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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 the images to view the related Artifcts!

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)!

P.S. Be sure to check out the bonus epilogue! We think it will make you smile.

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Consider gifting the mom in your life Artifcts. Imagine all those "I never knew that about you!" moments that await.

© 2022 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Collection Management Made Easy and Meaningful  

Artifcts thanks Sarah Reeder, Artifactual History Appraisal, for her contributions to the following article.

Reading time: 4 minutes

You may have one or many collections, intentional collections and accidental collections. Part of the fun of collecting is keeping track of it: Knowing what you have and what you’re still hunting for, what is sentimental vs. valuable, and what is okay to sell some day versus you’d prefer to pass down to someone special.

Short checklist about collections

 
 
We know a thing or to about accidental collections. Try out our free checklist available here.

If you were a professional archivist, librarian, or appraiser, you’d have a ready tool in your pocket to help manage your collections. It’s called a finding aid. But guess what? As you Artifct your collections, you are implicitly leveraging the best of finding aids, but in a friendly form that all can enjoy and benefit from. 

Here’s your peek inside the world of archivists where we show you how finding aids and collection management are made easy and meaningful with Artifcts!

What Is a Finding Aid, and Why Should You Care?

Unless you are a collections professional (archivist, librarian, appraiser…), the concept of a finding aid is likely foreign to you. For the longest time at Artifcts we even mistakenly referred to them as finding keys. Oops!

A finding aid is exactly what it sounds like: A tool that helps you locate items within a large collection in a fast and efficient way. A finding aid is a guide that describes the contents of an archival collection. A well-designed finding aid makes quick work of determining the topical relevance of any collection. After all, what good is a collection if discoverability hinders locating and using elements within the collection in the future.

Many of us have experienced the feelings of dread and being overwhelmed upon contemplating many boxes of inherited items that probably have something important contained in them but what and where? Imagine if you had a finding aid that told you exactly what was important and where you could locate it!

This is the magic of what finding aids do.

To a large degree, information within a finding aid is standardized per guidelines from the Society of American Archivists, “Describing Archives: A Content Standard,” better known simply as DACS. Standardization means a professional could work with or for any gallery, library, archive, or museum (aka GLAM) and their collections without much difficulty. They might simply display the information differently than one’s accustomed to.

A finding aid would have information such as: reference code, title, date, extent, name of creator, description, dates, and location. Does that list look familiar? If you Artifct, it should… 

For those of us who didn’t go to Library Science school, in our daily lives we probably do not want to think about taxonomies, metadata, bytes of storage, or even finding aids. We want to enjoy and share the meaning behind the items we’ve collected and ensure the stories and value behind them live on!

Enter Artifcts: Solving Age Old Problems of Finding Aids for Every-Day Collectors 

What we created at Artifcts is the solution to several age-old problems of finding aids in an individual and family-friendly fashion. And this means great things for you all!  While finding aids are brilliant tools for professionals, they are disconnected from how most of us describe and catalog the ‘why’ of our collections. We need more multitasking support in our lives.

Here’s how you can use Artifcts to preserve the history and the value of your collections beyond the constraints of traditional finding aids.

Use those QR codes.

If you were to work with a professional appraiser, archivist, or collections manager of any type, they will likely offer as part of their services a description of the collection and list organizing the inventory within your collection, a finding aid of some sort. But how do you link that list to your physical collection? At Artifcts, you can print a QR code or use Artifcts QR code stickers to link the physical and the digital.

music box with Artifcts QR code on the bottom of the base

 
 
An Artifcts QR code unlocks the story and value!

Record your stories.

Move beyond “scope notes” and “meta data” inherent to the archivist’s expertise – “This is a 19th-century {name of item}” – and breathe life, context, and personal meaning into the objects in your collection, e.g. “This is what Great Great Grandma brought from France when she moved to New York. And I’m giving it to you now.”  

Artifcts offers the options to share your story, indicate what you want to do with items in the future, and supply critical other information like where on earth you’ve stored the item in your home or elsewhere and the supporting documents (receipts, appraisals, and more). 

Connect the dots.

We typically describe each Artifct you create as connecting the dots, because only you know how photos of those specific items relate to shape a story or history. But we help you go a step further, too. You can use our @ feature to cross reference one Artifct with another, tying together pieces of a collection and pieces of a story that others may not otherwise realize relate.  

Description field on Artifcts with menu open showing options for linking with @

 
 
Simply type @ as you add the story or description to your Artifct to link to other Artifcts.

Leverage your community.

Let’s not forget the value in sharing and collaboration to learn more about items in your collections. Through Artifcts Circles and the option to give ‘Edit’ permission to other paid Artifcts members, you can crowdsource information from your loved ones and experts alike to capture important details about your collections that may add historical and family history information as well as increase the value, too. 

Preserve what is.

Add the photos, videos, and original documents you have to your Artifcts. There’s a spot dedicated to securely preserve each as is. No compression. No conversion. What you upload is what you can always download again, too.

