Are You A Collector?

by Ramona Creel

When You Have Too Much Of A Good Thing

As much as we love our keepsakes and 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 mementos. 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 yourself 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 tape 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 keepwill help you maintain a sense of balance with your collection. You maydecide to establish a physical limit for your belongings — you willkeep no more than 10 ceramic frogs (numerical limit), you won't buyany more shoes than will fit on this one shelf (spatial limit), etc. Or youmight function better with an in/out ratio — gettingrid of one magazine every time you bring a new one home. Either way,you are creating a very specific method for keeping your collection atan 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 1960's?  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.

© Ramona Creel, all rights reserved. Ramona Creel is a modern Renaissance woman and guru of simplicity -- traveling the country as a full-time RVer, sharing her story of radically downsizing, and inspiring others to regain control of their own lives. As a Professional Organizer and Accountability Coach, Ramona will help you create the time and space to focus on your true priorities -- clearing away the clutter other obstacles and standing in the way of that life you've always wanted to be living. As a Professional Photographer, Ramona captures powerful images of places and people as she travels. And as a travel writer, social commentator, and blogger, she shares her experiences and insights about the world as we know it. You can see all these sides of Ramona -- read her articles, browse through her photographs, and even hire her to help get your life in order -- at www.RamonaCreel.com. And be sure to follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.