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NEW FEATURE! Artifcts QR code stickers can help you keep track of your ‘stuff’ and your memories! Learn more

A View on 'Stuff' from a Professional Home Organizer

Ellen Goodwin, Artifcts
September 21, 2021

Just before the launch of Artifcts, I was introduced to Jennifer Singleterry, owner of Sort and Order, a home organization company based out of New Braunfels, Texas. As you might expect, we hit it off. She deals with stuff all day, and we at Artifcts want to help people to remember, record, and preserve the stories behind their stuff.  

We laughed over a shared frustration, too. I told her my brother in Wisconsin always quips that someday, if left to his own devices and he was forced to clean out the home our parents have lived in for over 40 years, he would just give it all away. That makes me cringe. But all the stories! Grandpa's clogs from Holland, the country barn painting Mom did in college, the vinyl records that are a part of my parents' youth and my own Christmas memories. Everything just gone?!  

Jennifer had a similar story to share of a son she worked with recently who hired her to help transition out of their family home of 60 years. As it turned out, the family's ‘stuff’ included war memorabilia dating back to the civil war, such as tintype photographs and well-preserved handwritten notes from the era. The project was rich with legacy and family history. Jennifer said she felt emotionally exhausted by the sense of loss because it was so hard to go through these items and appropriately manage them and often the sons felt the same way and defaulted to getting rid of it. 

She felt emotionally exhausted by the sense of loss. 

A week later I could not stop thinking about my conversation with Jennifer. She said she works regularly with women especially who tend to take on the role of the family "keeper." You know that person I bet in your own family. The person who not only knows the birthdays and anniversaries, but keeps track of family photos, brings people together over the holidays to remember the origins of favorite ornaments and recipes, and, in the end, manages who gets what when a loved one passes away. 

Women especially tend to take on the role of the family "keeper." 

My complete interview with Jennifer

I sat back down with Jennifer last week to unpack this a bit more and get her perspective on how Artifcts could help. We thought that everyone could learn and benefit from us sharing our interview notes. So, here we go!

Ellen Goodwin: Why did you get into the home organization business? 

Jennifer Singleterry: My first foray into this business started with the passing of my grandparents and then my mother. When you're in this process personally you realize the emotional toll it takes on those closest to the situation. The emotional and physical attachment to things and the weight that bears in going through them. Another component here is that a lot of families may not have that person who is equipped to take on a project of that scale. That's where we can come in and help lighten the load. As an impartial but considerate party it is easier for our team to go through and delineate what is precious and boil it down to just those items in question and then decide how we handle these items. 

Goodwin: Tell us about the typical project you take on.

Singleterry: (Laughing) I've never had a single project that is remotely similar to another! They are as individual as our fingerprints. Never the same chaos. Actually, it's not even usually chaos. Usually people just don't know what to do with the stuff. We work with a lot of garages, closets, and pantries - high turnover, daily use places, that need to accommodate change. I go in big picture, with the first priority being to clean it all out and then intentionally put things back in a manageable system. We cannot see our own things! We have to bring it to light. 

We cannot see our own things! We have to bring it to light.

Goodwin: Is there a typical client?

Singleterry: Yes and no. Really it's simply that someone has finally had enough of the inertia of not knowing what to do or how to do it with their own space and was referred to us while telling this tale of woe. Or they have just gotten overwhelmed with their situation and need someone to help. It's the feeling that made someone Google "home organizer" or "estate transition." You know this feeling on a project.  

Goodwin: You have an inside track to everything personal and mundane that we all keep (and maybe forget about!) in our homes, garages, etc. Has a client ever been surprised or excited maybe when you've discovered something they forgot about or thought was lost?

Singleterry: Every. Single. Time. A funny anomaly about humanity - we don't know what our “thing” is that contributes to the overwhelming situation. In every project it's been fun to see what a person's thing is. For one person, it was journals, 30 of them or more. Some journals had just one page used, in some none of the pages were used. For another person it was makeup and other beauty products, some in daily use, some for travel, some for special occasions. We had a whole box at the end and the woman said, "I had no idea I had this problem!" For another it was reusable bags, many with the original price tags still on them. There were more than 100 of them! 

