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How Two Sisters Overcame the Guilt to Lighten the Load of Family Heirlooms

Ellen Goodwin, Artifcts
August 16, 2023

Reading time: 6 minutes

Up until a few years ago, Rachel Donnelly, founder and CEO of AfterLight, and her family owned their old family home that had been in their family since 1890. Imagine the history those walls could tell! This home, in Eastern Tennessee, was where Rachel’s great-grandparents lived, where her grandmother was born, and where her mother was raised.  
 
After Rachel’s mother died, the family made the difficult decision to sell this beloved turn-of-the-century Victorian home that was in Rachel’s words “slap full of absolutely everything from our family's life. China, silverware, crystal, knickknacks, handwritten letters, newspaper clippings, coin collections, and of course, countless pieces of big brown furniture. You name it, it was in this house.”  
 
Buckle up, ladies and gents, we're going on a guilt trip. 
 
Rachel and her sister grew up with the expectation that the items filling this family home would one day fill their own homes, including the big brown furniture. Their mother made them swear they'd never get rid of these items that, in her mind, were priceless and irreplaceable. So, for years, Rachel and her sister were on a never-ending guilt trip.  
 
Fast forward, and the sisters’ homes have indeed become orphanages for the big brown furniture and knickknacks that their mother passed down. But guess what? Guilt be darned - the sisters are fed up! The time has come for them to unload the stuff of generations past to homes where families will cherish the pieces of their mother’s estate that simply do not fit with their own lifestyles. 

The sisters’ homes have become orphanages for the big brown furniture and knickknacks that their mother passed down.

We can all do better for the next generation.
 
What if we skip the proverbial guilt trip we create by unloading our stuff on our family, intentionally or not, and instead make a plan that will allow everyone to enjoy a trip down memory lane instead? At AfterLight, Rachel guides her clients down these planning paths every day. In honor of Make-A-Will Month this August, read on to learn some ins and outs that may help you on your way.   
 
Ellen Goodwin: I imagine that based on that fun introduction to our conversation, people can easily picture you and your family in good ol’ southern U.S.A. And that’s really important context for our readers. Our family relationships as well as the types of ‘stuff’ we tend to collect and pass down as family heirlooms often differs by region. 
 
Rachel Donnelly: Even though dealing with it was quite burdensome, I feel so fortunate to have had this family home as part of my childhood. This home was beloved by generations of my family and was full of so much history. The town in which the home was located was referred to as the "Utopia of Temperance," as it was a planned community where alcohol (aka the Devil's Drink) was strictly prohibited and any trace of liquor would lead to the property's confiscation by the city. Well, if walls could speak, they'd have tales to tell! I've always cherished the stories behind the various items in the house and what they symbolized in our heritage. My grandmother was an incredible cook and one of my prized possessions is her index box of recipes.  
 
Goodwin: What is universal in life is loss. And you are at the very forefront of helping people in modern times get through the planning and after-loss realities. It’s complex! Please help our readers understand the “why” and “what” of AfterLight. 
 
Donnelly: I like to say I received an immersive MDA (Master of Death Administration). After my own experiences with loss, including the death of my parents, and serving as the primary caregiver for and eventual executor of my uncle’s estate, I struggled to manage all the unavoidable administrative tasks that accompany aging, end-of-life, and after loss.  
 
It can take over 500 hours of effort and 100+ tasks for an executor to settle an estate. And executors are expected to complete these tasks, which are for the most part ones they have never done before, all while trying to grieve, work, take care of their family and/or prioritize their mental health. 
 
I searched for help with the tasks, paperwork and logistics in the weeks and months after my losses but struggled with where to turn. I experienced this struggle personally and noticed that there was a gap in the market of businesses meeting this need. 
 
