You might have heard of Marie Kondo, who wrote The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. She suggests you only keep things which bring you joy. That may sound a bit impractical, but I decided to follow the programme she created to find out for myself. It was a mammoth job, to put every single aspect of my life in order, and complete all undone tasks. I thought I didn’t have much stuff, but it took three months of being my major project.
The rewards were huge – not only was all my stuff sorted, organised and well-stored, but I learnt significant skills along the way which I believe I will use for the rest of my life. I highly recommend giving it a go.
By far the biggest area for me was organising my memorabilia. I can’t tell you how amazing felt to have sorted and made accessible every photo since the day I was born, every old home video, every newspaper clipping and poster I want to keep. In retrospect, the most challenging thing was working out systems for storage of these items. Kondo doesn’t give precise guidelines for how to do that, so I had to make up some of my own. In case you’d like to have a crack at getting your memorabilia in order, I thought I would share my process. I can see that with my systems in place, it will be much easier to keep incoming photos, videos and other momentoes sorted, without letting them build up to the chaotic mess that I had when I started.
First thing to do is gather all your photos into one place. Digitally that means into some kind of photo-organising software such as iPhoto or Lightroom (which I use). In real life that means you get your albums and boxes of photos and make a pile.
I started with the pre-digital era. I had an album my mum gave me when I turned 18 of photos of my childhood. Looking through it gave me much joy. I could have kept it as it was. But the problem is, my photo albums, when gathered together and stored in a large plastic tub are just too heavy to carry. They lived in our shed, so if I wanted to look at a photo, I’d have to heft the tub off the shelf, at great danger to my back, and then I could only carry one or two albums into the house at a time. The result: I didn’t do it, and never looked at the photos. We don’t have space in our small house to store all our photo albums, so keeping them on a bookshelf in, say, the lounge room, was out of the question. I decided to remake the album in its entirety.
Using an iPhone app, I scanned each photo. I didn’t want to damage the album in case I changed my mind half way through, so I opened up the plastic covering, left the photos in place, and positioned my phone above each one to snap a photo of it. I started at the beginning and worked forward, so that if I sorted by date, the photos would be in order. Then I imported into Lightroom and spent a bit of time with each photo, increasing the contrast, adjusting the colours and orientation. I created a folder on my harddrive called Family Photos, and a subfolder within that called 1974-1989 My Childhood, where I stored all the photos.
For my remaining albums, I decided that I had too many photos – multiple photos of the same event, too many of people I barely remembered. I also had boxes of extraneous photos. I sorted the loose photos, choosing only the best to keep, and chucking the rest. I put the loose photos wil the album that most closely corresponded to that time in my life.
Then I started with the earliest album and removed just the best photos, which I would keep, adding in the loose photos at appropriate spaces. Often I ended up ditching the loose photos when I realised I had a better one in my album from the same event. I made a stack, ordered chronologically, of just my favourites. I took them to Officeworks for scanning – I found using the iPhone app tedious, and later I felt that the quality of the Officeworks scans was much higher. The scanning cost me $0.40 per photo. I did this step in batches – first the era between my childhood until I met Paula, then Paula’s and my early life together, then baby photos once Jesse was born, and so on. To do them all at once would have been too unwieldy and overwhelming.
Once all my photos were tweaked and stored digitally in folders corresponding to that era, I imported them into iPhoto to make Apple photobooks. I don’t think the Apple books are necessarily better than any others, but I had already printed a couple of these books, was happy with the quality, and liked that my new books would be the same size and shape. They would be pleasing sitting together on my shelf.
For most pages I used the 6-photos per page design, which meant that many of my photos were printed quite small. Even in small size, the image jolts the memory and makes me happy, but doesn’t take up too much space. It meant that my entire life, up until now, could fit onto four photobooks.
I stored them on a shelf in my wardrobe. They are small and light and already have been passed around interested visitors, in a way that I would never have done with my old albums. The old albums I threw out, except for that childhood one which Jesse wanted to keep. I’ve put it in the box of stuff I’m keeping for Jesse for when he’s grown up. Whenever I print a photobook of our family life, I print an extra copy for Jesse and add it to his box. As my mum did for me, I’ll give them all to him when he turns eighteen.
Finally, I exported all my Lightroom folders of photos, and stored them on Dropbox, and also on a USB stick and an external harddrive, so I’ve got plenty of back ups. It’s easy to find a photo because there’s not too much to wade through, and they are sorted by era, and in more recent cases, by year.
I got all my old VHS and mini-DV tapes and paid to have them converted to DVD. Then I used the free software Handbrake to rip from DVD to my computer. While Handbrake can rip at full size, I ripped a bit smaller. Like with the photos, I don’t need the highest quality image to enjoy it – I just want the memory. By ripping my videos smaller, it meant I could make a folder of home videos that is small enough to keep on my computer and Dropbox and that USB stick.
I used iMovie to edit the videos into small movies of around 5-15 minutes each, with a theme. I had a lot of videos of Jesse playing with his friends, dancing around wildly, so I created a dance video with clips of them from that time, all mixed up. It’s bright and fun and captures just their funniest moves. I made another video of my circus training days, that includes snippets of training on trapeze, web, cloudswing and more. I made a video of our family life for a particular era, and another video of my extended family. Each video I exported with the filename as YEAR_WHAT IT IS. Eg 2003 A day in the life of Jesse aged 7 weeks. That means that by sorting by title, they will be arranged in chronological order, and it is easy for me to scan through and find a video that would be of interest to show others.
I stored all my edited video clips in a folder called Home Videos.
