Mom’s Boxes Part 1: The shed

See that wall of boxes in the back?

When my mom died, in 2001, she left us 33 boxes of scrapbooks. Not 33 scrapbooks; 33 moving boxes full of them.

By scrapbooks I mean albums, binders, and notebooks full of memorabilia — photos, cards, letters, memoirs, and souvenirs. And who knows what else? These are in addition to the scrapbooks and photo albums she created for each of her four kids specifically, which we already have in our possession.

As her executor, guess what I did with them?

Mom's boxes: They aren't a treasure trove of priceless heirlooms. Or are they? Click To Tweet

The excavation team

What I did about Mom’s boxes then

Did I sort through all of Mom’s boxes to decide which of my brothers and I would like to have what? Did I preserve their contents in an archival manner? Did I organize the photos and digitize them? Nooooo…..I did not. It was overwhelming. In my defense, I hadn’t yet heard of NAPO and started my professional organizing career!

My solution to this problem, I confess, was to give my brother, Mike, the one who lives in Albuquerque where I happen to live now too, enough money to build a shed in his back yard to house the scrapbooks. We moved them down from Boise, Idaho, and there they sit 16 years later.

Staging area

What I’m doing about them now

It’s time. Now that I am an APPO-certified photo organizer, I am getting inspired and educated about how to deal with it all, and how to honor and share the 20% I plan to keep.

I know what’s in many of Mom’s boxes. They aren’t a treasure trove of priceless heirlooms. Or are they? I’m thinking it will be 80% crap. To us, that is. Certainly not to my mother! But maybe they contain some genealogy puzzle pieces and photos I’ve never seen. If so, I can only hope they’re still in good shape, since the shed is not climate controlled and doubles as a gardening shed.

Happy Mother’s Day

Mike and I agreed that Mother’s Day was as good a day as any to start this project. I explained that I wanted to first take “before” photos, set up a table in the yard, then excavate a few boxes from the shed and open them up to see what’s inside. To which he replied: “Or, we could check the inventory.” Wait, what? There’s an inventory? Ha ha! Of course there is!

The inventory

Yes, I come by it naturally. The organizing gene is one of the gifts I got from Mom. (Dad’s organized too!) Her father kept meticulous notes about his activities and projects, and recorded every expense down to newspapers, bus fare, and ice cream cones. And, although it was my mom who stored her memorabilia in clearly labeled binders and albums, it was her sister, my aunt George Ann, who boxed them by category, labeled the boxes, and created the inventory.

A challenging process

In case you are wondering, it will be just as challenging for me to get rid of, or decide what to do with, these things as it is for any of my clients who have lost loved ones and had to deal with the stuff they left behind. I can relate, trust me! If I thought it would be easy, wouldn’t I have done it sooner? Fortunately, I am well-equipped with tools and methods to get me through. And I have a willing local sibling to help me.

It has been already, and will be yet, a long process. By now we have opened about half the boxes. Next time I’ll tell you about some of the trash, and some of the treasures, we’ve found so far.


Have you ever been in a similar situation? How did you deal with it?

Please share with us in the comments below!


Mom’s Boxes Part 1: The shed

Mom’s Boxes Part 2: Panning for gold

Mom’s Boxes Part 3: Trip down memory lane

Mom’s Boxes Part 4: Grandma’s Lawn Chairs

Mom’s Boxes Part 5: The Old Man of the Mountains

Mom’s Boxes Part 6: Sometimes Organizers Need Help Too!

Future Mom’s Boxes episodes: The Gangster Hideout, Saving the Photos, Sharing the Photos, ???

Copyright 2017 by Hazel Thornton, Organized For Life.
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  1. Janet Barclay on August 4, 2017 at 11:14 am

    It’s probably good that you didn’t deal with the boxes long ago. I bet there’s a lot of paperwork that might not have seemed important at the time, but is now of great interest due to your increased involvement with genealogy!

    • Hazel Thornton on August 4, 2017 at 12:10 pm

      Theoretically, you are right. And I do counsel clients not to be too hasty in getting rid of things that belonged to a loved one. In fact, though, I had already been researching my own family history for about a decade — the old-school, non-internet way — by the time she died. I have fond memories of the two major genealogy road trips we took together! (Each was a week, or longer, covering multiple states, archives, city halls, cemeteries, etc. One in New England — in the fall, of course! — the other in IN, IL, TN, KY.) And it was her death that put a damper on my genealogy spirits for several years after that. Plus, I’d done about as much as I could with the information available to me. By the time I returned to it, and joined Ancestry, many more vital records had been uploaded to the internet. (Some people think they’re ALL on the internet, but they’re not, by a long shot.)

  2. Maureen DeGarmo on September 4, 2017 at 5:32 pm

    Ooooh! I can’t wait to read the next part of your saga.

    I too, became the keeper of Mom’s Memories. But, in my case, I had a motivation to sort through the papers relatively soon after her death. I grew up in Santa Rosa, California, the home of Charles Schulz. Among her possessions was a sketch of Snoopy, autographed by Mr. Schulz. I was determined to find it, so I was forced to sort the contents of her memory box. Now, Snoopy lives at my brother’s house, nicely framed.

    As for my parent’s photos…that is a different story.

    • Hazel Thornton on September 21, 2017 at 5:51 am

      Good point. Although there have been a few nice surprises, there was nothing I expected to find that made it worth doing sooner.

  3. Seana Turner on September 5, 2017 at 6:38 am

    I just LOVE that you explicitly said that it will be as challenging for you to sort through the memories as it would be for your clients. Sometimes I think clients believe that our spaces are perfect, or what we are somehow immune to the emotional “tug of war” of sorting through boxes of memorabilia. Instead, I believe that organizers are in touch with the emotional roller coaster, and have developed strategies for dealing with it. Therefore, a client doesn’t need to be afraid that he/she will be told to just “throw everything away.” We come to offer some alternatives and be supportive, truly understanding the challenges, and yet knowing progress can be made!

    • Hazel Thornton on September 21, 2017 at 5:49 am

      Yes, we may not despair of the same challenges, because we have tools and experience to fall back on, but we definitely have them!

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