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Are You A Collector?

As Published In Professional Organizers Blog Carnival
Are You A Collector?

Some people assume that “collector” means “packrat” — but collections are quite different from garden-variety clutter. Collecting is the outward manifestation of a deeply-felt emotion or urge. A traveling businessman who brings home a memento from every town he visits — a woman who wants to be a writer and fills her house with books to keep her dream alive — a son who inherits his father’s passion for baseball cards — these people are all fulfilling a need with their collections.

When You Have Too Much Of A Good Thing

Much as we love mementos, any collection can become overwhelming if it isn’t kept in check. One of my clients actually considered building on an extra room to house dozens of antique cups — until she realized it was a choice between the renovation and her son’s college tuition! Another client spent hundreds of dollars a month on storage units, because she couldn’t bear to part with any of her children’s clothes or toys. When your collection takes over your life, it’s time to seriously re-evaluate your priorities! The trick is to establish a set of rules for sorting, storing, purging and protecting your stuff. It’s important that you take care of your keepsakes — after all, your treasured memories deserve some respect!

The key to a memorable collection is that you must be discerning about your “favorites” — resist the urge to own EVERY colored glass bottle or miniature carousel horse on the planet! Perhaps you can select a few representative samples from your collection, display them beautifully, and discard (or at least pack away) the rest. Take some time to examine your treasures, asking which ones really mean something to you. You may find that a once beloved collection has lost its appeal. If you no longer feel the need to own they physical items but don’t want to forget the joy behind your collection, take pictures or shoot a video for posterity — then you can feel free to let go of the past without completely discarding years of memories.

The Discriminating Collector

Collecting, like everything in life, should be about quality, not just quantity. Determining in advance how many of something you are “allowed” to keep will help you maintain a sense of balance with your collection. You may decide to establish a physical limit for your belongings — you will keep no more than 10 ceramic frogs (numerical limit), you won’t buy any more shoes than will fit on this one shelf (spatial limit), etc. Or you might function better with an in/out ratio — getting rid of one magazine every time you bring a new one home. Either way, you are creating a very specific method for keeping your collection at an acceptable size, and you’ll feel less pressure to keep constantly expanding. You never need worry about losing control again!

Once you’ve trimmed your collection down to the best of the best, you need a storage solution that won’t get in the way of daily life. Start by selecting a space that is accessible, but not part of your active everyday storage. If you clearly separate mementos from those items you use regularly, they are less likely to get damaged or lost — and you won’t be tripping over them every time you turn around.

You may use any kind of container, but one with a lid will keep out dirt and dust. I happen to prefer a cedar chest, because it insures that no creepy-crawlies will decide to munch on my keepsakes. Insect infestation is a particularly important concern if you’ve got old clothing or dried flowers in the mix. You may want to have that baby blanket or wedding gown professionally cleaned and sealed before you pack it away. And be very careful about storing priceless treasures in your garage, attic, or basement — unprotected areas where delicate items could be damaged by moisture or extremes in temperature. If it might melt, freeze, warp, fade, or crack, think “climate control.” Finally, be careful about the kind of packaging you use — acid-free tissue paper is a better choice than newsprint (which can leave an ink residue behind), bubble wrap (which contains harmful chemicals that might damage photos or fabric), or packing peanuts (which can melt over time).

The Most Common Collecting Challenge

Even people who don’t consider themselves “collectors” usually have a huge pile of family photos that they have inherited or accumulated over the years (and possibly across several generations). Going through years of backlogged pictures and putting them in order can either be a nightmare or a fun trip down memory lane — depending on how you approach it. Whether you plan to scan your pics into the computer and store them digitally, or just get everything stored neatly in boxes or albums, you want to make sure that you follow a few basic rules for organizing photographs.

Before you do anything, go wash your hands. The oils on your fingers can permanently damage your snapshots. Now it’s time to sort — the goal is to separate the good from the bad (remember that even Ansel Adams threw away his crappy pictures!) If it’s underdeveloped, fuzzy, too bright, or you’re making a goofy face, you can toss it. You won’t go to hell. While we’re at it, let’s talk duplicates — why do you need 6 sets of prints from the company picnic? Keep one and give the rest to the other people in the picture.

The easiest way to begin is to sort your snapshots by date. You can get a general idea of the time period by the film grain (black and white, sepia, full-color) and the paper on which the photo is printed (white edging is older than no edging, textured paper is older than smooth). Other clues can be found within the pictures themselves. Are those hotpants from the 1960s? Didn’t your brother have that awful mullet haircut his senior year in high school? Cousin Julie’s pregnant, so that must have been 2006. This picture must have been from the family reunion because everyone’s together at the lake. Separate your snapshots into piles according to the time period and the occasion. Then, label each photo on the back with a crayon or special grease pencil — a sharp pencil or pen will damage the picture. And don’t forget to label the negatives, as well.

Once your pictures are in chronological order, you’re ready to store them away. Always use acid-free pages, mylar/polypropylene pockets, or an acid free box — never magnetic pages, which will eventually destroy your snapshots. You will probably want to put some identifying labels on the pages or box dividers as you go along, so have a pen and some stickers handy. Keep your negatives in the original packaging, labeled in chronological order, in a photo box — or you may buy special negative sleeves that fit into a ring-binder. And keep in mind that both photographs and negatives are easily damaged by moisture and heat. The attic or basement probably is not the best place for them. You may opt to keep your negatives in a fire safe or safety deposit box, in case your photos are destroyed. After this point, be sure to keep some extra photo albums and blank pages on hand, and reward yourself for organizing your pictures and negatives as soon as you bring them home.

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Ramona Creel is an award-winning 15-year veteran organizer and member of the National Association Of Professional Organizers. As well as having birthed “The A-To-Z Of Getting Organized,” Ramona is also the author of “The Professional Organizer’s Bible: A Slightly Irreverent And Completely Unorthodox Guide For Turning Clutter Into A Career”—and the creator of more than 200 “quick-start” business tools and templates for use by productivity professionals. She writes seven different blogs, has worked with hundreds of clients, and has delivered scores of presentations on getting organized. Ramona resides on the roads of America as a full-time RVer—living and working in a 29-foot Airstream. Learn more at and RamonaCreel.com.

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2 Responses

  1. Jonda Beattie says:

    really liked the discussion on pictures- it is something I come across again and again

  2. JanetBarclay.com says:

    Now you have me thinking about my collection of tins and wondering if it’s time to filter it down to those that are really beautiful and special. Hmmm…

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