I had a whole box of my creative writing from when I was a child. Novels and short stories I’ve written over the years. Many were print outs for which I didn’t have a matching digital file. I discovered that one novel I’d written had disappeared altogether. Although every time I’ve moved computers, I’ve been meticulous about transferring across my writing files, and I did have them all in Word orginally, obviously some files have not come across and I didn’t realise at the time. Hence the importance of keeping hard copies of these sorts of things. I was glad I had the print outs. It’s also why I made sure to print photobooks of my favourite photos.
I used Evernote app Scannable to scan in my documents – I found that easy and straightforward. The result was a PDF for each novel. I then loaded the PDF onto Google Drive and opened it with Google Docs – that automatically used OCR software to turn it into an editable document. Some docs came across fantastically and only needed a bit of editing to fix them up. Other, older pieces, that were printed back in the 80s, didn’t come up so well, and needed a lot of work to restore.
I decided to use Lulu to print a single book that contained all my creative writing and novels. Lulu is a print on demand self-publishing platform and the prices per book are very reasonable. The books look incedibly professional. I downloaded a Word template, and pasted in all my stories, making sure to follow the formatting. Using Heading 1 style for the title of each story, I could then generate a table of contents. I wrote a little introdution which describes each story, so that later if I or others want to read them, it’s easy to find one that will appeal in the moment. For the cover of my book, I ripped off Penguin’s classic book cover. I created a file in Photoshop with my book design.
I used the same templates for inside and book cover to create books with different coloured covers and titles, to print other items, such as my old digital journals, and a book I’d written about building my house. After I’d printed them all on Lulu and arranged them on my shelves, I was thrilled with how they looked. A key thing in creating these books was to keep it simple. I just used default templates and didn’t add fancy designs or fonts. All the books I printed have the same cover format. This saved me time and stress.
Over the years I’ve collected many press clippings from newspaper and magazine articles about me and my work. I arranged the best of these into plastic pocked folders, again in roughly chronological order, and included folded versions of my favourite posters and flyers from shows I made. I also kept a handful of posters which I rolled into a tube, which I might use later.
I ended up with three plastic pocket folders of clippings, which I’ve arranged on my shelf, along with a fourth one ready for future clippings, should there be more!
Digitally, I also organised my press clippings and work related memorabilia. For example, I had video clips of showreels for each of my circus acts, and I had videos and photos from various shows that I did. Since I do a lot of public speaking and am often asked to talk about my experiences, I find it’s helpful to have photos that reflect my history, but when the time comes, I can never find what I’m looking for. I’ve now made a single folder called Folio, in which I keep a record of publicity photos for my shows, key newspaper articles, and other achievements that reflect things I often speak about, such as building my house. I included a few photos of me as a child making dolls, and as a goth during my teenage years, to illustrate the way these fed into my creative life later. Again, every file has the year first, followed by a description of what it is. If I sort by title, they are in chronological order. Now if I give a talk about, say building my house, or obstacles I faced becoming a Deaf circus performer, I can grab the relevant images from my folio folder to illustrate my talk.
This digital folio also forms a wonderful record of my achievements to date and gives me much joy. Once I’d compiled everything and sorted by year, it was easy to include key files with my photobooks, so that my new albums also contain images of the shows I was working on at that time and articles in the press that made a difference.
I made a separate photo of Work Videos, again, each one titled with the year first, to put them in chronological order.
The final step was to create a folder called Memorabilia May 2016, and store all my sub folders in it. Once a year or so, I plan to add in new photos, videos, writing and folio items, and then I’ll update the date on the folder name. I’ve backed that up by storing it on Dropbox, an external hard drive, and a pair of USB sticks, each stored in a different physical location. Having put so much work into organising my memorabilia, I’d don’t want to risk losing it!
All my physical items I arranged at the back of my wardrobe shelves. They take up about 1.5 metres of shelf space, and consist of my journals (that’s most of it), my photo books, a copy of each book I’ve had published, the Lulu books I made of my writing, and a few miscellaneous items such as some scrapbooks, a folder of drawings from when I was a child and a book my mum made about our ancestors. Also filed as if it was a book is a small book-sized box, in which I keep a few physical treasures.
Since my wardrobe is deep, I also store other items in shoe boxes in front of my memorabilia. I don’t need to access my memorabilia every day, but now when I want to find something, it’s right there, not buried in a box in my shed, and it’s easy to move the shoe boxes out of the way to find what I’m looking for.
There you have it. Pardon the somewhat tedious descriptions. I wanted to show you HOW it was done. I would have found a guide like this really helpful, back when I was looking at boxes and boxes of stuff which didn’t, as a whole, bring me joy, even though the individual pieces did. Like I said, it took me about 2 months to do this, spending around 20-30 hours a week on the project. I wish I’d done it sooner. But now it’s done, I doubt I will ever let my memorabilia spiral out of control again. My systems should make it easy to maintain and catch up, with a bit of attention once a year or so.
All my creative things are stored and arranged neatly at my studio at the Abbotsford Convent.
All this organisation makes for much less clutter in my brain It’s easy to find things, and I feel lighter and clearer.
When I threw out most of my clothes, I was a little worried that I hadn’t kept enough. I could later see that I had plenty, and could easily pare down further. Here they are, arranged in shoe boxes so they all stand on end. I took these photos when some items were in the wash so you could see the box system.
We really don’t need much stuff to live well. It was amazing to have put my life in order, completely, and caught up all the un-done tasks that have been at the bottom of my to do list for years. I felt I learnt skills that I will apply for the rest of my life, for managing and storing my stuff. It was worth the huge life focus it took. I highly recommend it!