They say that need is the mother of invention, … At AfterLight, our goal is to provide overwhelmed executors with practical, personalized support. We’re on a mission to help the living deal with dying, fostering lighter hearts and lighter loads. AfterLight assists clients in managing the unavoidable administrative tasks associated with after loss and legacy planning. Whether you’re facing an unexpected loss or want to prepare your legacy so your family can grieve in peace and settle your affairs with ease, AfterLight is the answer to your overwhelm. 

After my own experiences with loss, [...] I struggled to manage all the unavoidable administrative tasks that accompany aging, end-of-life, and after loss.

Goodwin: An interesting parallel between your work at AfterLight and the act of Artifcting is that both are about human behavior and habits. If we want better outcomes, we have to take steps proactively to do something about it, whatever the “it” is. What do you find are the one or two most challenging steps for people to take in terms of planning and preparedness? 
 
Donnelly: In my opinion, the primary challenge is our discomfort with the fact that we know how this ends – i.e., that we’re all going to die someday. Therefore, many people avoid thinking about it or taking action, as though doing so might somehow become a self-fulfilling prophecy. 
 
The second challenge is that organizing one's affairs can be overwhelmingly complex, because people don’t really understand how it works and therefore, it's easy to be unaware of all of the steps they need to take to not leave a flaming dumpster fire for their family. Along the same vein, legacy planning is often filled with misconceptions. I've come across various attitudes, from "My kids are smart, they'll figure it out," to "My estate isn't significant enough to warrant planning," or even "I'll be dead and won't care."

I've come across various attitudes, from "My kids are smart, they'll figure it out," to "My estate isn't significant enough to warrant planning," or even "I'll be dead and won't care."

Goodwin: So, it is Make-a-Will month. Obviously, some people don’t even have wills (yet), while others simply need to update their wills. But there are also those of us who have wills that check the box only. Wills can and should do more to help people through grief by very intentionally addressing legacy, memories, and even anticipated points of … ahem, contention … among family members and other heirs. In your view, how can folks take a good, better, best approach to life preparedness this month? 
 
Donnelly: I believe that approaching life preparedness with intentionality and strategy, rather than simply treating it as a checklist of documents, leads to a more comprehensive and meaningful end-result. 
 
When working with our clients one-on-one, we take on the roles of accountability partner, coach, and organizer. Our aim is to help our clients to explore critical questions they may not have considered, procrastinated on, or underestimated the importance of. Some of these important questions include:

    • If you do have estate planning documents (such as a will, trust, financial power of attorney, and advance directives for healthcare), does your family know how to access them? Where are these documents located?
    • Have you shared the unlock codes for your phone and computer with a trusted contact?
    • Are your beneficiaries correctly designated and up to date?
    • Do your loved ones know your funeral wishes?
    • Have you communicated with your family about who will inherit specific items of personal property and when? (Hello! Get going on Artifcts!)
    • There’s no better solution to convey what everything is, what it means to you and your family, and WHY you are gifting it to the person you’ve chosen.)
    • Does your family have a clear understanding of your debts and assets, including a comprehensive list?

@rbdonne is a "family keeper" for family heirlooms big and small.

Vintage oak icebox by stairwell in modern home

 
 
 
 
A vintage oak icebox and cricket cage, each brought forward through generations. Click an image to view on Artifcts.

An antique cricket cage

By addressing these questions and actively engaging in the planning process, we can each achieve a more well-rounded and thoughtful approach to securing our legacies and ensuring our loved ones are better prepared for the future. And who knows, you might even have some fun in the process, especially if you share as you go via Artifcts.

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You may also enjoy these additional ARTIcles by Artifcts:

Gift Your Loved Ones a "Why"

What Have You Done for Your Legacy Lately?

Storytellers, Beware!

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© 2023 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Timelines – Inspiration for Accidental Genealogists and Keepers of 'Stuff'

Reading time: 3 minutes

What happens when you come from a long line of genealogists and end up with three busy boys as the next generation? Genealogy and the desire to understand your heritage gets stalled…until you and your sons discover the Timeline view in Artifcts! 

