The Photos and Paperwork That Document a Life

When the process of downsizing officially begins, attending to a life’s worth of possessions can take a long time. Decisions must be made about furniture, clothes, books, knick-nacks, household goods, vanity items, jewelry. Dealing with possessions, however, is the easy part. The most difficult time, at least from my perspective, comes near the end of a life or after a person dies when one begins sorting through the thousands of items that document a person’s life.

The gray, acid-free boxes come from the Container Store.

Going through scrapbooks, envelopes with photos, journals, papers, and letters — all those items that one accumulates during a well-lived life is a confusing process.

What will I do with my grandmother and grandfather’s union cards from the 1930s? How about the receipt for the Sears home that they bought together in Detroit? I have three generations of school photos and many birth certificates, including one from my great-grandfather who was born in Italy. My mom made scrapbooks for many of the trips she and dad took and the big events in their lives, so I have about ten or eleven of those, and there are also hundreds of pictures, many with no names to identify them. Oh yes, and old report cards, certificates, Girl Scout badges, various honors my mom received, and 72 years of my dad’s journals. Veteran’s flags? I now have three. What do I do with it all?

Each “book” contains multiple stereopticon slides.

In addition, now stored in my basement are stereopticon slides, inherited from my grandfather via my dad. Dozens of these slides live in their old fashioned boxes along with a battered up old viewer. Many, but not all of the slides relate to the Bible, and my grandfather used them to teach Sunday School classes at his Italian immigrant Baptist church in New Jersey. Do I just send them to the thrift shop or seek expert advice? Are there collectors of these slides? Is it worth my time?

Yes, I can throw away the photos of people I do not know, and scan pictures that we want to keep, but that deals with only a small part. Do I keep the originals after scanning? And yes, I know to back up the digital photos and throw away the photos with people I cannot identify.

What to do with it all? What to preserve, what to throw away, and what if any, might interest other people or collectors?

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