Guest post: Archivist on managing your kids' stuff

Remember the post two weeks ago about organizing kids' stuff? I got an amazing response from archivist Alison Langmead that I had to share with you. Alison writes:

"First of all, please let me reiterate that I am an archivist and records manager, not a professional organizer or life manager or any such thing. It is my job to help organizations maintain, access and
make use of their stored information for both the short and long terms. That said, more and more information professionals are starting to look in to the serious issue of personal information management as it relates to the information economy and other broader social trends.

I have read through all the comments (pre-January 5th) to the "Help with Organization of Kid Stuff" thread and I have found them fascinating from both a personal and professional point of view. One
general response came to me right away. In my experience, I have found that people have natural tendencies towards keeping their stuff or destroying their stuff. Some people, for example, feel lighter when they clear out an entire closet, while others feel only loss. I call these extreme types "Destroyers" and "Keepers." I think most folks would consider Destroyer a harsh term, but I love it. I'm a natural-born Destroyer. Think Shiva. Perhaps the term "Purger" used so often in this thread is better. On the flipside, "Hoarder" has a major negative connotation for me. So, let's compromise and call these basic types Keepers and Purgers. Quibbles over taxonomy aside, I have found in both my personal and professional experience that there is a kind of personality continuum between these two ends of the spectrum, but
that innate tendencies do exist. Reading the comments to this thread, it has been very easy to differentiate the Keepers from the Purgers and all the gray areas in between.

All of this explanatory build-up has been to say the following: There is nothing so difficult or so emotionally burdensome in the personal domain as being a Keeper who feels social pressure to purge
excessively or being a Purger who feels social pressure to keep excessively.

Many commenters have noted thoughts such as, "I like to purge. Is this bad?" or "I keep everything due to an inappropriate sense of sentimentality." I am of the firm personal conviction that rebelling
against one's natural predilictions does not help us as we go through life. If you like to purge, then you need to accept that, and work with it. The reverse also holds. This is not to say that we can always
just keep and purge at will. We are in this world with other people who have other tendencies and needs. In my professional life, I am constantly in the position of reminding people that the process of
information management is a necessary balance between keeping and purging (or, to be terminologically precise, retention and destruction). If we keep absolutely everything, it becomes almost impossible to find any one given thing, which is almost precisely the same state of affairs that we find if we destroy absolutely everything. Finding the balance, then, between appropriate keeping and purging is what we are all looking for in this thread.

But, compounded with this, I believe that there is general social pressure for women, mothers especially, to be super organized. It is as if we are all supposed to be born with the innate ability to keep it all together. Some of us do indeed have this capacity, others do not. But those who are not so inclined often feel that they are somehow inferior to those who can. This is a crying shame. We should feel free to do whatever makes us feel happy and healthy and what facilitates our ability to raise happy and healthy children. This will be different for everyone.

For some of us, however, it is not social pressure that is the problem, rather physical constraints. If you are a born Keeper who lives with a partner and a child in a 450-square-foot apartment, your living conditions will pose extra challenges for you. Some of the really creative storage ideas found in this thread could really help you out. Balance and acceptance will again always be key.

Enough with that diatribe for now. As promised to you Moxie, I have a few general comments that you and my fellow readers might find helpful.

1) There is a difference between the act of reducing your family's holdings and finding a more compact way to store things. Decide which one of these things you want to do and do it. Do not confuse the two
issues. The first is an act of purging, the second, an act of keeping. They are both good and proper.

2) Scheduling things for purging can be a very good thing ("the one year rule," the toy "death row"...would "toy purgatory" be slightly less morbid? Maybe not.). But as other commenters have already noted, the key to this process is finding the precise right length of time to keep things before you purge them. Otherwise said, the trick to this is not the act of deciding to keep things for a certain period of
time, it's deciding what that "certain period of time" is and what action you will take at that time. By the way, I am less comfortable with the "everything that fits in this small box" rule. I think it leads to preferential treatment on the basis of size and not meaning. Which leads me to...

3) When trying to decide what to keep and what to purge, the pros are always considering their mandates and their user base. Maybe this would be a good thing to do in the personal domain as well. Ask questions like, "Who am I keeping this for?" And, "What will they be doing with it and for how long?" BE HONEST. If you are keeping your children's art for your own sake, then do it up right! If you are
keeping it because you want your kids to have it when they have their own kids, then do that up right as well! In addition, I couldn't agree more with those commenters who suggest that you involve your children
in these decisions when they are capable. Finally, if you are doing it because you are
afraidthatyoumayonedaywishtoseeitagainbutthenagainyoureallyneedthisspace,

then it is my opinion that you should confront that fear and come to some sort of compromise. This might be a moment for the swift one-two of transferring the items to compact storage with a plan to revisit the items later on.

4) Charity is always a good thing.

5) I really do not wish to be a scaremongerer about this, but making digital copies of physical objects is absolutely not a panacea for these issues. I could go on and on about this, and will do so, if requested. Suffice it to say here that, unless you are willing to go to your CD's every two years or so and make sure that all of the data you put on them is still there—meaning, you will need to open up the files and look at them—you might find that you have lost your records of these objects. All types of digital media are prone to corruption and failure. Hard drives even have an accepted "mean time between failure" figure associated with them. CDs, DVDs, hard drives, tapes...all of these objects _will_ fail. It is just a matter of time. Now, let's all take a deep breath. We can get around this problem. It simply takes effort. You have to go back from time to time and check in with your stuff. Just make sure it's still there. Copy it onto new CDs from time to time. By the way, professionally speaking, hard drives are preferred to CDs for longer-term storage, mainly because it's easier to check in on your stuff with a hard drive. You'll do it more often because you aren't sitting there for hours swapping disks in and out. And, one more thing, it is now well-understood in professional circles that, for the long-term, digital objects are *more* expensive to store than physical ones.

I think I've been on my soapbox for long enough. Please feel free to ask any and every follow-up question that comes to your mind. I love talking about this stuff.

And, thanks, Moxie for putting yourself out there and maintaining this fabulous resource. I cannot tell you how many times I have read and re-read a posting at 3am reassuring myself that I am not alone with my perceived faults and my very real fears. With all of our similarities and differences, we are all fantastic mothers."

You're certainly welcome, Alison. Thank you so much for your wonderful post! Questions, anyone?