What’s a hoarder?

It’s a person who saves a lot of things that might not make sense or have value to others.

Mom, are you a hoarder?

Way to hit me with a tough question, son! If I’m being honest, I am a hoarder.  Before you jump to the conclusion that I’m ready for a reality TV show, and own 50 cats,  or that my home endangers my safety or that of my children, let me explain.  I have a lot of papers. I have saved awards, report cards, records, certificates and letters.  I have saved notes, photos and postcards.  At nearly 40 years old, my personal legacy is yet to be determined, but my personal paper trail is lengthy and spans 4 metal file cabinets, 8 scrapbooks and 1 Rubbermaid storage bin.

After we relocated and downsized a few years ago, I got rid of a lot of things. (Nearly 2 storage units full.)  I still grapple with  what is necessary versus worthy of tossing, selling or giving away. (I have used the rusty bed springs for 2 projects so far.) What I keep, most people might not value, or consider relevant or useful. But, most of the paper I’ve saved adds valuable insight to my genealogical work.

I don’t want to start a debate about the merits of digitizing records versus hard copies for your records. When it comes to genealogy, I think you should have both. Here’s why- Digital records, photos and files are easy to manipulate and share, but can be lost with a computer crash.  To me, there is a romantic connection that I have with an actual piece of paper.  It’s important to have a digital back up too. I have a lot of papers that most people will never care about.  Yesterday, I was glad that I am a document/ paper hoarder.

I called my old elementary school yesterday.  I wanted to know if they still had a permanent record or file for me, and what information it included. As I’ve researched gifted education for my boys, I wondered if I had IQ test results in a permanent file somewhere, or teacher observations about me as a child that would help me parent my sons better.  The secretary at the elementary school said there was a school district archival building that saved things for 100 years.

My hope surged as I dialed the number and left a message. While on another call, the records department left a message informing me that the district only kept records for 3 years after a student graduated or transferred. There’s no permanent record. There’s no file with report cards and teacher’s comments about Jennifer’s enthusiastic participation in class discussions.  There are no copies of gap-toothed grade school grins. It’s like it never happened except for my own memories and records I’ve kept.  This really bothers me, and reminds me of my personal insignificance.

My 3rd grade report card

My 3rd grade report card

I doubt the general public will care about my report cards.  My progeny might not either… unless it is one more thing that ties us together or adds insight to who I am. (mostly A / B student who loved to read and was “enthusiastic” as noted by nearly every elementary teacher in the comments section.)

People save what they see value in.  They keep things to remember a person, an event, or a feeling.  You might not have kept your report cards or every award or paper recognition someone ever gave you, but I am sure there is at least one collection in your dwelling. After you are gone, and there is only your box of stuff,  what you chose to keep has no value to others unless you share the why you’ve saved something. People need to understand its significance to you.

Genealogy Jen’s Weekly challenge– Label it!  Find something in your home with genealogical significance.  Photograph it.  Write down what you know about the item. (If you’re feeling super motivated, start a digital file and record several items. You can transfer the information and pictures to a digital photo book service, to share as a family history holiday gift.)

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