Stuff, stuff, everywhere

I started my process of cleaning by emptying all the boxes, every one. The big problem with these boxes is that most of them didn’t follow any order – there were family photos placed next to kitchen appliances, my older brother’s baby toys with my high school diploma, books mixed in with AC adapters to long lost electronics. I dumped everything out on my floor and organized it by category – then made a plan to tackle one type of item at a time.

I started with photos. Mercifully, my earliest childhood had been organized into albums already – back when my parents had the time to do such things. But everything before my older brother’s birth and after my 5th birthday was in complete disarray. To give an example of the chaos – i found a picture of my 6th birthday and my MOTHER’S fourth birthday stuck together. Here i am trying to make sense of the mess.

I took hundreds of photos, dumped them all on the floor, and started to sort them into a rough timeline. I started by looking at each photo and made my best guess what year it was from. This was terribly inefficient, and probably could have taken days. But then I remembered a handy feature of old lab-processed photos – most of them had either date stamps or photo lab stamps on the back. And all photos from the same roll of film had the same markings. So I flipped the pictures over, didn’t look at the images at all and sorted them all by lab marks – with only a few mistakes. This let me get through them in only a few hours.

Then I bought a Canon 8800F scanner, which was a lifesaver – able to chew through six photos and half a roll of film negatives at a time, while automatically making different files for each image. I scanned, and scanned…then scanned some more. All the while I had my own private TV marathon on Netflix.

After I scanned the photos I focused on my many, many keepsakes. These ranged from old toys to awards from my middle school track team, old homework assignments (such as 2nd grade cursive writing practice sheets), elementary school valentines day cards, probably every postcard I’ve ever received from anyone, the first phone number I got from a girl, all my yearbooks, my original Nintendo system and games, every stuffed animal that survived my childhood and many things I no longer even remembered.

I took my entire floor space and again sorted these items into piles by category, and attacked each pile one at a time. I scanned every document and item that could be scanned – and those that could not be scanned, I posed and took photos. I’ve kept a few items, but from the start I promised myself that I would throw away or donate most of the stuff – I chose ONE plastic storage box, and vowed that every keepsake I kept just for myself had to fit in that one box.

I went on and on, from September through November. Scanning, photographing, letting go of everything. I even used a 30-day demo of Dragon Naturally Speaking (a voice recognition program) to dictate and transcribe old handwritten journal entries. Along the way I made many trips to Goodwill and other charities. Then finally, one day, I emptied the last box, and it was over. I felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment, but also a little lost. On one hand, I finally won the war against MY STUFF that I’ve been fighting since I was a child. But I had spent so many weeks on this project that it had become second nature, and I had to figure out what the next step was.

I knew I didn’t want a jumble of pictures and text cluttering up my computer instead of my room – so I sat down with my digital treasure trove and put everything together in one big, fat scrapbook – which I will share in my next post.

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