June 18, 2007

What to keep? What to toss?

There's an interesting article in the Ft. Wayne News-Sentinel called: "What to Keep, What to Throw Away? Think Carefully About What’s Really Important Before You Make a Decision."

Read it soon while it's still free:

Here's an excerpt from author Cindy Larson:

Like many other baby boomers, I suspect, my house is overflowing with boxes of papers, photos and mementos from my parents, who are both deceased. Add to that the stuff I’ve saved from my own marriage and children, and the result is an unorganized mess of boxes in our spare room.

I didn’t have a clue as to what to keep and what to pitch. What was truly a memento, and what was just clutter? What would be valuable or meaningful to my children and possibly, some day, their children?

Here are my comments on the article...

Purging. There is no magic formula for deciding what to keep. At least not one that works for everyone. You have to make some hard decisions, it's true. But making no decisions at all and keeping everything instead is just delaying the problem. Please don't leave the mess for your kids. The bigger the mess, the more tempted future generations will be to just toss it all.

The News-Sentinel article described an interesting sorting system just for sentimental items. Harriet Schechter advises clients to create 4 piles: Happy/Sad/Good/Bad. Seems like it could be super helpful. If you've used this method, please let me know by leaving a comment. Good or bad, I wanna hear it.

Preservation. As for the archival advice, it's not too bad. The article emphasizes the importance of stable temperature and humidity for long term survival of paper memorabilia. That's dead accurate. It also says that paper storage containers are better than plastic, which doesn't "breathe." I agree with that advice. Plus you have no idea how safe that plastic is, unless it's passed the Photographic Activity Test or PAT. But...

Boxes. I would add that the type of box you choose is important. Don't forget the sniff test -- if it stinks, don't put anything valuable in it. Unfortunately, that rules out most of the pretty looking shoebox-style boxes. Between the paper and the glue used to adhere it, you're looking at some awfully scary chemicals. Your best bet is to stick with an archival supplier like Metal Edge or Gaylord or Light Impressions. Thos metal edges are not just for strength -- they also make it possible to construct the box without using any adhesives.

Email. The article claims that letters are slowly being replaced by e-mail, and you should "consider saving at least some of your newsier e-mails." I would argue that this shift occurred years ago. And let's not forget that digital is more permanent than a sand painting, but not much else. The easiest solution is to just print out your most important correspondence. Not everything, of course. Then you end up with the same problem of too much paper.

Best advice in the article. I'm all for purging, but remember that there might be someone in your family who wants what you're about to toss. The older the stuff, the more important this becomes. Family historians are often the family archivist as well, so why not call up the genealogists in your family?

Related posts from The Practical Archivist:

[Double tip of the hat to Randy at GeneaMusings and Meagan at RootsTV]

No comments: