Archivist or Hoarder?

Prioritizing Personal Property and Tossing out the Trash

“A couple of bankers boxes should tidy this place up…”

Estimated reading time for this article: 5 mins

By James Johnson

Today marks the start of the 70th annual Canadian Mental Health Association’s (CMHA) Mental Health week. Looking out my office window I can see the birds reclaiming their posts in the iridescent foliage bursting with fresh buds. A smell of midday BBQ wafts up through the open window and transports me to a promised land: the return of Spring, the precursor to the dog days of summer weather and baseball. With the Government’s assurance of community-wide immunization, a blessed return to normal is on the horizon.

As I ponder this wonderful future, I’m reminded of the benefits of Spring’s arrival. The shutters are flung open, offering a welcoming blast of cool, clean, refreshing air. The mental relief from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is palpable. And as one relishes this new sense of natural freedom, the cascading dust motes and creeping cobwebs jar reality back to the fore. There’s clearly some work to be done.

Spring cleaning takes on many forms for many people. It can take form in yard work and de-winterizing a property. One of my chores as a kid was to crawl under the house to the outside water valve to turn it back on after the winter thaw, so we could water the flower beds. Often times in spring, my brother and I would be tasked with sorting and cleaning out the garage, sharpening the garden and lawn tools, and taking trips to the county dump.

This exercise of sorting the clutter from the crucial served more than the purpose of tidying. Taking stock of what you have and what you need (or don’t need, as is most often the case) allows the home/work/play space to remain inventoried and relevant. A good rule of thumb, say in a home handy-workshop, is to categorize the tools and materials by storing or displaying them according to group and size. When stock is depleted (screws, nails, solvents) it’s easy to know when to replenish it. Organizing our things in a structured manner also helps determine what is essential to us. Out of place tidbits usually get tossed.

The satisfying results of organization demonstrated in the image above not only indicates an organized workplace but an organized mental space. Much of our mental health concerns can be attributed to the quality of our living spaces and how well we care for our persons in private. A strong indication of good health is a clean living space, both in organization and hygiene. Far too often we neglect these spaces by overcrowding them with the uncatagorized. Just the other day I was filing mail that had been left to pile on my desk. After writing on last week’s periodical review I still hadn’t sorted and filed the current issues, resulting in a backlog of completed and yet to be reviewed titles.

I managed to sort out my workspace fairly quickly thanks to some preparation and a simplified classification system anyone can customize to suit their needs. For instance, an often overlooked yet crucial aspect of data redundancy is the hard copy element. It’s also often overlooked that physical representations of data, when stored appropriately, can stay safe and unharmed for hundreds or even thousands of years. On the other hand, digital data loss can occur as quickly as a snap of the finger. Demagnetization, a small drop from a short height, or even an ounce of water can wipe away an entire family’s historical record from a hard drive. For my part, the most important documents are scanned and saved on an external hard drive. The hard copy is filed in the appropriate section of my personal records. This is the most affordable and simplistic home-brew data redundancy methodology and it works great for me.

Alternatively, Cloud based solutions are finally at such an affordable price that securing your data digitally has never been more accessible. But that data, as soon as it leaves your hands, is no longer truly in your control. No doubt you’ve given those privileges away in your user agreement. Alternatively, you can set up your own cloud servers at home, using a RAID setup with network sharing. This can be costly and technologically challenging to the general public, serving as solution for the more privacy-focused individuals bent on preserving their data.

In my case, our family does not need comprehensive data storage services. We are not operating any businesses, save for self-enterprise. Our needs are simple, and so too should the solution: a device’s internal storage for convenient access, externally through solid state hard drives as back-up, and hard-copy for long-term preservation.

Hard-copy is integral, and I’ll give you an example as to why. One tax season, we forgot to declare an income line and were audited. Failure to supply the document could have resulted in serious fines. Thanks to our hard copy organization system, the document was located quickly, scanned, uploaded and received within minutes. It was stress free. Can you say the same of your tax season experiences?

Not only must we keep our spaces organized, so too must we keep our information. Acknowledging hard-copy’s value in data redundancy, filing and storing using colour codes and alphabetization is as easy as it can be. We have several large, water tight bins that stack and allow for quick access using vertical hanging file folders, similar to the image below.

Files” by T a k is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Whatever method you end up employing, data collection, storage, and maintenance should be tailored to your needs. Photo-focused and intent on capturing life’s precious moments? Structure your digital photo library with hierarchies, nested folders, and date points. Most stock operating systems come with organization tools in their photo-viewers. Researching ancient civilizations and cross-continental genealogies? Hard copy those documents for preservation and reference. The outcome should be the same.

Organize your spaces and the information you store in them. Shake off the primal need to save everything for that rainy day. Focus on the essentials first. Taking stock in what you value is no small task and you may find yourself losing enthusiasm as the “keep” pile quickly outgrows the “toss” pile. Don’t be discouraged. Instead, take a break and return to sorting after some time. You may find that a little time and a second pass can help make it easier to reassess an items value.

Most importantly, have fun with it. This is an exercise where the singular purpose is to benefit your work space and mental well being. Stay healthy and remember to reach out to someone if you’re experiencing mental or physical distress. And finally, I ask that if you enjoyed this article and wish to see more content like it, please consider commenting and sharing on your social media.

2 thoughts on “Archivist or Hoarder?

  1. Colin Geddes

    “ The satisfying results of organization demonstrated in the image above not only indicates an organized workplace but an organized mental space.”

    Well put. Really enjoying your writing.

    Like

    Reply
  2. Pingback: DiscoverySeries: Genealogy | Library Tech Files

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