed pieces. His Meditation Wind Chime (from the site’s array of gifts perfect for guys) captures the stark beauty of the Arizona landscape and conjures up the state’s raw, earthly textures.
After I left Arizona in my teens, I headed West – pulled towards the Pacific Ocean and visions of making it on my own, going to university and proving myself in California. It was a bold step towards independence and my first time away from family. I spent years growing up, failing and learning, all against the backdrop of the Pacific that I always tried to keep near.
But after I graduated, I left the state with only a few keepsakes besides a UC Berkeley sweatshirt. I was looking forward to the next chapter of my life and not looking back.
The Sea of Love artisanal print (from the collection of anniversary presents) reminds me of my California years, especially of the sea lions at La Jolla Cove in San Diego. Printed on 100% recycled newsprint, it’s a great example of Uncommon Goods’ focus on sustainability – which here not only means being ‘green,’ but also handmade, organic and cruelty-free.
Items like the artisanal print, Arizona-made wind chime and embroidered pillows bring back memories of familiar places and remind me it’s not just exotic travels that deserve to be remembered with keepsakes.
How can you bring in more mementos into your own home to remind you of your home city, the places you grew up, where you got married? Here are my tips:
1. Skip the souvenirs
Look beyond the stereotypes and invest in less obvious pieces that remind you of a specific place, but are not necessarily that city’s best-selling keepsakes. For example, the Sea of Love print is made in New York, but it brings back California better for me than a t-shirt off Hollywood Blvd.
2. Invest in handmade pieces
When you skip the Made in China keepsakes, you’re not only buying something that’s more unique and personal, but you’re also supporting local artists and craftsmen.
3. Check out flea markets, antique shops and arts festivals
These can often be gold mines for unique pieces that come directly from the community.
4. Make your own keepsakes
Get your photos printed, gather up flowers or leaves to press and frame, collect rocks and seashells, or paint a watercolor. If the place you want to remember isn’t very photogenic, then zoom in and photograph a few of its beautiful details.
5. Hit the grocery stores
These are often neglected, but full of spices and delicacies that serve as great mementoes.
6. Get practical
Buy local household items that you’ll actually use. Think throws or pillow cases, kitchen items and toiletries. They may not always last forever, but at least they won’t collect dust on the shelf.
I’d love to hear from you. Do you have keepsakes from the familiar places in your life? What are your tips to finding pieces that are unique and memorable?