The coolest thing that I have ever found was in an 80-year-old woman's closet. Her family was a founding family of New Braunfels. She asked me to pull down a box from the very top of the closet. Inside was the original bible from 1843 that was brought over on the boat with her family from Germany. It was in wonderful condition. It even had the family genealogy in it. I felt like we should have worn gloves to handle it! It should be in a museum, in a collection somewhere, kept safe, because what happens if the keeper isn't there to keep it anymore? 

In an 80-year-old woman's closet ... was the original bible from 1843 that was brought over on the boat with her family from Germany.

Goodwin: Some stuff really is just stuff. What happens to the stuff your clients decide not to keep?

Singleterry: We do our best to take things where they go, to give items another life. Some call it re-homing. We try to take women’s and children's clothing, bedding, and toys in good condition to the local women's crisis center. A lot of home goods, lumber, surplus hardware, and industrial items go to Habitat for Humanity, because they have the need and foot traffic to utilize it. Miscellaneous goods go to local charities. When an estate sale is part of the project, the majority goes through that avenue and then we work with a company that takes goods that did not sell to be sold onward from another location. If at the very end it's trash, unwearable, unsaleable, unusable... it goes to trash.

Goodwin: You know the story of Artifcts. How do you think Artifcts could help you in your work with your clients? 

Singleterry: Artifcts is invaluable. If I had known about this, even just weeks ago, I could have employed this system for good. Families have histories and members of a family can engage with that history together on Artifcts from anywhere. One sister has the desk, but here's the story, and all family members can see it.  

Artifcts gives objects another life. So often when I'm hired, especially if the person is deceased, the history is lost, the stories do not transfer with the items. This would literally be a way to continue the story, to carry on the life that they began. A person had a bond with an item and there was a story there - what did a postcard mean to be sent from someone far away and to be saved by the recipient? It's a piece of an experience, a bigger story. 

Artifcts gives objects another life... a way to continue the story, to carry on the life that they began.

< End of Interview >

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the stuff in your life, try Artifcting (start free here). You might find that by taking it one Artifct at a time, it is fun and rewarding to parse out the meaningful objects from the other stuff that might be crowding your garage, bedroom, closets, attic, and other convenient hiding places! If you need help getting started, explore our virtual and in-person Concierge Services. 

If you’re in the New Braunfels or surrounding area and likewise need help rescuing a chaotic space to clearing out an estate, contact Jennifer at jenn@sortandorder.life or call her directly at (830) 500-0142.

###

© 2021 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Swedish Death Cleaning Your Digital Legacy

Reading time: 7 minutes 

Swedish Death Cleaning provides a conceptual framework to encourage us each to organize and declutter our homes to reduce the burden on loved ones who would otherwise need to sift through 1000s of objects one day when we’re no longer here. We might be some of the biggest fans of Margareta Magnusson, who introduced the concept in her book, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, that she’s never met.💗 We all can understand and maybe even relate to the concept but having a term for it gives us a starting point to act on it! 

Artifcts is your best-in-class Swedish Death Cleaning app. It’s a big reason why we write on and provide workshops related to this topic. Today we’re considering Swedish Death Cleaning from yet another angle: Your digital legacy.

Defining “Digital Legacy” 

What ARE we talking about, “digital legacy?” 

Good question! Because, no, in this context, it is not about the entirety of your online life or digital assets, e.g. banking, mortgages, insurance policies, investments, or similar. All critical! All should be a part of your estate plan and/or will. You should also invest in an online digital vault to corral it together, benefit from automated and smart reminders, and enjoy the ease of sharing securely or accessing it yourself in an emergency.

Announcement for Digital Legacy Workshop from AfterLight

 
 
Take a deep dive! Our friends at AfterLight have a new workshop offering expert guidance on organizing and securing your digital estate. Register today.

What we are talking about with "digital legacy" are the digital items that reflect our lives and personal histories as well as who we are as members of families and communities. 

What makes up your digital legacy depends in part on your age as well as your personality and views. Some of us have chosen not to adopt certain aspects of digital life or have intentionally created the smallest digital footprint possible. Others of us go big online for personal and professional reasons. 