Yes, I was one of the guilty parties. My mom has binders and binders of ancestry and genealogy information, can tell the stories about our family history ‘way back when,’ and has tried to tell us her story over the years. But if you were to ask me to tell you those stories about her, I’d look at you with a blank stare. I wouldn’t know where to start.  

That is until we discovered the Timeline view in Artifcts, and I saw my own life story revealed to me in a way I hadn’t seen before. You see, pun intended, I am a visual person and process information very analytically. Yes, it is interesting to see my family tree laid out with names and branches, but it doesn’t really tell me about the people, how they were wired, or how I might have been influenced by who they were or how they thought. When I understand those things about my ancestors and influencers, I gain perspective on my own heritage. 

Seeing my mother’s Timeline motivated me to create more Artifcts for my Timeline. As each new Artifct takes its place on my Timeline, it highlights one more life event, one more story, that shaped me. I could immediately see in my Timeline how my experiences, represented through my objects and stories, wired me to be who I am today. If my kids want to know who I am, why I place certain values on ambition and work, and why I work as much as I do to achieve and provide, all they need to do is look at my Artifcts Timeline.  

My Timeline now shows my world travel (creating an open and adventurous mindset); it shows my cadet days in the Civil Air Patrol (doing search, rescue, flying, and establishing the building blocks for my leadership style); it shows my days as a firefighter and EMT (helping people and being driven to serve); it shows my pilot experiences (adventure, focus, and determination); it shows my entrepreneurial experience (innovating and managing risk); and it shows my family and our shared experiences. 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 

So, to all of you who think you’ll get to it "someday," realize that someday may come too late. Start capturing your story one event or object at a time. When you open that box that’s been in the basement for 10 years and find something cool, Artifct it to tell the story using images, audio/video, and text. When you travel, take a photo of that menu or interesting memento and explain where you were and who you were with.

Once you get your Artifcts going and see them in your Timeline, you’ll have bursts of energy to go fill in the blanks, you’ll start seeing yourself for who you really are, and you’ll build out your story to carry your heritage to the next generation. And the best part? Your kids will love it too! 

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Traveling to Salt Lake City for RootsTech?

Stop by our Booth #1517 to hear Matt share more of his stories on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. MT and Saturday at 12 noon MT. 

You can also read previous ARTIcles Matt has written, including Father, World Traveler and Now Downsizer and Stuck In the Middle With Stuff

© 2024 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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TIME Magazine Wants YOU ... to Declutter with Artifcts

Decluttering is a bit of an art, isn’t it? While one person may find it completely normal to retain 100s of back issues of magazines and spontaneously start new collections or justify pretty oddball purchases, you may look at all that ‘stuff’ and question, "Why?" But maybe you in turn struggle with sentimental gifts from close family and friends.

Finding the process that works for you can be daunting. Should you set a 15-minute timer and tackle the low hanging fruit? Do you want to keep what gives you joy and take a hard look at the rest, room by room? We’ve written about practical minimalism, which has something to offer for everyone, and decluttering with dementia in focus. We've given you an earth-friendly guide and decluttering targets. So many options! 

But as you take inventory of your home or perhaps contemplate downsizing your home, sometimes the best solution is the one that can check off multiple boxes at once in your busy life.

How to Declutter, Smarter 

TIME magazine published a story this week that placed our wellbeing and mental health at the epicenter of how to declutter. Their seven approaches were informed by mental health and home decluttering experts. One of the tools recommended was Artifcts. Here’s the excerpt:

Another app, Artifcts, helps preserve memories through a combination of images, audio, video, and text. If your grandmother has a lot of vintage jewelry, you could take a picture of each ring or necklace and record her telling a story about its significance. “Now you’ve got her words, her voice, her story, and it’s forever,” he says—yet the objects cluttering up the closet can go.

