The object in question would usually be no longer in use, or perhaps used extremely infrequently compared to when it was first brought. The piece should not be regarded as a waste of space, as the owner would view it with some sort of fondness due the positive experiences associated with its past use, so words like "piece of junk" or "clutter" should be avoided.

Redundant is an adjective (though I would prefer a noun) that might fit this purpose, however it does not reference the fact that the object has been retained out of nostalgia and also has negative connotations rather than positive.

Memento or keepsake are similar words to what I am looking for, however these are kept to remind of a specific person or event and not to remind of the extended past history and actions linked to that specific object itself.

An example might be a toy kept from the past or a laptop stored away after a new one has replaced it. I want to emphasise that in this case, the toy has not been retained because it reminds the owner of their childhood and the laptop has not been conserved because it was given to the owner by someone close to them. They have been kept instead to prompt memories of the interactions that the owner (and usually, only the owner) has had with them.

An example sentence would be something like:

Alice tends to hang onto a lot of _________, such as her PS3 from 10 years ago.

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    A toy kept from when you were younger might be a memento or keepsake, I don't see the problem with these words. A laptop stored away after a new one has replaced it could be a spare. I don't think I understand the question. Keepsakes and mementos can be kept as a remembrance of the keepsake or memento itself, and not necessarily past events or people. – Zebrafish Aug 5 at 20:50
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    I won't bother posting the answer since you already discounted it, but the correct word for what you're talking about is precisely a keepsake. People won't understand what a 'mathom' is, unless they read Tolkien. If they do, they'll misunderstand anyway. – lly Aug 6 at 6:23
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    @lly I've read Tolkien multiple times, and still don't know what a 'mathom' is. – Aaron Mahan Aug 6 at 21:13
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    Possible duplicate of Word for small junk items in household – Mazura Aug 7 at 22:54
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    Both 'keepsake' and 'memento' have, contrary to your statements, all the nuances about history and past actions that you ask for, and so would be good as accepted answers. – Mitch Aug 9 at 2:33

10 Answers 10

up vote 37 down vote accepted

mathom /ˈmæðəm/

A lovely, ancient, and eminently modern word for this is mathom. The OED gives for the current sense of mathom:

  1. A trinket, a piece of bric-a-brac.

But you need to know more about it that just that, for there’s more to it than just that.

Its original sense from Old English is now obsolete:

  1. A precious thing, a treasure, a valuable gift. Obsolete

For its origin OED notes that:

Etymology: Cognate with Old Saxon mēðom (masculine) precious thing, a treasure, Old Icelandic meiðmar (feminine plural) valuables, Gothic maiþms (masculine) gift, ultimately < the Indo-European base of classical Latin mūtāre to exchange (see mutate v.).

The word was playfully revived in a slightly different sense (see sense 2) in the 20th. cent. by J. R. R. Tolkien.

Here’s a Middle English citation:

  • c1275 (▸?a1200) Laȝamon Brut (Calig.) (1963) 896
    Ȝeue us þe king & al his gold, & þa maðmes of his lond.

In other words, “Give us the king and all his gold, and the mathoms of his land.” They were after treasure.

Tolkien’s “playful revival” of the word in a slightly different sense appears first in the Prologue to The Lord of the Rings, where he wrote:

At no time had Hobbits of any kind been warlike, and they had never fought among themselves. In olden days they had, of course, been often obliged to fight to maintain themselves in a hard world; but in Bilbo's time that was very ancient history. The last battle, before this story opens, and indeed the only one that had ever been fought within the borders of the Shire, was beyond living memory: the Battle of Greenfields, S.R. 1147, in which Bandobras Took routed an invasion of Orcs. Even the weathers had grown milder, and the wolves that had once come ravening out of the North in bitter white winters were now only a grandfather's tale. So, though there was still some store of weapons in the Shire, these were used mostly as trophies, hanging above hearths or on walls, or gathered into the museum at Michel Delving. The Mathom-house it was called; for anything that Hobbits had no immediate use for, but were unwilling to throw away, they called a mathom. Their dwellings were apt to become rather crowded with mathoms, and many of the presents that passed from hand to hand were of that sort.

