It’s a frequent topic of magazine and blog articles, downsizing. Whether you need to downsize to move to a smaller house, to make more room in your current home, or just to be better organized, chances are downsizing is something that has crossed your mind.
It’s also crossed mine as I’m currently in the middle of a large downsizing project. In my opinion, those countless articles about downsizing aren't as applicable to genealogists. I think downsizing is different for the keepers of the family history “stuff." Why? Because our homes are family archives with original documents, photographs, and irreplaceable heirlooms. It’s not about whether we should toss out clothes we haven’t worn in a year. We are talking about our personal belongings plus items that document our family history. For the genealogy-related items, we must carefully consider how to organize these items and what needs to happen to them, such as digitizing and preserving, storage, donating, or gifting to other family members. There’s also the mass of digital files we collect. It can be overwhelming.
One of the most important reasons to downsize and organize our genealogy is so that we can leave it to family members who will appreciate it and not be overwhelmed by the mass of foreign-to-them papers that make little to no sense. Downsizing can mean organizing and keeping what is necessary but not every scrap of paper we ever wrote on (yes, I fall into that category).
When I teach, I talk about genealogists as “information hoarders.” We think every piece of paper or information we ever found will be needed “one day.” (This is something I am especially guilty of). And because of this, we tend to have piles of photocopies and articles that we will never see that “one day” because we can’t find what we need!
That gets me back to the topic of downsizing. What should you consider when facing a long-term or short-term downsizing or organizing project?
Items of Sentimental Value
I’m not a professional organizer, so I reached out to someone who is. Janine Adams writes about organizing your family history on her Organize Your Family History website. As I sat stymied by items with a sentimental attachment, I asked her what I should consider as I start to “downsize.”
"When it comes to sentimental items, the more you keep of any one category, the less special any of it is. Less really can be more when you’re deciding what to take to your new home. Genealogists can have a tougher time letting go of family-history-related items because so much of it feels so special. I encourage you to start with the low-hanging fruit, the genealogy documents you’re storing on paper. If you have time during the downsizing process, you could scan your genealogy papers, so that they take up less space in your new home. Be sure and create a file-naming protocol and folder structure so you’ll be able to find the documents. For non-paper heirlooms, keep those that are really important to you and perhaps find new homes for the others with cousins or other relatives.
It can be hard to let go of stuff, but the key to being able to enjoy your new home is to get in touch with what’s important to you and keep only those items that support that. Making the tough decisions now will help you enjoy your new home more quickly."
I like what Janine said about the more you keep, the less special something is. That struck home with me as I looked at my adult son’s collection of toy trains and realized that I didn’t need to keep all of them to remember his childhood. The same is true for the boxes of genealogy photocopies I have from a cousin’s research, most of which is now online.
So with Janine’s words of wisdom and thinking about my downsizing project, I realized that I needed to start with that “low-hanging” fruit and then go from there. Janine has more tips about going digital with your genealogy on her website.
Now It’s Your Turn
What are your downsizing/organizing problems? What do you need to do with your genealogy so that it can be inherited or gifted to a family member or archive? How have you tackled this problem?
For more details on organizing see the more than 15 webinars on organization in the Legacy Library.
Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.