Paxton also uses Artifcts to digitize his seven kids’ artwork. Every Friday before dinner, he spends five minutes taking a photo of their latest creation and then records them talking about their work. Each kid chooses one piece of art to keep per year, and the rest live on in digital form.

If you are using Artifcts to support insurance claims, populate (at last!) that memorandum of tangible assets in your will, or document your collections, you may be a bit surprised to learn that others use Artifcts to document that which they are giving away or selling. 

Setting aside hoarding disorders and those with infinite resources for housing and storage, the key is this: We cannot keep it all. We must make tradeoffs for space, safety, and sanity, and sometimes that means letting go of items we wish we could keep, whether they are our own or we’ve inherited them. Artifcts is so much more than an inventory app, because here the memories and stories along with the curated items you value most are captured and preserved together, making it easier to let go. 

Our founders' favorite strategy for decluttering smarter with Artifcts is quite simple: Start with the obvious, what’s there in front of you. Kid art cluttering the counters? Old photos on the fridge? Piles of holiday letters and cards sitting on your desk? Simply snap a photo, add a short story, save, and you’re done! You can now recycle those items guilt free and reclaim your counters, desks, and exterior fridge space. That makes Artifcts a powerful decluttering app, sort of a "whistle while you work" phenomenon.

And, by the way, our founders' families know this is a favorite strategy, so they’ve learned not to leave things out. Yet another way Artifcts can help with the clutter!  

TIME Magazine: 7 Low-Stress Ways to Start Decluttering 

We were so moved by the piece from TIME that we are bringing you this special ARTIcles by Artifcts to recommend you take a moment to read it and reflect on the options they have surfaced and see if any of them are the right one to help you in this moment in life and time.

Illustration of objects you might declutter in a home on a yellow background

 
 

Happy Saturday, and happy Artifcting!

_________________

Hello decluttering, organizing, or downsizing professionals! 

Check out Artifcts for Professionals and stay tuned for an announcement about our FREE upcoming 4-part training series this spring. In the interim, you might enjoy these sorting-, decluttering-, and organizing-themed webinars: 

Heather Nickerson, CEO of Artifcts, Chat with MaxSold: Get in on the auction 

Evenings with Artifcts: Practical Minimalism with Matt Paxton and Zoë Kim (VIDEO)

Getting Organized Ahead of the Holidays

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© 2024 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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10 Ways Genealogists are Using Artifcts That May Help You, Too

Reading time: 4 minutes 

No one knows how to use any product better than the power users among us. One of our power user groups at Artifcts is genealogists.

We've found genealogists as a whole to be tech savvy, detail oriented, creative, outside the box thinkers, and progressive leaning in the evolution of their methods. Curious what draws them to Artifcts and how they use it, surprising even the people who built Artifcts? Let’s go! 

10 Things Genealogists Have Taught Us About Artifcts 

If you are not a genealogist, you may think, “Don’t genealogists stick to family trees and research archives?” To some degree that was our expectation as we began building Artifcts. But the love of the details and the joy of bringing others in on their discoveries has meant Artifcts is solving a problem that genealogists couldn't quite put their collective fingers on until we came along. We suspect their tricks of the trade at Artifcts will help all of us non-genealogists in our quests, too! 

1. Tags are clearly limitless.

Folders are like corsets. Free yourself with tags! Create as many custom tags as you like on each of your Artifcts to later click on or search by (simply start your search term with #) by family member, location, document type and more.   

Fun fact: Genealogists were the first Arti Members we know of to add more than 10 tags to a single Artifct. 

2. The Artifcts timeline is a beautifully simple design and powerful resource.

Unlike traditional genealogy timelines, your Artifcts timeline is not weighed down by black and white details and restrictions on managing. With a click and drag you can reorder or choose to add more detail to your Artifcts. Creating a timeline for each family member? You can do that automatically by simply tagging each Artifct with the applicable family member and then sorting your timeline view by that tag, e.g. #DanielD or more specifically #DanielDb1938.  

