Don’t Leave It For The Kids: The Art Of Self-Curating

February 20, 2020

Written by: Shannon Combs-Bennett

Have you ever looked around your house, let out a hearty sigh, and just left the room?

Does the clutter, the amount of “stuff” in general, or maybe even the task of organization just tire you out thinking about it?

A majority of us do not have the perfectly maintained homes that we see on TV shows. If we had to be honest with each other, I would bet we could easily fall into a grey area between neatly cluttered areas and hoarding.

I fall in that grey area. In fact, I organize by piles, and woe to the person who messes with my piles.

However, there are other parts of my life that are over organized even if they are lived in. But that is the point right? We know where our stuff is. We know what is important, what trash is, and what is sentimental.

But, who else in our lives knows that information? To them it could all be hauled off to the dump and that would be ok.

Recently I went through the loss of a very close loved one. Not my first, and certainly not my last. The difference was that this time I was responsible for making these types of choices. I had to pick what stayed and what went.

It was not as easy as I thought it would be, and at times the thought of hauling it all to the dump without looking through it looked like a fantastic, and easy, way out.

However, I kept wondering why the person had kept what they did. What was the significance (if any) to the paper or object? Was there a memory I did not know about? An event I missed out on? Or was it simply put away for no good reason and forgotten about.

These thoughts crossed my mind with each item I kept, and each item I decided to pitch.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Many researchers and genealogists self-curate their lives… as they live them. Imagine that! Taking charge of the objects, paper, and ephemera of your life in the moment. They inventory heirlooms and keepsakes in their possession (taking time to write the province too!) so those left behind know what needs to be saved and what does not.

Most importantly, they take the time to toss the items that are not needed. I know, I know, how could I say that anything should be tossed away! Think of the lost treasures!

Let me assure you, not everything needs to be kept, particularly if you want your heirs to be sane. For example, credit card receipts and utility bills going back 30 years…what is the point?! Sure, it is an interesting look into buying trends and the cost of items, but if you do not have the room to store them that is something that can easily be shredded.

It is never too early to start this process, or to talk to your family about why an item is important. Ask them now if there are things they want, and realize that those thoughts may change through the years depending on their situation.

Sharing the stories of your life, or your ancestor’s lives, by going through the objects in your home is a great way to engage loved ones in the history present in the home.

Do it today, not tomorrow. Do it before it is too late.

Shannon Combs-Bennett is the Creative Director for The In-Depth Genealogist and Education Chair for NextGen Genealogy Network. She writes and lectures on a variety of topics from genetics to methodology and is contributor to Family Tree Magazine / University.