Thursday, May 17, 2018

Thinning Out Those Paper Files and Clutter

Yes, once upon a time I had a home office. I really did! With file cabinets, shelving units for the many binders of family ephemera and copies of records I had meticulously copied, printed, or purchased.

Shelves were pretty much filled with books on genealogy and historical data pertaining to records that when I first began doing this, were available only through someone's efforts to catalog them in book form, or you had to travel to far and exotic courthouses and dig through musty old records to locate!

File cabinets were, mweh! file cabinets. I did have them fairly neatly organized. They included work sheets, notes, things scribbled here and there. Long, hand written letters from distant family members who tried to fill me in on their side of the family. Requests for "free" research, after all, I was a cousin! Albeit an 8th cousin 4 times removed, or some such non-sense. (Believe me, I learned early on, if you want to do research for you immediate family for free that's one thing. But for everyone, there's no income in that!)

And then there were the cupboards. Oh yes. My cupboards. Those half hearted places where I neatly stacked blank census forms, family worksheets, file folders waiting to be filled, boxes of archival sleeves, and reams of copy paper for my printer, along with extra printing cartridges, etc.

It all looked something like this:
Yes, I know! Thank the Lord for those cabinet doors! It hid a wealth of office sin!

Oddly enough it worked fine for me for nearly twenty years! It really did!

And then, this past December, I was offered something I could not turn down. With my husband nearing the big 7-0, and me just ten years behind, we began contemplating on finally finding a permanent home. We've traveled, and we've owned homes. But we never stayed put in one place for too long, until the last 10 years. And we were also the quintessential "hippie's", in that we always decided to let tomorrow take care of itself. And now here we are. He is on Social Security and I am looking at retirement age fast approaching without any retirement and praying Social Security will still be there when I reach it! 

Thankfully, a blessing was given to us this past December. My sister purchased an historic railroad depot, that sits way out in the country. (I mean ISOLATED!) And she intends to restore it to its original condition. The railroad has long since been gone (1932 saw the last of the tracks torn up.) But the 12,000+ square foot building is still in very good condition. And it sits in my family's historical home town. When I say hometown, there isn't a town there any more. A few families still live there, but the little community is mostly comprised of summer and hunting camps. The population is less than 400. There are no convenience stores. The closest one is 10 miles away. The closest grocery store 30+ miles away. No cell phone towers, so no cell service. No cable tv. Only antennae available. Or satellite. Some people do have DSL service for Internet and I am told that may be available if there's a "slot" in the main phone box for it. Otherwise, we are looking at satellite service, or dial-up (horrors!).

But my sister wanted the building for our family. What a great place for family reunions and retreats! (Her husband's maternal family is also from the tiny hamlet.) I was in seventh heaven when I found out she purchased the place! But what came next stunned me! (And it still does!) She offered me a home right beside the depot if we, my husband and I, would consider being caretakers of the building. Someone there to prevent vandalism. And to offer tours once the restoration is completed. A home for life! Yes, you read that right.

There was a small caretaker cottage there when offered. Unfortunately in February we found out the foundation, floor joists, and half way up the sides the framing was rotten. It could not be salvaged. Alas, the little red cottage had to be torn down. But the plan is to build a somewhat tiny home for us to live in where the cottage once stood. 768 square feet to be exact. Really, plenty enough room for 2 old coots to live! But we are downsizing from our 1,000+ square feet to move in there. And my office has had to be downsized as well. And I've been diligent to get that done. 

While the home won't be finished yet, we are going to go ahead and move over the end of June, and live in a 32-foot camper trailer until the house is completed. (Uh, yeah!) Our belongings will be stored in the storage (old freight room) room at the depot until the house is completed.

So, I had to take a serious look at what I wanted to keep, and what I could toss. It came down to practicality.

Original documents were placed in archival sleeves and placed in binders. I originally had 18 (6-inch) binders (yeah I know!). which contained a ton of non-document material, as well as official documents (wedding records, birth certificates, death certificates, photographs, etc.). All original documents and photographs I passed on to my Dad after digitizing them. Exit 4 binders immediately. I removed non-official documentation and digitized that. Exit 10 more binders! I am now down to only 4, and they are broken down into both sides of my family. 2 for my Mother's side of the family and 2 for my Dad's (one for each of their lines, their paternal and maternal lines.) 

