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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 and revealed my mom's why (as in, why did she still have this item anyway). 

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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Storied Lighthouses: At Night!

Today's story indulges Artifcts co-founder Ellen Goodwin’s fascination with the stars. She even has an Artifct or two about it. You can read one of them here. If nothing else, just like the act of creating an Artifct, let this story help remind you to take a pause to look up and enjoy the vastness of the universe and the potential within each of us every day to play an oversized role in it from our little slice of the universe. 

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Close your eyes.  

Picture a lighthouse.  

Is it hanging out alone on a rocky bluff or stony beach? Is it sun-shiny daytime or deep dark night?  

Would it surprise you to learn that most photographs of lighthouses only show these sentinels by day? Until recently, that is. 

Lighthouses today are largely on private land or public park spaces, both with controlled access. Even with access granted, you have weather, water, and other environmental conditions, including wildlife (Porcupines! No joke. Read the book USA Stars & Lighthouses.), to contend with if you want a close-up view. So logically most of us capture pictures of lighthouses only by day and often by boat or from some distance as in the photo shown in the Artifct Our Cape Cod Whale Tale

We had the good fortune to connect recently with David Zapatka, who has spent his professional life behind the lens of high-powered video cameras that bring the world everything from investigative news from the field to NCAA men's basketball tournaments and the Olympics. Privately, however, David was hooked on photography from the moment he realized his passion would be supported by submissions to his school yearbook, feeding him a constant supply of film and access to the people and places of the moment. 

Access and control - two of the most critical factors in photography. Control is about lighting. David preaches to his students: control - control - control. As for access, well, you know, can you get close to it? The third critical ingredient for David is passion. Conservancy, national history, community, all of these play into David's work to at last capture lighthouses at night, doing the work they were designed for, bringing ships safely to harbor, providing hope in a sea of dark, and reminding us we are infinitely small in this vast universe. 

David is creating a personal legacy in this work. For his kids and grandkids, for all of us, he'll know he left us something special. 

For each lighthouse in his book USA Stars & Lights: Portraits From the Dark David includes the story behind the shoot. Who owns and operates the lighthouse, how did he get access, what were the conditions when he went once (sometimes twice) to get the shot, and for budding photographers, even the technical details. Because there is no hocus pocus or photoshop here. You need to earn every bit of it. 

With no further ado, enjoy these special Artifcts from our friend David Zapatka. 

Jeffrey's Hook, The Little Red Lighthouse, at night with NYC in background

ABOVE: Jeffrey's Hook Lighthouse. Serendipity! Sometimes David comes across lighthouses that have been turned back on. The Little Red Lighthouse of storybook fame many NYC children of the 1960s are familiar with was relit several years ago. While on the Hudson River for another lighthouse shoot, David discovered its resurgence and returned in September 2022 to photograph it at night. Click the image to view the Artifct.

 

Red and white ringed lighthouse at nightABOVE: Assateague Lighthouse. Often shooting lighthouses at night involves critical timing. Sometimes you can't gain night access to lighthouses if the gates are locked. At the Assateague Lighthouse in northern Virginia, only at certain times of the year is the park open long enough into the night to photograph the lighthouse before you must leave or get caught locked in for the night! Click the image to view the Artifct.

Red and white lighthouse on rocky outcrop of land

ABOVE: Romer Shoal Lighthouse. Some lighthouses will never be captured at work. Super Storm Sandy destroyed Old Orchard Shoal. Luckily neighboring Romer Shoal remains. For now. Extreme weather threatens the future of many other lighthouses even as the fate of this one is uncertain. Click the image to view the Artifct.

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© 2022 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

 

ABOUT DAVID ZAPATKA

Rhode Island native David Zapatka's work regularly appears on national news and sports programs for ABC, CBS, CNN, HBO, NBC, and PBS. He’s covered six Superbowls, 20 years of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, four winter Olympic Games for which he won two National Sports Emmy awards for his contributions to the NBC coverage of the Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002 and Vancouver in 2010. David's lighthouses work began in 2013 as a project that became so much more. 

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What's Your Stuffing Style?