 
 
 
 
In our spring 2024 series finale of Evenings with Artifcts, our expert guests shed light on the 'why' and 'what' of collections.

Ensure that if you work with an appraiser or other collections manager in the future, they provide documentary support through Artifcts, so that you can protect and share the value of your collections with friends and family as well as knock off those “to dos” with your insurance company, financial planner, and estate attorney. 

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You may also be interested in these ARTIcles by Artifcts:

What to Consider When You Plan to Donate Art and Other Collectibles

From Rare Art to Family Heirlooms: Tips From a Master as You Consider Selling Your 'Stuff'

Everything You Wanted to Know About Appraisals but Were Afraid to Ask

How to Artifct that Collection

© 2024 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Artifcts® Platform Now Supports Publishing to Custom-Designed Books with Partner Akin

Whether you think about photo books as unique and personalized gifts or dream of publishing a life memoir, we love our books! Today Artifcts announced a new partnership with Akin (https://akin.house/artifcts-books/) to offer simple, custom designed books to Arti Community members who wish to publish their Artifcts to books. 

You need only look at the explosive growth of photo book companies to support everything from build-your-own to instant print from Instagram or your phone to know how much we love to have and to hold books. 

Together, Artifcts and Akin have made it simple and affordable to publish a custom-designed, premium quality, personalized book of your Artifcts.  

“Not everyone enjoys spending hours combing through photos, uploading them into software, stressing over layouts, colors, and font choices,” commented Artifcts Co-founder Ellen Goodwin. “Our partnership with Akin means you can simply choose the Artifcts you want to publish, share them privately with Akin, and they’ll lay out the book in the template of your choice and ship it off to you! The whole process for our members takes minutes!” 

Artifcts excels in innovation that places the needs of its Arti Community members first. People expect to share their stories with meaningful context that includes photos, audio, and video. Artifcts has ensured this promise translates to printed books, too. Unlike a standard photo book, for every Artifct you publish, you can include a QR code that allows the viewer to scan and access additional photos and video tied to the story. Your book can come alive. 

“We don’t want our members to worry about the book creation process. We want people to enjoy spending time reliving their stories, and recording what they value most,” said Artifcts Co-founder Heather Nickerson. 

For more information, visit Concierge & Other Professional Services or review the FAQs available at Artifcts.com/FAQs. 

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© 2024 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 

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Not Sure What to Write? Tips from Author Jeff Greenwald

He's authored 1000s of articles, several books, and what's maybe the first known travel blog. And during the Fall 2022 series of Evenings with Artifcts Jeff Greenwald shared with us simple but powerful tips, and a healthy dose of perspective, to help us craft our own stories behind the objects of our lives.  

Watch the full Evenings with Artifcts event here.

  • It is hard to write about an object with no personal meaning but even harder when it has tremendous personal meaning. Bear that in mind and go easy on yourself. 

  • Start with something true. This is the trick to writing anything nonfiction. For example, start with a little line about where you got the object: “I bought this in a street market in Istanbul.” And from there go on to describe the scene a little bit and what happened there that connects you with the object.  

Start with something true.

  • Other starters for your Artifcts:  

        • Where were you when you acquired the object? 
        • Was it a gift? Who gave it to you? Tell a bit about them. What was your relationship with them that they felt they should give you a gift like that? “The moon Rocket was a gift for my friend Dave Mccutcheon, and he and I have been friends for many years and share a love of robots and spaceships and dinosaurs... all those things we loved when we were kids.” 
        • Why is it important to you?
        • What feelings does it evoke in you?
  • If a story comes to mind, you can just start jotting it down anywhere. Let your thoughts go where they will. It can be a collection of random thoughts that you can look at later and put together into some sort of a story structure. 

  • We all have stories. Writers block comes from our internal critic. It challenges you with, “Why would anybody want to read it? What could you have to say? What makes you think you're so great that anyone should listen to anything you're telling them?” You have to tell yourself, “I have a right to do this because I’m a human being with a story, and the story deserves to be told whether or not you, my internal critic, thinks that it does.” Push the internal critic aside. 
I’m a human being with a story, and the story deserves to be told.
  • If you value the stories and need motivation to begin capturing and preserving those stories with Artifcts, make a deal with yourself like Jeff did. Jeff made a pact to give away the objects once their stories were told. Maybe you’ll choose to Artifct twice per week. Or perhaps you’ll start with those items that are most meaningful to you.  

  • A bit of advice Jeff shared from esteemed author Kurt Vonnegut: Write your stories as though you are writing them for one person, as if you are telling this person each of the stories. It gives all the stories a similar tone, a singular voice. 

  • Always include when and where the object was acquired. These are important details.

  • Struggling with a title? Write out 10 of them. It will help you to start to shape your story, too.

Our stuff, the objects that we collect, that inspire us, they are really not what's important. We do not need to keep them. The only thing that is important are the stories, and the only way to keep the stories is to tell them.

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© 2024 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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