And how did I digitize my documents and papers? Well, it took a little while, but it was really a lot easier than you might think!
This is ALL I used. Yep. Honestly. No expensive companies. No expensive equipment. I simply used what I already had. Large legal sized papers were photographed with a high resolution using my digital camera. Regular sized documents, notes, letters, and photographs, were photographed with my cell phone, again with a high resolution and at original size. No cropping needed. I simply then uploaded everything to my laptop, placing it all in organized folders and sub-folders as I went. It really didn't take as long as I thought it would!

And as for protection? 

These little babies are what I use. You notice the protective metal case this one is in?  And the USB thumb drive folds and nestles inside a pocket of foam for a safe ride. You will also note that this is a 2TB thumb drive. Way more than I needed, but I didn't know how much more I might need in the future!

I have 2 of these. One is kept in my "go-bag", my emergency to go bag. It holds my laptop when not in use, as well as passport, ID, and a single change of clothing and travel size toiletries for hubby and I. It is literally an emergency bag to grab if the house were on fire and we needed to escape in a hurry. (I've always had a fear of being caught naked or wrapped in a sheet or nighty if needed to evacuate in a hurry!) The second is kept in a fire proof safe. Both are backed up on the first day of each month. They also contain mirror images of my laptop in case of malfunction. (Yeah, I've been down that road too many times!) I am still suspicious of the Cloud. Call me too old to change that any time soon. And while I have used online storage in the past, and was glad to have it when needed, found it an expense that is easily remedied this way now. And yes, I may eventually opt for a third thumb drive to store over in the depot when we get moved, away from the house. Again, just to err on the side of caution.

So, what does my office look like now? Well, my bookshelves are a little less bare in that I went from 18 (6-inch) binders, down to only 4. But my books? My precious books? I still have them. I won't part with them, unless it is to donate them eventually to the local genealogy society. They may find use for them. I have garnered the use that I can from them. But I just can't bring myself to part with them just yet. They are currently packed in boxes, awaiting our move. With so little space, bookcases will fill both our living and sleeping space!

But my office? Well, there aren't any file cabinets now. I do still have a printer. A very simple little printer. It can connect to our telephone line and be used as a fax as well, when we move and no longer will have need of cell phones! (No cell service, remember?) It can easily sit on a side table in the living room, tucked into a corner. 

As for my office? It's really quite simple now. Would you like to see it?

This is it! You can see, I've opted for a small HP laptop. (You can see I am working on this particular post as I photographed this!) It's still new enough that I haven't even removed the stickers on it! (Yes, there was yet another viral attack that decimated the old laptop! But I was ready! Even though the old could not be repaired. Or so the repairman said. Hubby has since repaired it himself and uses it to play games on.)

What's that you say? Where's the office? Well, this is it. I can sit quietly in the living room with this on my lap. Or I can sit at the kitchen table.  I can carry it over to the Depot when I want. Or to McDonald's if I want. (They have great Wi-Fi. Or to the library while doing research. Again, great Wi-Fi! Although McDonald's will be an hour away, and the library 40 minutes away!) My options are limitless!

It's been a little like tossing away pieces of my soul at times as I got rid of the paper clutter. Some of those papers I've had for over 20 years!  But they live on inside these thumb drives and my laptop. I need only make a couple of clicks and I can see anything I want. 

And you know what, I just might like that a little better after all! No more pouring through binders to find just the right binder and then searching through 6-inches of documents to get to the right one! This technology thing, you know, I think it might be okay after all!  I kind of like the freedom to have my "office" anywhere I want it to be! 

That's alright with me!

(Hey, if you'd like a thumb drive like mine, Amazon has them on sale right now! Just check out below! And for about $2 you can purchase a 2-year replacement warranty!)

1 comment:

Jenny said...

How exciting for you & how kind of your sister! What fun it will be to show off the depot.

With no internet what will happen to your blog?

We digitize everything we can. We always keep at least 3 digital copies as external hard-drive, thumb drives & some things are online. When my mother passed awy in 2006 she left me 6 full boxes of old photographs. Some dating back to before the civil War. All passed down in our family. The last few years of her life I often sat with her going through them. making sure they were all labeled. After her death I sorted them all into family groups, scanned every single picture then divided them again & shipped most of them out to family members. I do have the scanned copies though & kept many of my favorites. It is so hard ot let go of some things.