BONUS! You can add public or private “time period notes” to your timeline to keep track of gaps you want to address or validate in your research and then Artifct. 

3. The stories and facts you need are available in fewer clicks

You can inter-link individual Artifcts you create using the familiar @ feature you likely know from social media, email, or even leaving comments in a Word document. Just build the people and Artifcts into your Artifcted "story” with by typing @ and making your selection. Once saved, you and others who can access the Artifct will be able to instantly segway to a related person or Artifct. No one you share your Artifct with will have to guess how all the dots connect. You will connect them as you create your Artifcts!  

Only because a genealogist asked did we ever try to write a “life story” in an Artifct. It’s easy to do when you have all your other Artifcts to help tell the story! Check it out in this ARTIcles story >

 
 
Here’s another sweet and silly example using the @ feature that we love from a summer vacation. Click the image to view the Artifct.

 

4. Brand/Artist is a perfect “free form” field.

A free form field, oh boy! Try using the Brand/Artist field to record Grandpa’s name and his link in the family tree for easy reference by anyone who you give access to view your Artifct. But remember, depending on where you build your family tree, you may need to grant them access there, too.

BONUS! Next time you fill in this field, you can select Grandpa again from the dropdown menu without having to retrieve the link. 

5. Location doesn’t have to be a physical place.

You can insert a link to the folder, share drive, or part of a family tree in whatever software you use to look for “more information” related to an Artifct if you need to dive deeper or reevaluate in the future. Remember, even if you privately share an Artifct with someone, no one else can see this field. If you are instead interested in including a video snippet in your private Artifct but want family you share it with to have access to the full hour long video, you could link to it from the Artifct "Description."

6. Artifcts sharing lists and circles bypass the usual pain of sharing.

Never again will you have to text, email, or airdrop a photo or audio or video snippet to a family member. With a free Artifcts account, anyone you specifically grant “view” access will have the option automatically to download any of the great photos, videos, and more you include in the Artifct in their original formats. No tiny, pixelated photos or videos (unless of course that's what you started with).

7. “Documentation” is for more than receipts and appraisals.

Documentation in each Artifct you create accommodates letter collections, chapters of family books, PDF scans of family recipe books, and more. It’s not just for receipts, appraisals, and the like. And thanks to feedback from genealogists, when you click and share an Artifct, you can choose if you’d like to also share the attached documents. By default, no documentation is ever shared.

8. Colors matter, so use them!

The introduction of options to change your font color and highlight your text in various shades as you write the description/story for an Artifct is also thanks to genealogists. Why? Because in the world of genealogy, colors have very specific meanings and help keep branches of the family tree straight. Others may use them for fun, but genealogists reminded us of the value of color. 

9. Ditto: Image captions matter.

While we introduced the option to add captions to photos thinking it would tie each more easily to the stories and people written about in the Artifct, genealogists instead started using them to reinforce information in the photos in a citation format. “Bravo,” we say.

Artifcted diploma by @tmacentee

 
 
We love the detail genealogist @tmacentee uses to record important events and accomplishments. Click the image to view the Artifct.

10. Stories can last for generations with Artifcts.

Start with the mundane black and white details, add in the family lore and research-in-progress as the fuel, and you can capture the interest of your most stubborn friends and family. Okay, maybe we knew this going into the creation of Artifcts, but if research-oriented genealogists are willing to adapt their tried-and-true methods to pick up Artifcting to ensure the STORIES of the heirlooms, trees, photos and more live on, then surely the rest of us mere mortals should do the same.  

It can be a bridge too far for many people to enter the world of sophisticated and complex genealogy software. Artifcts is a powerful tool, with a friendly, warm, and easy to use experience layered on top to welcome all. 

How do you use Artifcts? We’d love to hear all of your tips, hacks, and best practices. Please join us on Instagram or Facebook or write to use at Editor@Artifcts.com.

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© 2024 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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