And it has been used by other authors, in non-Hobbitty contexts, since then. For example, the OED provides (among others) a citation from Byte magazine:

  • 1998 Byte Jan. 123/1
    A storage company where I keep a bunch of mathoms—stuff I can't quite bring myself to throw away.

See also the LotR Wiki entry for this word, which begins with:

Mathom was the hobbit term for anything which they had no use for but were unwilling to throw away. Their holes and houses usually were quite crowded with mathoms. Hobbits were very fond of giving mathoms to one another; on birthdays, it was tradition that the hobbit who had the birthday would give a gift to anyone who attended his party. This way mathoms travelled from hand to hand often around the whole Shire, sometimes finding their way back to the original owner. Weapons and other gear of war was usually looked upon as mathoms in the Shire and usually they became trophies hanging over fireplaces or on walls.

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    +1 This is the kind of word that could easily turn up on one of those "10 obscure words you can use right now" type lists that will then suddenly start popping up in cartoons and crossword puzzles and become a lot of folks' favorite new-old word (like aglet). – 1006a Aug 6 at 3:37
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    I like the way this word almost describes itself - it still exists more because of what it used to do than what it does now. It's linguistic bric-a-brac. – Chris H Aug 6 at 9:09
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    "The Mathom-house" formerly known as "junk shop" but nowadays called a hoarder's home As much as I love hearing and learning new words and slang, I don't think this one actually nails it. The meaning appears to be closer to bric-à-brac, something of little monetary value but "pretty" or "once useful" See Wiktionary – Mari-Lou A Aug 6 at 11:10
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    Both your references, LotR and Byte, have to define the word immediately after its use. That's not evidence of its usage, its evidence of its obscurity. – Jamie Clinton Aug 7 at 21:20
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    While a lovely saunter down the garden path of etymology heaven, it nonetheless seems like the introduction of a new word. Which is not our task, even if it is so very fetch. I cannot possibly downvote, but cannot upvote either. – Harper Aug 7 at 22:40

Keepsake - \ ˈkēp-ˌsāk \

You’ve already noted it in your question, but keepsake is actually a correct answer here. Mathom is an interesting word however nobody but Tolkein enthusiasts will know what it means.

From Merriam Webster (use in a sentence):

saved the tassel from her mortarboard as a keepsake of her high school graduation

Example from an online article (example from Merriam Webster):

Keeping baby clothes and momentos Last year, Joanna created the cutest keepsakes for her kids: Memory boxes for each child stored in clear fabric bins, filled with their baby items and a handwritten letter.

-Jessica Leigh Mattern, Country Living, "10 of Chip and Joanna Gaines' Sweetest Family Traditions You’ll Want to Copy ASAP," 9 July 2018

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    I've upvoted this answer. The OP seems to have misapprehended the suitability of "keepsake" and it's a valid answer to say that it should be considered an answer to their question. – CCTO Aug 7 at 16:36
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    I like "keepsake" but this answer as is could use some editing. First, adding a reference for the meaning and connotations of keepsake to show why it's a good word for the purpose, and second perhaps removing the criticism of another answer that has been accepted by the asker. When I saw this question on the HNQL, the word mathom immediately sprang to mind, so the assertion that "nobody will know what it means" seems questionable and besides the point anyway. – Todd Wilcox Aug 7 at 20:00
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    @tchrist As a moderator, you ought to be able to recognize a frame challenge when you read one. I can understand if you had said it requires further support or explanation, but your only stated problem with it is that it encourages the use of a word the OP passed over. An answer that states the OP's choice to do so and that the OP's understanding of the word's usage was incorrect is absolutely valid as an answer. – jpmc26 Aug 8 at 0:14
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    @tchrist It doesn't. It means your comment as written was inappropriate, especially since you're a moderator who posted a competing answer. If you'd like to replace it with a more appropriately worded one that cites the actual problems, feel free. – jpmc26 Aug 8 at 0:17
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    I think this is the better answer. I've been speaking English for more than six decades, and was until relatively recently an avid reader who looked up unfamiliar words. I have never heard or seen the word in the chosen answer. – anongoodnurse Aug 8 at 4:09