For many in the United States, the Thanksgiving holiday increasingly brings together friends and family in a potluck format that opens the door to more time to hang out together and less stress on any single home chef. This means you might have to gamble on whether cousin Patrick or your neighbor Amara will bring the version of cranberries, green beans, or stuffing that you love best. 

A delicious cranberry compote could easily turn off those who hang on to the canned version with a sly grin. Green beans for some must be creamy and topped with fried onions, making others turn and run for something a bit … healthier. Oh, and the pies! Forget it if you are committed to pumpkin pie and someone dares to suggest apple, pecan, or something truly unconventional – mincemeat anyone? 

Equally divisive and diverse are the stuffings of the world! Do you use white bread or cornbread? Does seafood like oysters make an appearance in the ingredients list? 

If you are opinionated on stuffing, or any other staple of Thanksgiving, you better get your game face on and Artifct and share that recipe in advance to sway the crowd in your favor.  

Our co-founder Ellen Goodwin’s family circle on Artifcts is already full of recipes people are volunteering for Thursday, including her father's stuffing recipe. Artifcts co-founder @Heather already shared her mother's apple pie. Now they’ll be ahead of the game this year and for years to come!  Will you?  

Please share your recipes on Artifcts.com or with us on social media! 

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© 2022 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Because Who Wants 300 Miniature Pianos!

Not you? Then read on. This one is for you!

There's a fear factor motivating some adult children to prematurely help - some more aggressively and/or cheerfully than others - their parents downsize, whether to downsize and literally move into a smaller home or downsize at home to more minimal possessions. The end goal for these adult children is sort of "Not it!" Do not send all that stuff to me. I don't have room for all my own stuff, never mind your stuff, too. 

The question for the parent in this scenario becomes one of legacy - will you leave a burden of stuff, or one of memories, rich with who you were in your lifetime, and who you were together, too? Shared now and shared later, maybe through these stories and memories you’ll help release people from holding onto so much stuff that the stuff becomes that burden the adult children fear, clouding the memories. 

A blue bowl and red handle thin metal spatula

 
 
 
 
 
Simple everyday objects, with meaning. But will you keep them always, or maybe just the memories?  

On that note, meet Sue, a member of the Arti Community. And not just any member. As she approaches her first anniversary with Artifcts, she is also our top Artifcter, surpassing even the founders of Artifcts who had a head start and a natural predilection for Artifcting. 

Who is Sue? If you search @Sue on Artifcts, you won't see a single Artifct. We did promise everyone that your Artifcts need not be made public. Everything is private by default, and Sue loves this freedom. 

Artifcts co-founder Ellen Goodwin sat down with Sue to learn who she is, what she Artifcts, and most important of all why she Artifcts. It was such a treat to chat with an Arti Community member directly and a fascinating conversation. Enjoy! 

_________________

Ellen Goodwin: Hello Sue! We want to know all about you. Who are you, and what brought you to Artifcts? 

@Sue: I am a piano teacher. One of my personal collections is miniature pianos. I am also my family’s keeper and a genealogist. I have collections from both sets of grandparents, my parents, and of course my collections as well as my husband’s. This house is like a museum! Name anything, practically, and I probably have something of that. 

I keep wanting my daughter to come down to North Carolina and go over things with me. Find out what she wants, and what she’s not interested in so I can do something with it. But there’s never enough time. And my son-in-law really doesn’t want all this stuff. So he gave me Artifcts as a Christmas present last year. 

Sue shared this reality with grace and humor. Watch now!

Goodwin: What did you Artifct first? 

@Sue: Christmas ornaments! Well, all things Christmas, really. I have heirloom ornaments, multiple Santa Claus figurines, and other items, so before I packed them up last year, I Artifcted them.  

Goodwin: And then you continued Articting, focusing on collections or at random? 

@Sue: As I have bits of time here and there, I have just started. No particular order. Just what my eyes light on in a moment in time. Sometimes Artifct collections. I laid out all my jewelry one day and enjoyed working my way through it, sometimes Articting pieces individually, sometimes Artifcting collections, like brooches. 

