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Five Lessons From Artifcting With My Mother

Ellen Goodwin, Artifcts
April 12, 2022

I recently spent a few days back home in rural Wisconsin Artifcting with my mother. And guess what, we're still on speaking terms! I’m not a minimalist, but I do like to keep control of how much stuff is in my small home. Otherwise, I feel like it just zaps my mental energy. My mom is more sentimental and tends to hold onto things “just in case” so our styles can … clash. (Or at least seem to. Read a-ll the way to the end.)

Living in a 100+ year old farmhouse for the last 40+ years means that my parents have had a lot of time to accumulate and collect a delightful array of 'stuff.' As I'd hold up another object, open another drawer, or pull out still more boxes, the common refrain from my mother was, "I just set that aside to deal with another time." Sound familiar?

As a business owner and an adult child (and now parent myself), you can imagine I took a lot of mental notes along the way as we Artifcted together. I asked my mom for her notes, too, and am sharing our combined insights here to help you as you organize, declutter, downsize, or simply take a pause to reminisce and Artifct along the way. 

Two quick points before we dive in. For context, my mom did not have items pulled out ready to Artifct, because my visit was a surprise. I had a list I wanted to ask about – and we did work through it! – but we started working in my parents’ old bedroom, which they now use for storage. We had plenty of boxes, bags, closets, cedar chests and more to work with. Also, we Artifcted on mobile, iPad, and laptop to find the format that my mom liked best. Verdict: iPad.  

handwritten list of objects on notepad

Lesson #1. Know your goal.

My parents are not moving anytime soon. And the two of them occupy very little square footage in their home. There is no immediate need to get rid of anything. So, what then was our goal? Honestly, I wanted to start to become a bit more aware of which objects in my parents’ home had hidden meaning to them. My dad was more interested in a bit of clean out. My mom just wanted to spend time together, Artifcting. She said, “It’s fun to enjoy the process and remember along the way. You have to think, 'Hmm, why did I keep this thing?'” What this meant then was that as long as we created a few Artifcts together and had some recycling, trash, and donations to show for our time, we would please everyone. 

What and how much you want to Artifct is a key question, too, for us when the Artifcts team works in person with people through our concierge services. That way, everyone is pleased to have met mutually agreed goals. 

Lesson #2. Is anything off limits? 

I think by virtue of having moved so many times as an adult and living in a small house with an open floor plan with very little storage, there’s really nothing off limits in my home. My mom was more anxious about me digging into cedar chests, boxes, and paperwork without her first going through it. She wasn’t even sure what she had or what I would trip over, and she wanted to make the discovery first. Totally fine! We found a system so she could see or speak to an item first and then I’d help organize items for Artifcting, giving to another family member (usually one of my siblings), disposing, donating, or otherwise rehoming. 

Lesson #3. Take breaks to photograph. 

We wanted to get through large amounts of ‘stuff,’ but we also wanted to put things where they belonged to keep our working space clear. So, we’d take breaks to photograph items we wanted to Artifct later. These photo breaks were nice stress relievers, too, because sorting through so much can be a bit tiring and emotionally straining as you are washed by wave after wave of nostalgia. We’d also grab coffee and a snack during this break. 

Lesson #4. If you’re together, get the full story. 

Time is the devil. We all know this, but we like to ignore it. My brother was out of town, but I had my parents, my sister, and extended family (just an email or text message away) to help fill in the blanks about the history or backstory of photos and items we came across. We used these family resources then and there, sometimes even recording video or audio of the funnier or sappier stories on the fly (Check out tips for audio & video in our FAQs!), to capture what we could.

Sometimes we were unsuccessful in that the long history – “Who gave this to you, and when?” – was lost already but the current history – “I’ve just always loved this pin.” or “My sister gave it to me for a gift at some point.” – was a compelling reason in and of itself to Artifct an item. 

Vintage flower pin with gold trim  vintage red floral apron with wooden handled wire pastry blender

Click either image to view the related Artifct!

Lesson #5. Glad I asked! 

Some 'stuff' really is just stuff. No great story or history attached. At least you won’t have to wonder and stress about it one day if your friend or family member is no longer here and you are helping to disperse the estate. That chest of drawers you think is interesting? Those old matching sweatshirts? They look cool and served a purpose, but they have no remarkable stories. Totally fine. Keep and use or move along to someone else who will. No guilt! (Side note: My mom wasn't interested in the sweatshirts anymore, but I was and even had my own story to layer on top of them!)

Chicago paper company two-drawer cabinet     Vintage matching sweatshirts for Jimmy and Ding Dong

When I returned to Austin and took a look around my home, I had an ah-ha moment that would surely make my mother feel vindicated because as it turns out our styles do not clash as much as it may seem. When she insisted on keeping multiple bags of old blankets because, "They're wool and could someday make good quilt lining," I took a breath and moved on but was frustrated.

I was thinking that surely at 70+ years old my mom has a good idea whether quilting will actually be a part of her future, even if she lives to 100. And, yet, I admit, I have bins in my attic with undergrad and grad school papers and books. Why? I always think, "What if I decide to teach?" you know, become a "professor of practice." Thing is, even if I did, would I really go back to these papers? And if that were remotely useful, why not just scan them and file neatly with a backup in the cloud. Okay, okay, Mom, keep your ratty old wool blankets. 

Now, everyone, if you get nothing else from this tale, remember, these Artifcts are for you. So, enjoy. Find the pace and process that works for you!

Happy Artifcting (with Mom)! 

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© 2022 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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© 2022 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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When Anthony Bourdain passed away, he left behind an estate of objects, objects surely with stories. Or not. 

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If you have items you would like to consign or auction through Lark Mason Associates or are in the market for a new piece, visit https://www.larkmasonassociates.com. 

© 2022 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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© 2022 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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