How to Conquer the Clutter Even if You Can’t Bear to Throw Anything Out!
THINK LIKE AN ARCHIVIST
Contrary to popular belief, archivists do not keep everything. Really! One of my archival mentors was very fond of the saying: “When in doubt, throw it out!”
When I tell people this they usually don’t believe me. But here is the reality: If archives and historical societies kept every single item that landed on their doorstep….every cancelled check… every unidentified photograph… every duplicate map Well, there simply wouldn’t be any room left for new collections. And that won’t work in the long run, will it? No way.
The same holds true for your family archive, but it’s a little different. When collections stay with a family, the sentimental value is very important. It can be difficult it can be to part with sentimental treasures like children’s drawings, paintings, and sculptures.
But read on, because I’ve worked out some solutions for your dilemma.
Sort Everything into Two Piles
The first step to conquering the clutter is to start sorting. Designate a Keep Forever pile and one for Other (more on what you can do with these later). Large boxes would be great, but feel free to sort on a table or the floor. Just be sure your treasures don’t stay in piles too long. Its much safer for them to live in boxes with lids.
The keepers need to go into a high quality archival storage box. These tend to be 3″ deep, so if your “keep” stack is more than 3″ high, you’re going to need more than one box. Or you’ll need to go through the “keep” pile again and remove a few more. It depends on what your budget and available storage space will allow. What to keep? I’d recommend a sample that includes all your children and represents each of their school years. Beyond that, it’s up to you.
That’s your job as the family archivist. You can choose pieces that really grab you, the ones that have the most visual appeal, or the ones that have the most interesting stories behind them. Depending on how old your children are, they can help with the decision making.
Still can’t bear to part with them?
If you’ve got the room to store it all, then by all means keep it. But if you’re running out of storage space you’ll need to do what archivist call de-accessioning. Fortunately, we live in an age of technological wonders, and digital copies can ease the pain of de-accessioning. Think of the digital copies as surrogates. You still get to see the art, but you don’t have to look at the clutter anymore and you have more storage space.
Scanning is an option, but for kids art you would need an oversized scanner, which most folks simply don’t have. I thought about purchasing one for my business but large scans take a long, long, time — which makes the service too expensive for my clients.
A little while ago I had a real Eureka! moment and realized that digital cameras are the way to go. Quick, inexpensive, and within the reach of most families these days. So snap away! Try to get even lighting and a good straight shot. Use an easel if you have one to support the drawings.
For 3-D items like Paper Mache and clay, be sure to shoot from more than one angle. STORING ARTWORK SO IT LASTS FOR GENERATIONS The best kind of box for the long term storage of *any* paper records (that includes letters, photographs, and artwork) is an acid-free, lignin-free, archival box made without adhesives or unknown plastics.
Oversize materials are best stored flat rather than standing up. This way you avoid permanent curling from paper that slumps down in a less-than-full box.
My only caution about plastic (even safe plastic) is that it tends to hold onto moisture, so it’s not a good idea to store one of these in a moist basement or un- air-conditioned attic.
Where to store it?
Attics, garages, and basements are all poor choices. The temperature and humidity are usually uncontrolled which will cause stress and damage over time. Plus they tend to have creepy-craw lies and other critters that will literally eat your artwork. Closets located in the interior part of your house are perfect.
Under the bed works great, too — but don’t leave treasures near a radiator or exterior wall.
What to do with the other Pile and your Digital Copies
Just because it’s not worth storing in a very high quality archival box, doesn’t mean you have to throw it out!
Ideas for Sharing Paper Originals
*Send them to grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.
*Use them to make envelopes.
*Use them to make cards.
*Use them as gift wrap.
*Laminate ones with a seasonal theme and use them as place mats. Also a good idea for any other paintings you feel could be used as place mats and give them away as Christmas presents.
*Punch holes and store in a 3-ring binder.