How about memorabilia:

1 : things that are remarkable and worthy of remembrance: a wealth of early railroad memorabilia

2 : things that stir recollection or are valued or collected for their association with a particular field or interest: mementos baseball memorabilia

(merriam-webster)

1 [treated as singular or plural] Objects kept or collected because of their associations with memorable people or events.

‘sixties memorabilia’

(oxforddictionaries)

Souvenir:

[Merriam-Webster]

: something that serves as a reminder

When I went to the Super Bowl, I kept my ticket stub as a souvenir.
kept their love letters as souvenirs of their courtship


Edited: To address a comment, an old laptop (assuming it's not just junk) is a souvenir of an earlier time. Especially if it serves no other purpose than to exemplify how things used to be and remind you of them. (It's similar to keeping a typewriter or an 8-track tape.)

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    I'm not sure you would refer to an old laptop as a souvenir – Alexander51413 Aug 5 at 21:41
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    @Alexander51413 What else would it be if not just junk? (I mean, why keep it otherwise?) – Jason Bassford Aug 5 at 21:52
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    I'm inclined to agree with Alexander. Souvenir is often associated with journeys; as can be seen from the first example. – MSalters Aug 6 at 10:08
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    @Ian: See comment above. "Souvenir" is not defined by being place-oriented, but by its purpose of reminding you of something. That applies to both places and past times. While it is most commonly used for place-related memorabilia, that is not it definition, as shown in the posted definition: "something that serves as a reminder". This is also in line with the French "souvenir", which literally means "to remember/reminisce". – Flater Aug 6 at 12:27
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    "a thing that is kept as a reminder of a person, place, or event." I have never heard of an item being referred to as a souvenir except something that was brought back from somewhere that was not the person's home. This is generally a vacation. – Jordan.J.D Aug 6 at 15:54

A relic is "a surviving memorial of something past", which seems just about perfect for your purpose.
To be sure, the most common association is with the relics of saints - fragments of the True Cross, or the bones of St. Mark - but relics are not necessarily religious. (Despite the similarity of spelling, "relic" and "religion" are derived from different Latin roots.)

Historical artifacts, outmoded ideas, and even retired persons are often called "relics", so there's no reason your old laptop can't be one too.

A few examples of this usage of "relic":

A Burial, Ella Wheeler Wilcox:

To-day I had a burial of my dead.
There was no shroud, no coffin, and no pall,
No prayers were uttered and no tears were shed -
I only turned a picture to the wall.
A picture that had hung within my room
For years and years; a relic of my youth.
It kept the rose of love in constant bloom
To see those eyes of earnestness and truth.

The Third Etage, author unknown, from "Household Words: A Weekly Journal, Volume 1" (edited by Charles Dickens):

It so happened that, as I dived into one of my big trunks in sorting my clothes, I came upon a leather case that contained a daguerrotype, a relic of my youth.

Matters of the Heart, Danielle Steel:

"I was thinking it might be nice to go to the Cape. I'd like you to see the house. It's very simple, but it's a relic of my childhood. That house means a lot to me."