Below we’ll provide a framework to help you get started as you organize and maybe declutter your own digital legacy to ensure its best chance of meaning and survival!

What: Take Inventory 

Literally pause, grab a piece of paper or digital notebook, and start jotting down your digital footprint. Yes, you might need to wander your home, pull out some bins, open some drawers, but this is the easy part. We’ll help you get started. Do you or other household members have any of these? 

      • Digital music and/or movie libraries, including media that’s natively digital and any you might have digitized when you, oh, let’s say, “decluttered” that VHS, DVD, or CD collection. 
      • Photographs, again, digital native photos from your phone, most likely, and those pics you have scanned or otherwise digitized over time. 
      • Social media posts, and before those, your blogs 
      • Academic and professional research, including publications, patents, and even genealogy, family history, and DNA information.  
      • NFTs and other digital works stored, for example, in your digital wallet(s).

Where: As Tech has Changed, Storage has Changed 

Before cell phones were our go-to video recorders, there were small handheld versions that were wow’ing, because they had great quality and storage for the time, and were many times smaller than those you held with a strap in one hand or the ones that were so big that they sat on your shoulder. Did you ever download all the videos on your digital handheld camera? Treasures untold may be waiting. 

Think creatively through all the digital tech you’ve used and held onto through the years when you consider where your files may be resting, and in some cases, actively degrading. 

Bulk stashes via old and new hardware.

As time has gone on, we’ve been able to more cheaply and conveniently store massive volumes of data on those things and yet you might be surprised how little you actually saved to some. One of our Arti Community members told us she has 15 thumb drives that each contain three songs her daughter recorded during her spring and fall piano recitals.

Dig out those thumb drives, memory cards that may still be in old cameras or spare cases, disks (floppy, hard, and otherwise), and flash drives. Environmental implications aside, harvesting and storing those digital files together, and backed up in a second location, is a relatively easy, cheap, and fast undertaking. Hurray! 

Desktop and laptop hard drives. 

Hopefully before you donated or recycled old computers, you saved the contents somewhere else, a flash drive, your preferred cloud environment, or your new computer, perhaps. Wherever it went, take stock. And watch out if your employer is okay with you using your work device for personal use, too, as you may have some gems on those devices. 

“The Cloud,” e.g. Google Drive, Box, Drop Box, and Permanent, among others. 

You may have gotten on a kick and started storing stuff within a particular environment because a friend or family member was sharing stuff with you there and you followed suit. But what are you using nowadays? Consider if your habits have changed and you need to rescue files from various cloud locations and move to one central archive for storage. 

Memberships, especially apps and websites you love or loved once upon a time.

If you are worried you might not remember them all, you have some options.  

Option A. Checking billing statements is the best starting point. We hope you’re not paying for something you haven’t used in years. While simpler than scrolling through your email for pages, this still gets messy if you are using many different payment methods (credit cards, PayPal, etc.) and/or other household members might be paying via a family account. So, option B ...  

Option B. Go to the apps lists on your phone, tv, and computer. What’s installed? Are you paying for it? While you’re in there, check which have location, contact, notification, and background refresh services turned on. You might want to lock down your privacy! Bonus Tip: For Apple (iOS) mobile users, you can go to your Settings -> Click on your name/circle at the top -> and click “Subscriptions.” You may find surprises there, too! 

Take a moment to consider first what content do (or did) you create or upload to these memberships that you own and can potentially download to back up elsewhere and/or to then close your account. Then, if you want to keep the account open and have backed up the content, check the account’s settings for legacy contact and/or memorialization options and set yours up so you do not lose anything you created or upload to that membership. You also will then hoepfully avoid falling into a scenario in which inactivity grants the company via its terms and conditions the right to delete your data or use your data in a way you do not support.

Best Practice call out box

Now What: What Do You Value Most? What Do “They” Value Most? 

Life comes with inherent limits. Only so much time in a day, money in our accounts, bandwidth in our brains. We must choose carefully how we spend our resources. What matters to you will help you prioritize how you manage your digital legacy. 

Here are three steps you can take to manage your digital legacy. These are not mutually exclusive! Start at ‘good,’ add in ‘better,’ and laugh, enjoy, and gain peace of mind with ‘best.’

