Make Space for Your Collections

_MG_1505Bring It All Together

by Mary V. Danielsen of Documented Legacy, in collaboration with
Barbara Berman of BB’s Clutter Solutions

Before you can properly preserve your family history, you have to bring it all together. You have to look at the photos, documents, records and memorabilia in your life that define who you are. If your goal is to preserve your family history this year, one of your biggest challenges will be to make space for your collection of family archives.

This means that your next task will be to decide where your newly organized archives will live on a regular basis and begin reviewing everything to decide what stays and what goes. The space you make to house or display your collections shouldn’t be near any location that could threaten the collection, such as water pipes, attics, or heat sources.

There are two steps to this week’s task:

  1. Bring everything into one location so you can review it, and
  2. Decide how much space you’ll need to store your collection.

Grab a notebook for your honey-do list. You may realize you need to purchase a new bookcase, clear out a few drawers, invest in archival supplies or just find a good water-proof storage box and some backup drives.

Here are some great tips on making space for your collections from Barbara Berman of BB’s Clutter Solutions, a certified professional organizer based in southern New Jersey.

  • Your family history won’t organize itself. You have to start somewhere. What seems like a daunting task – organizing thousands of photos, finding family records and documenting collections – isn’t difficult work once you begin to make space for your family history archives. Maintaining these collections are easier once you have a system.
  • You shouldn’t start any new projects or add to your collection until you get everything organized.
  • Begin the entire process by assessing the situation. How would you like the finished project to look? How will you use it? Do you want this to be accessible to family members on a regular basis, like a coffee table book, or do you want everything preserved in an archival manner and stored away?
  • Build an action plan. Determine where everything is that you want to sort through for your family history. Bring it to one location in your home. Although this may clutter one room for a short period it will force you to look at it, sort and review each item. In doing so you will determine its worth in your family history. Once you complete this step it’s easier to determine how much space you’ll need.
  • The review process takes several sweeps. First, put items to be preserved in categories, sorting like items with like items. Keep the mindset together. Put printed photos, photo albums, DVDs, VHS tapes, frames, records, and any other artifacts in similar piles. Sorted them into subcategories, such as school photos, union meetings, summer camps, Disney trips, big events, people’s names or decades. Your family history records may be sorted by names and generations.
  • Develop a Keep-Toss-Give mentality. On the second sweep, purge and discard anything you no longer need. Decide what to do with duplicates. When reviewing your photo collections decide if you want to keep every photo from each event or just your favorites. Again, ask yourself what images tell your story.
  • Assign each item a home. Here is where you begin to rehouse items you’re saving into new storage containers or displays.
  • Be persistent. You’re not going accomplish this goal if you stop midstream, because it seems like too much work. It’s your history. The work is worth it.
  • Don’t buy any storage bins or supplies for rehousing your collections until you begin the process of bringing it all into one location. First see what you have around the house that can be reused instead. You may not need to buy anything, because the sorting and review process will naturally open up space.

“With family legacy projects, people are often times so busy managing their lives that they’re just happy to have all the photos in one place, one location in their home,” Berman said. “Other times people want their photos and records completely organized and labeled.”

There is no perfect answer for how to reorganize and preserve family history archives. Each of us is in different stages in life, has varying needs and technological capabilities. Your project should be personalized to you and what you want to accomplish. Set your priorities and determine how much time and space you want to invest in your family’s history.

Make a date night with your stuff. Schedule specific days and times to work on your collections. If you’re doing this with a friend or family member, plan times to work on each of your projects.

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