A time to keep, a time to throw away….and a time to preserve…

Uncle Lewey war letter

In our book, we talk about the fact that in the process of downsizing a family home, it often seems that the world is divided into the “keepers” and the “throwers.” And how in most families there are some of each personality type, and how one of the challenges in getting through the process harmoniously requires these two opposite types to respect each other’s differences, and find ways to cooperate, collaborate, and find a middle ground–to keep some things, and to get rid of many others.

One of my cousins has been engaged in the process of going through all the things left behind by her recently deceased parents. And she has reminded me that in downsizing a family home, it’s not always just about keeping some things, and getting rid of others. Sometimes it’s about preserving things–not necessarily for ourselves, but for our families, or our communities.

My uncle was a man deeply involved in his church, in his political party, and in his community. He was also by nature an archivist. After he died my cousin spent many hours, many days, many months going through his papers. At a certain point she called for help from the local historical society, who came to take a look at the overwhelming collection of documents she was dealing with. Ultimately they took 26 boxes of his papers, and were delighted to receive them. Several more boxes went to his alma mater, a small liberal arts college where he had sat on the board, and kept all his notes from board meetings over a period of many years. Other files were delivered to his church, and some were kept for the family. All of the recipients of these documents, which my uncle kept so carefully for so many years, deeply appreciated the care my cousin had taken in going through what many people would have simply thrown out.

“When we talk about preserving things, it’s more about keeping things for others than for ourselves,” my cousin says. Of course the painstaking, often tedious task of going through papers is extremely time-consuming, and not everyone can do it. My cousin did not go through every piece of paper in her father’s office, she couldn’t! But she did at least look into every drawer, she tried to assess what was there, and what she couldn’t deal with herself, she gave to someone she knew would be able to do so.

When it comes time to empty out the family home, it’s good to remember that there is another option presented than the strict dichotomy of “keeping” or “throwing.” And there are many institutions and organizations set up to help preserve those things we don’t know what to do with–but know somehow, should not just be thrown out.  If you’re not sure where to turn or who to contact in your community, your local librarian can help. There is also help in the resource section of our book. Goodhue Cty thanks

Of course, this kind of painstaking care with preserving the artifacts and documentation of our collective history can’t be done in a weekend, or a month. In order to ensure that you will have the time needed to find the right place for everything to go, you’ll need to follow our first and most important piece of advice: start now!

Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor, writing coach, travel blogger, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home.

Preserving Your Family Legacy

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Each family has a story. And each story is unique. We all have anecdotes, photographs, and documents that can help that story live on for generations but what do with do with these items and how can we curate what we have?

Start with a family tree.

Creating a family tree to see who is related to whom is like a writer creating an outline for a book; it’s the skeleton on which we can build the story of our family. Look through documents, talk to your elders, and check out genealogy sites.

Create a project unique to your family.

You could collect family recipes or record favorite memories or create a time capsule. Take a look at A Place for Mom for more suggestions.

Archive old photographs and documents.

Treat your family photos and documents as the precious objects that they are and preserve them so your children and grandchildren can enjoy them too. For help in preservation check out Bertrand Lyons, archivist of the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress writing about archiving in The New York Times, a Smithsonian Institution blog abut preservation, and a commercial site that offers helpful information.

Interview an older person.

Document your family stories for all to enjoy. Record with audio or video the older generation. Ask questions. Get together with cousins to share stories. You can read this blog post for inspiration.

Use your estate for future generations.

A friend is creating a college scholarship at her alma mater as her way of leaving a legacy. You can check out eHow.com and scholarships.com for helpful advice on how to do this.

Get help from professionals.

There are programs to help you preserve family memories. A search online under “preserving your family legacy” will lead to a number of companies that produce CDs, videos, and bound books as well as help you create a family journal. You can also purchase journal-like memory books full of thought-provoking questions that you can use to preserve family memories. Here’s list of some of the books.

Join with others.

If you would like to add your legacy stories and photos to a pictorial and oral history library, take a look at LegacyStories.org.

And check out one of our earlier blog posts on digital preservation.

As one company that helps clients preserve family history says: your legacy is who you are, not what you have. So let’s preserve the things we have that speak to who we are.

Linda Hetzer is an editor and author of books on home designcrafts, and foodand coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home

Five Ways to Celebrate Memorial Day

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Monday is Memorial Day, a day set aside to remember and honor those who died in service to their country.

Sometimes it’s a little hard to remember that it’s not just a “bank holiday” that marks the beginning of summer, or a great weekend for sales. So here are five  suggestions for ways to put the “memory” back into Memorial Day.

1. Put flowers on a grave. Memorial Day used to be called Decoration Day, because that was the day people decorated the graves of those who were being remembered. My father did not die in service to his country, but he did serve his country. In the little country churchyard where his ashes are buried, every Memorial Day my aunt and uncle put  flowers on his grave and on the graves of all the veterans. That simple token of love and respect for those who served their country means a lot to me.

2. Tell your chldren (or nieces or nephews) about someone in your family who lost their life in service to our country. The serviceman in the photograph above is my father’s cousin, Howard, who was like a brother to him. Howard was a pilot who served in the European theater in World War II. His plane went down over the Adriatic Sea and he was never found. When I look at this picture of him, so young and strong and full of life, and think of how much he gave up, and how much his mother lost when she lost him (he was her only child), it makes me feel sad. It also makes me want to be sure that Howard, though he never had the chance to have a family of his own, will never be forgotten by the family he came from.

3. Write about that person, who they were, how, when and where they died, what they were like, and add it to your written family history. Writing this blog has made me want to know more about Howard. So one of my Memorial Day weekend activities is going to be to try to see what I can find out, and then record it in my family history files.

4. Find  any war letters that may be in your home and make sure they are safely stored.  If you don’t want them, consider donating them to a historical society, museum, or to WarLetters.com.  Warletters.com also has great advice for how to help preserve the letters you want to keep.

5. Go to a parade, and honor the veterans who are living. I don’t know how many small-town parades are still taking place on Memorial Day. I think some of us have been relying just a bit too much on “the greatest generation” to keep these things going. But look around your area and find out who’s doing what to keep the real meaning of Memorial Day alive, and support them! Go ahead and let your heart be stirred by the sign of the stars and stripes. Enjoy the patriotic music of the day. (I happen to know that there’s a wonderful, old-fashioned Memorial Day concert each year in Brooklyn’s Greenwood Cemetery.)

So there you have five perfectly wonderful things to do on Memorial Day weekend. You may notice that not a single one of them has anything to do with going shopping, or buying stuff.

That’s not what this blog is about. And it’s not what Memorial Day is about either.

Wishing you a meaningful Memorial Day, and a great start to the summer!

Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor,  writing coach, travel blogger, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home

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