How to capture memories before they’re gone

When I was little we’d occasionally visit my Great-Aunt May. Her house was always dark — she kept the shades drawn and lights off — and she seemed to spend most of her time doing word-find puzzles and eating chocolate. When we’d visit my brother and I would play with the only toys she had — a box of aerosol can lids we’d stack up as high as we were tall. That May would tell the same stories over and over and forget basic details was funny to us, another peculiarity like the elevated toilet seat in her bathroom and the powder she used that we found sprinkled around our bedroom when she came to visit.

But watching her, and later my grandfather, who also suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, taught me a lot about the faultiness of memory. That, coupled with a healthy self-absorption cultivated in me a lifelong passion for capturing memories.

As a kid I was more interested in writing about how I felt. Armed with my Hallmark diary with a lock attached on the side, I dutifully recorded who liked who and who I was mad at and who was my best friend. In high school and early college years my writing was focused more on soul-searching and recording events and what I read. Now that I’m older I’m less interested in the emotional — way less — and more interested in the factual. I want to remember what I did, how much I exercised, what Beatrice did or said.  I want methods of keeping track that are easy and visual, that don’t take up space, and that won’t embarrass me if found by others years later.

If you’re looking for how to capture memories in the coming year, here are a few ideas for methods that I’ve liked:













For several years I posted a large wall calendar that had a small space to write something about every day. (My favorite designers are Crispin Finn and Miriam Bereson). This is great if you want a low-pressure way to capture details. The high visibility of having something on your wall helps serve as a reminder, and writing something about each day gives you a subtle nudge to make the most of every day and to value the little things. If you have an accomplished doodler in your house, enlist them to embellish the entries with little drawings.

A simple 8.5 x 11 annual calendar can be used a ton of ways to keep track of the year without taking a lot of effort or space. (Here’s a great free printable one for 2013 from A Pair of Pears). For example:

Exercise log

I’ve been keeping the same exercise log method for years, and I love it. I start with a one-page calendar of the year. If I exercise for more than 30 minutes, I circle the date in a color corresponding to the activity (black = running, red = yoga, etc.) If I exercise twice that day I get two circles (a “double-ringer”). For running I also jot the mileage above the circle. Then as the year goes by it’s easy to add up how many miles I ran weekly and monthly, and how many days I exercised each month.

Annotated calendar
I used a similar calendar method for 2012 for recording notes about Bee. I used the same 8.5 x 11 calendar and wrote in as much detail as I wanted near the dates that things occurred, typically a few things a month, like when she was sick, new developmental things she learned, words or phrases she said, trips she took… whatever was worth recording. Using pretty Sharpies (I did mine in shades of green) and adding little shapes and illustrations made it more visually interesting.


When I need more space I resort to Moleskin journals, which come in everything from tiny, purse-sized varieties to larger portfolio sizes. I like their compact size, their grid paper, and their cost. They also have specialty journals for wine, travel, babies, and tons of other topics.

Private scrapbook
My journaling tapered off when I was pregnant with Bee, but I still use my last journal to paste in important papers that would get lost elsewhere, like especially sweet cards from friends and family and obituaries and funeral programs from loved ones. Moleskin journals usually have a pocket in their covers ideal for stashing these items away until you’re ready to paste them in.

Quote journal
By the end of this year I found myself wanting more space to describe the funny things Bee did or said (as frankly, she got funnier with age), so I’ve moved to a simple Moleskin journal which gives me more room to write. I pick it up once every few weeks and jot down her latest antics, like how she said the baby would be a boy, then followed that up with “Dada, a boy! Mama, a boy!” and gesturing grandly with her sippy cup, “Milk, a boy!”

Do you have any other favorite methods of record keeping? How are you going to capture the coming year?

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  1. I love that wall calendar and also do better with low pressure recording methods. Now, I just need to trade in some windows for wall space!


  1. […] one-page calendar, from A Pair of Pears, if you were looking for a good one-page calendar to track exercise or other milestones of the year. They also offer sweet free mini Valentine and a mini cake bunting printables. (Found via How […]