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    "Relic" refers to something ancient. It's used to refer to something from recent times only in a sarcastic way, a humorous comparison to it being ancient. – fixer1234 Aug 5 at 22:56
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    @fixer1234 Citation, please? Fox News: "Socialist candidate Ocasio-Cortez once saw herself as Smithian capitalist, viewed feminism as 'relic'" USA Today: "St. Louis volunteers preserve Trans World Airlines relic" TheStreet.com "Who Could Win Big Now That Toys 'R' Us Is a Relic of the Past?" None of these are sarcastic or humorous, I would say. – MT_Head Aug 5 at 23:10
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    @fixer1234 I was referring to your own authority: "I label those sarcastic". I bow to it. – MT_Head Aug 6 at 2:54
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    @MT_Head Relic in the context of the examples you provided is a negative, maybe not actually sarcastic per se, but definitely an exaggeration of the age with the implication that it's obsolete, worthless, to be abandoned. Not really what the OP is looking for. – barbecue Aug 7 at 18:31
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    @MT_Head it applies to the TWA example in a slightly different sense - the use of relic in this context implies that the item is from a previous era. TWA was a one of the original airlines, but it failed to keep up and declined until it filed for bankrupcy for the last time in 2001. The image TWA brings to my mind, at least, is of the kind of flight Indiana Jones might take. In the context of airlines, that truly is the distant past. – bendl Aug 9 at 13:34

token TFD

  1. a symbol or visible representation of something

As in:

He is also planning to bring them some reminders of their past, although his office did not say what those tokens would be.

Vestigial

Adjective, but a noun in Biology

  1. forming a very small remnant of something that was once greater or more noticeable. "he felt a vestigial flicker of anger from last night" synonyms: remaining, surviving, residual, leftover, lingering; More persisting, abiding, lasting, enduring "he feels a vestigial flicker of anger from last night"
  2. Biology (of an organ or part of the body) degenerate, rudimentary, or atrophied, having become functionless in the course of evolution. "the vestigial wings of kiwis are entirely hidden"
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    Hi Mark, I think your answer would be much better if you provided the source! You can refer to the help section if you need more information. – Ian Aug 6 at 10:55
  • Mark, it's also important to understand that if your block quote is indeed from another source (i.e. not your own words) and you fail to cite the source, not only are you likely to get downvoted, you risk more serious sanctions for plagiarism. – Chappo Aug 6 at 11:18
  • Biologist here. I've never heard "vestigal" as a noun. "Vestige" is the noun form (but not so commonly used in biology). – brendan Aug 6 at 13:30
  • Right you are Brendan, thanks. – Mark Aug 6 at 13:43

How about 'antique'? People often keep these for ornamental purposes long after they have stopped using them.

  • I think antique is most appropriate. – Michael Fulton Aug 6 at 15:41
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    I have never heard of an "antique" laptop unless it was said in jest. And moreover, I have many antique objects and pieces of furniture which I still use. – Mari-Lou A Aug 6 at 16:22
  • I agree that this word isn't a perfect fit, but it works reasonably well for a lot of things. And who's to say that we won't have antique laptops in a few decades? – user3490 Aug 6 at 16:41
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    HEY! What's wrong with ques? – MT_Head Aug 7 at 4:59
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    I am no expert but I think the definition of antique depends on the item? Like, furniture has to be 100 years old before it is considered antique, but cars only 25? Maybe the rule for laptops can be 10 years? – stannius Aug 8 at 18:41

Trophy or relic

an object kept as a reminder or souvenir of a person or event.

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    I don't think relic works particularly well, but trophy seems to fit, as in "John kept the old laptop as a trophy to remember his early programming experiences. He doesn't use it much anymore, but it still holds some of his old files." – user128216 Aug 9 at 20:47

Take it easy!

I was just thinking about an adverb: 'Nostalgically'

in a way that involves thinking about things that happened in the past with happy and also slightly sad feelings

There are some examples here:

1.Alexander spoke nostalgically of his old laptop.

2.The drink had put Jason in an amiable mood, he talked nostalgically about his old toys.

.

You can also use: 'Nostalgic':

if you feel nostalgic about a time in the past, you feel happy when you remember it, and in some ways you wish that things & objects had not changed

  1. Seeing those old school photographs has made me feel quite nostalgic.

  2. Tom even peddles his line of nostalgic shirts on line.

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    But the OP is looking for a noun. Nostalgia could work in some sense, but the OP already used that word in the original question. (indicating - to me at least - that it was already passed over as an answer) – Lamar Latrell Aug 8 at 0:45

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