Good. Inventory the items and put physical storage devices, e.g. flash drives, in a fire-safe place. Get rid of what you don’t want. This might mean recycling some tech (options exist!) and cleaning out files. But before you get too aggressive with that decluttering, ASK loved ones if they are interested in the types of materials you are ready to shed. You may be surprised what matters to them versus to yourself! This will help you with the next option.

Better. Digitize items with backups and share access to those resources with loved ones. This is now moving into prime Swedish Death Cleaning territory where we have not just organized but we’ve also decluttered in a way that’s potentially meaningful. Loved ones get the option to raise their hand and say, “Yes, that I want.” And the beauty here is it is digital. It won’t take up physical space so it’s less risky for them to say yes.

Best. While we all love photos, videos, and documentary evidence of cool things, like being the mastermind behind a patent, without context, even digital items become clutter we ignore. Here’s the story of one family’s “great” discovery. Whether your format is Artifcts, scrapbooks, or photobooks, find a medium to gift your loved ones a ‘why’ and not just more digital stuff. What is the story behind this photo? In layman's speak, what was this amazing scientific breakthrough in this patent that bears your name? What did it mean to you

Let us know about your progress. What was the easy part? Are you stuck on any specific digital histories of yours? What was the outcome? 

### 

More from Artifcts on Swedish Death Cleaning: 

The Joys of Swedish Death Cleaning 

Swedish Death Cleaning a Marriage After Death or Divorce 

How Swedish Death Cleaning Helps During a Move

© 2024 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Join Us for Evenings with Artifcts, Spring 2024

Spring has arrived and with it new energy for the return of Evenings with Artifcts and the generous guests who offer their time and expertise to all of us here in the Arti Community. This spring our 5-part series is anchored on the concept of decluttering.

No 'stuff' shaming or extreme minimalism hacks here. We'll talk frameworks to tackle the sentimental clutter and photos, supporting those going through life transitions and parsing through their belongings, and rethinking what exactly a "collection" is and why it holds value to us.

RSVP for the Evenings event each week; Zoom links will be available from our weekly email and our social media channels on Instagram and Facebook. Follow us so you do not miss out! And please share with friends, family, and others you meet. The more the merrier!

If you missed any of our past Evenings with Artifcts, catch up now!

 
 
 
 

ENJOY A RECAP OF EVENINGS WITH ARTIFCTS, SPRING '24

 

Zoe Kim joins Evenings with Artifcts

Week 1: Zoë Kim

@RaisingSimple, author of Minimalism for Families

DECLUTTERING, WORKSHOPS

 

Related content: 

- Watch the replay on YouTube ->

- Zoë's 7 Key Questions to Help You Declutter

- More decluttering strategies from Artifcts ->

If you'd like to suggest a topic or speaker for future events, share with us at Editor@Artifcts.com.

###

© 2024 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Emergency Go Bag: Don't Forget the Memories

Reading time: 5 minutes

As spring cleaning continues and storms rage, we’re taking a moment to help you make the most of that frenzy to also boost your preparedness, a key theme here at Artifcts.

We’ve shared with you the true story of our co-founder Ellen who experienced a home fire at the age of seven and encouraged you to consider what objects in your home matter most. Whether you’re in a location prone to wildfires, floods, tornados, or other extreme weather events, preparation is key.

We also recently shared the story of a woman who proactively relocated her cherished belongings to a secure, climate-controlled storage facility out of harm’s way from the California wildfires only to have a flood at the storage facility destroy many of her belongings, photos, videos, and documents included.

Today is all about your emergency go-bag. Do you have one? Think twice, and consider these essential questions:

      • Does your go-bag address the needs of each person in your household? 
      • Are the items inside fully charged?
      • Have any medicine or food items expired?
      • Did you borrow an item from the bag and never replace it?
      • Have you done anything to include the heart-value items in life that will see you through and beyond a life-changing disaster?

Let's take a closer look at the important elements of your go bag. Read on!

How to Prepare Against the Unexpected – Digital for the Win!