Costume jewelry - rhinestone brooch

I have Artifcted my grandfather’s weapons collection as well, including antique knives, some of which date back to the late 1800s. My grandson caught sight of the knife collection, and was interested, so he’ll inherit them. His great grandfather’s collection!  

Goodwin: And we hope you’ll share the “why” behind this knife collection with your grandson, as well as the “why” of all of your own collections, like your pianos! 

@Sue: Piano has been a passion of mine for a long time. I found out recently through my genealogical research that my middle name Beth is for Beth of Little Women, the pianist of the family. I don’t remember who gave me my first miniature, but my mother kept adding to it, and then I did eventually, too. Each is very different. Now my senior graduating piano students get to choose one from the collection, a remembrance from me to take with them. I have only Artifcted the very unusual pianos, like one from ivory, another from Dresden. I am Artifcting the ones that are special so my daughter knows which are which.  

Read our story about gifting your loved ones a why > 

Goodwin: You told me that you Artifcted a collection of family bibles, nearly a dozen. I’m curious. What’s next for them?  

@Sue: I inherited 40 boxes of heirlooms, pictures and genealogy papers, which I am still going through. These bibles were among the boxes and now sit in the open air on top of a family cabinet in my genealogy research room.  I love the Cheatham Apocrypha Bible in particular, so that is the one I’ll definitely keep. It’s also the only one that still has the family pages in it. As for the rest, I don’t know what to do with them. I might see if the state genealogy archives wants them.

Goodwin: You have 100s of Artifcts. Are there some really marvelous stories among them that stand out? 

@Sue: Yes! Well, it’s all in the eye of the beholder, I guess. I was really surprised to find a lock of Gertrude’s hair. Oh, and great grandfather’s bowler hat. That’s an heirloom with a great story. 

A lock of hair tied with a blue ribbon

@Sue: "I found this in one of the boxes that I inherited (all genealogy based).
 
 
With it was a card signed by Gertrude which probably dates to the same year, 1904.
 
 
Gertrude Cheatham married August Johnston 24 Apr 1905." 

Bowler hat in hat box, padded with fox scarf

@Sue: This hat belonged to John Mortimer Cheatham who lived in Missouri his whole life (1843-1915).
 
 
The hat box is signed by Eugene Scherman of New York, so I imagine this is who made the hat.
 
 
Today, Grandmother Gertrude's fox lives with the hat. 
Even co-founder Ellen Goodwin discovered a lock of hair her mother squirreled away. Read her humorous take on it. > 

Goodwin: How do you Artifct? Do you use the app, a tablet, both?

@Sue: I take the pictures on my phone, because it allows me to skip the step of transferring the photos from my nice camera to my computer. If I want to add more details or long stories, then I edit the Artifcts later on my desktop computer. 

Goodwin: Have you tried new features as Artifcts has announced them? 

@Sue: There is so much I haven’t fully taken advantage of yet, but I did recently ask for my first estimate from Heritage Auctions with your “What’s it worth?” feature. It was a set of four meerschaum smoking pipes. Each used. They had significant market value! 

a set of four meerschaum smoking pipes

My daughter and extended family will inherit the items they wish to keep; she can always sell the remaining items. I think it’s important, however, to keep at least some of these things in the family—especially the older things. Maybe someone will choose the pipes. 

Goodwin: As the co-founder of Artifcts, I'd be remiss not to ask ... What would you tell those who have yet to Artifct? Why should they do it?

@Sue: Watch and listen to her response! (Or read below.)

It’s mainly the stories about the stuff. Nobody else is going to know what it is. I am trying so hard to get them written down and on Artifcts with the pictures, too, because otherwise once I’m gone, the story is gone. I think it’s important for the children to know what was the most important to me, what meant the most to me, and why.  

Now, they may not want to keep it, but if it’s Artifcted, it’s there FOREVER. So, they will always have that memory even though they may not have that item, because who wants 300 miniature pianos?! 

And on that note, what's your equivalent of "300 miniature pianos?"

Happy Artifcting!

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© 2022 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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