I’ve been sorting through yet another pile of mixed pictures, snapshots, ephemera, a letter or two (recent), etc.  Somehow this pile landed on my desk.  It may be an orphan-pile, left over from the boxes I was going through earlier in the year.  I am really not sure at this point.  What I do know is who the pile came from.  One of the pack-rats in my family, my Cousin Jessie, managed to pass lots of family stuff along to me; some of it came directly from her to me.  Some of it came via one or another of my siblings or from my parents.  Some of came from her long-time companion, Sister C.  Cousin Jessie never married and had no closer relatives than my parents and our family.   She also lived a long and full life.  She also came from a long line of women who saved things and left those things to others.  And finally, she was also interested in family history (particularly the Coffin family) and she was the last in several family lines, so she had lots of stuff.

Unfortunately, or maybe it wasn’t completely unfortunate if you ask my husband, much of Cousin Jessie’s collected treasures got lost to the family (read: me) when she died and left everything to her companion.  My sister and I had been in contact with Sister C., and visited a couple of times but never were informed when she was sick for the last time and when she died.  So the entire household was cleared out and property sold before we knew it had happened.  Perfectly reasonable given that it all belonged to her.  But there were a few treasures from our family that I would have loved the chance to buy from the estate.  And a few historical objects that I would like to know had been preserved but fear went into a dumpster.

Regardless of lost possibilities, I still possess a lot of things from Cousin Jessie and her family.  Just to place the people in this post:  Cousin Jessie’s grandmother (Jessie Malvina) was the older sister of my great-grandmother (Katie Justice) who married a Salt, both of whom were the daughters of Zebulon B. Coffin of Cincinnati and Newport, Kentucky.   So the keepsakes are from these combined Coffin lines.  The majority of what has come to me is paper: pictures both formal and snapshots; cards from a variety of occasions; newspaper clippings that include marriages and obituaries (often of people who are not related) but also include stories of the day; postcards and other mementos of trips; baptism cards, at least one high school commencement exercises program, many invitations to weddings or “at home” evenings; etc., etc.  And being the good family historian and genealogist as well as archivist, I try to sort through and figure out how to preserve what is important.

And that is part of the problem I have.  What is important?  What do I need to keep and what can/should I get rid of?  Here’s an example:  Do I really need to keep 6 identical cards of “Godly Resolutions” (that I think were purchased for use in a Sunday School class)?  They’re pretty little cards  but do I need to keep all six?  And if I don’t keep all of them, am I being stupid to just throw out the other 5?  Maybe they’re worth something to someone else and I should try to sell them on eBay.  I don’t want the next generation to be faced with a similar dilemma, at least not about the same stuff just because I couldn’t make up my mind.  I also have a tendency to get to a point going through piles that I start to throw out everything.  And I don’t want to find that I have trashed something that I want later (which happens to me all the time with books and sometimes with clothing), or that someone else wanted.  Not that anyone in my family does want any of this stuff.  That’s why I have it in the first place.

Current piles

Current piles

This picture shows the current set of stuff I am trying to deal with.  You can see that I have divided things into several piles.  I am trying to achieve the state of being able to throw some of it away and to know how and where to store the rest of it.  You can also  see a stack of inboxes all of which contain other family stuff I am trying to sort.  This stuff has already gone through the process of being in piles on the desktop.  Some of it has made it into sheet protectors and there are a couple of folders there.  But it is all still sitting on my desk.  I wish once I sorted through the stuff and decided what stays and what goes, that the keepers would encase themselves in the appropriate archival container and leap into files or binders or boxes!  I don’t know why, but it takes me several passes to get this kind of mess looked through and considered and then actually *put* someplace besides my desk top.  I know that the organizer people, you know the ones who are experts at time management or organizing other people’s stuff, say that you should only touch something once.  Not move it from pile to pile the way I currently do.   This may be the beginning of a resolution or goal for next year.  May be.

4 Responses to “Sorting Yet Another Pile”

  1. Pat says:

    Scanning is exactly where I got to. Some of the originals aren’t really what needs to be kept, just the information. I’m still working to get them to put themselves away. Be sure that I will post as soon as that happens!

  2. Pat says:

    I like the rule of 3s – that makes sense to me. Thanks! I have mostly been at the “just stare at the stuff” stage, and trying *not* to get to the throw it all out stage. The piles still look the same more than a week later. Sigh.

  3. I’m with you on this! One thing you might consider is scanning some of the items that aren’t super important. Then get rid of the original to reduce the pile.

    It often takes more than one pass for me too before I decide what to keep/toss and where to put it but I’d like to think I’m getting better at it. If you figure out how to get the keepers to automatically put themselves away, let me know!

  4. Sometimes things do take several passes to get them where you want them. I worked in an archives for a number of years, and that’s pretty typical. I find that I do it with my own stuff as well. For duplicate copies of the same item, our general rule of thumb was keep three–one for best, two to use. I usually can tell when I’ve done enough sorting for the day. I either start throwing everything out, or I just stare at the stuff. That’s a pretty good indication that it’s time to quit for the day! Good luck!

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