Well, maybe there’s no "winning" when it comes to disasters. Loss is real and painful. But we can mitigate our losses with less effort and time than ever before, along with the promise of far greater security and resiliency. How? Digitizing key personal information is your answer to recover faster and with less stress.

Just like we take advantage of advances in modern medicine to live longer, healthier, more active lives, we should take advantage of advances in digitization that make it easier and cheaper than ever to keep digital copies at our fingertips for critical documents. In an emergency, please have digitized and securely stored:

      • IDs, including driver’s license, military ID, employment ID, passport; it’s especially important to have at least one form of ID digitized that has your photo on it.  
      • Insurance cards 
      • Mortgages and titles for homes, cars, and other high-value assets 
      • Financial details, most likely in the form of online access to your accounts. But we also recommend securely stored digital copies of credit and debit cards for deactivation against fraud and rapid replacement. 
      • Contact lists. Do you know the phone numbers of your neighbors, your financial planner, your insurance company? We’d be shocked if you did. They are likely only stored on your phone. 
      • Photos. Okay, hear us out. We are talking about photos you might have in hardcopy and photos that you may have stored digitally on a drive and not yet backed up elsewhere. We strongly recommend using a backup for your digitized photos and other media.

With all these items digitized, you could in theory gain access to resources to replace what you lose if you need to leave your home urgently.  

Notice that Artifcts will be publishing an article about digital vaults soon

Now, About That Go Bag

Your go bags—which we hope are light weight and at least water resistant—will offer immediate, short-term security. Backpacks are your best bet for any variety of circumstances. DO NOT bet on carting around bins or boxes of any kind. You should hope these are fireproof and redundant. See our earlier point about digitization! 

Suggested contents for a bag can be absurdly loooong. Having consulted those lists and experienced go-bag moments ourselves, here’s what’s always in ours. The big exception is cold weather environments – at the start of the season, we add gloves, hats, hand warmers, and foil wraps.

      • Slip photocopies of a driver’s license, passport, or other ID for each adult in the household and your insurance information (home, car, and health) in an easily accessible waterproof pouch. A plethora of inexpensive pouches are available online and in retail stores, especially sporting goods and luggage.  
      • Changes of clothing, especially undergarments. 
      • Medicines, but be careful they do not expire, and ear plugs. You don’t know where you may need to sleep, and quality sleep is vital. 
      • Multiple battery packs (to charge devices we hope you’ll be able to have with you) 
      • A water purification device, such as a Grayl, so no matter where you are displaced to, you’ll have access to safe drinking water. On the topic of water, we also keep Nuun or similar in our bag for a hydration boost. If you’re in a hot climate, chugging water, working hard clearing property or otherwise on your feet, you may need some electrolytes on your side to pop into your water. 
      • Long shelf-life, macronutrient complete snacks. No, we shouldn’t subsist on meal-replacement bars, but if there were ever a time, this is it. Just make sure whatever you choose aligns with your dietary restrictions. Shelf-stable protein shakes work great, too. Jerkies, nuts and dried fruits, as well, but watch out for nuts which expire more quickly.

Forgetting Something? What Says Home, Comfort, and Family to You?

Creature comforts and irreplaceable items need to make that go-bag. Will you die without them? No. Will you feel better, have an excuse to smile, in a sad and stressful situation? Very likely.

This weekend, ask each person in your home what one or two items would they most want to take in an emergency, and record that information digitally in your mobile phone, so if time permits you are prepared to act, not ask.

      • When kids are young, creature comforts might be a lovey, but you could also prepack a spare of that lovey, along with small games and a cozy blanket and an inflatable pillow.
      • For us adults, your backup drives can live in your go bag if you do not have a cloud-based backup. Any cherished or valuable to you items tucked safely away? Can they go safely in this pre-packed bag instead of the back of a closet or box? When a fire sweeps a home, you may have only seconds to grab and go before smoke or fire stops you.

If your first step is to purchase a pre-made emergency go bag from the myriad of online and brick-and-mortar shops, super. But we hope you'll choose to take steps for you and your loved ones toward a more personal go-bag to protect yourselves. Explore our Allies in 'Stuff' as well for resources and professionals that can help lift the burden off you.

###

© 2024 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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