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Archiving My Mother’s Things. Part III. Grid It.

It’s been almost two months since I wrote Part II of what I said would be a series about the process I’m using in archiving my mother’s things. You can readPart I and Part II covering the reasons for archiving the things we inherit and why it is so hard to do. Many of us are in the same spot. We find it hard to go through the things we’ve been left. If we’re fairly organized we box them up with a “some day”. If not, they may be in piles in odd spots where they deteriorate and may actually interfere with the quality of our own lives.

Many of the guides for organizing the things we’ve inherited say that we need to establish a time line with dates for certain milestones to be reached. Those of us who have worked in tight organizations or done project management know how to do this. Pert chart, action plan, get it done. If we’re wanting to do the archive for a specific reason like a family reunion we probably have to do this. For those of us who rebel against the idea of having another aspect of our lives subject to deadlines, this can become something that actually stops us. I’m in this category.

A few days ago a cousin posted on Facebook a family photo that I had given him years ago but had not labeled. He asked who was in it and no one of his 1000 friends had any idea. I realized I was the only one with that knowledge. The photo had been in my mother’s things. I knew that if I did not finish this archiving project, the knowledge that is in that trunk and those boxes and in my mind will leave this earth when I pass on…or when I get too silly to remember.

Time does not wait.

The only way I know on how to approach this task is by using grids…like grids in a search & rescue mission.

Most of the experts on archiving suggest that we go through boxes and inventory them. I will do that. But things we need to document may not all be in boxes or trunks. “Stuff” may be in piles, pushed into closets or in the attic or in safe deposit boxes. It may be everywhere. Some may be in old hard drives or even be in “the cloud”, in virtual online storage. We need to grid it, to locate it, before the symbolic pings stop sounding.

The wonderful book, How to Archive Family Keepsakes by Denise May Levenick (Family Tree Books) suggests doing a first analysis with a summary inventory sheet, working through containers/boxes by layers, getting first just an overview of what is inside. She emphasizes the importance of layers, almost like an archeologist: “Remember the Curator’s Commandment: DO NO HARM. Those piles of papers and photos may seem completely disorganized; but in reality, there is no such thing as random order.” (page 21).

Levenick recommends an approach to “unpacking the container” in a way that identifies what is in each layer and preserves the original order. This is just getting an overview of what is inside. It is not the actual archiving. It’s the “Identifying the Scope of the Problem” that we have in all project management or analysis efforts.

I’ll get into these vital steps in the next article but, meantime, here’s the Grid Chart I developed to capture the scope of the things I will archive. It’s the “where they are” and a basic “what’s inside”. I have to imagine my house as a map with grids laid out. I have to check each grid to see if it holds any of my mother’s things that I want to document. The grids we want to identify are the locations where boxes, piles, caches or collections of “stuff” may be located. For example, in one of my bedrooms, there are are four places holding her things: 2 closets, an antique chest and an antique sideboard (yes, there’s an old sideboard in a bedroom). Each one of those places gets a grid number. Within it, I narrow down the contents by their “containers” which also are numbered. In this case a container may be a box, a shelf, the floor of the closet, a drawer or the bottom section of the sideboard. In my office, my desk holds 2 containers: my computer and a flash drive.

The spreadsheet I created was done with Numbers software on an iMac. Any spreadsheet software would work; so would a plain piece of paper or a yellow pad! The important thing is starting. It’s knowing how big, or how small, your task is. In my case, I have 22 containers to explore, document, and then re-store in ways that will protect them for generations.

Things become manageable once we know their scope, even when we realize there are more “things” than we originally thought.

At least I’ve started. I gridded it.

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