Organizing Made Simple…. Or how I lost my mind

So I grew up in a home that was “lived in” “comfortably messy”…. Those were my mom’s words.  Mine would be “near hoarded” “disorganized”….

You see, my mother is organizationally challenged. She is not a hoarder in the sense that we lived in a house where you had to climb over boxes of stuff to get to the kitchen, but my dad did build a lot of outbuildings and garages for his woodworking over the years and never once did they ever get used for woodworking. Oh, he had the tools.  Most still in boxes, but to get to them you had to climb over all the stuff he collected on behalf of mom and she collected on behalf of him. You see, neither of them would take responsibility for their part of the disorganization.  Rather when you ask them about the stuff, he’d say “that’s Momma’s collection.”  and she’d add” No, Daddy, you collect that”.  You see neither wanted to take the blame for the collection, because then they’d have to be the one to get rid of the stuff. 

Me on the other hand, I love wide open spaces!  I can’t stand to have even one extra thing in a room if it’s not necessary.  I do collect nativities. They are in curios. I have three. They are full. So if I get a new one, something old has to go away.  Plain and simple, there is no more room at this inn.

My mother and I do not see eye to eye when it comes to houses.  Mine is sparse. Decorated in mostly family photos.  My mother’s house, is cluttered. Too much for my taste. But hey, she loves it and I don’t have to live there.  So we agree to allow each to live the way they want.

Her’s is disorganized. A box will contain bills, photos of family mixed with photos of kids she babysat in the 70s, combined with the registration for a rabies shot the dog had in 1981. 

Mine is organized. Bills go in the “bill box”. Photos are organized by family. I routinely declutter the non-family ones, so that my kids aren’t trying to figure out which cousin this is, when in actuality it’s a picture of the kid next door-three neighborhoods ago.  Once the dog has on his rabies tag, and the year has passed and I no longer have to show proof he had the shot (and we no longer even have the dog), I feel free to toss not only the registration form, but the dog collar as well.

So when it comes to organizing my genealogy, I am pretty much the same way.  Keep it simple, keep it sparse, keep it done…’

People ask me all the time how do you organize your genealogy. I say, first by surname (alphabetized), then by document type.  They sigh and walk off. It’s like when I was losing weight years ago. Everyone would come up and say, “How are you losing weight?” “Well, I eat lots of fruits and veggies, and lean meat, and I walk 5 miles a day.”  “Sigh…” 

You see, most of the time the way we get from point A to point B isn’t complicated.  We just don’t want to do it.  I was exercising and eating right and losing weight, but they wanted some magic pill.  My method was tried, true and BORING!

Same with organizing your genealogy files.  File by surname (you always know that). Alphabetically (everyone knows that).  Then by type of document (just makes files easier to find). 

Keep in mind if it is organized, the likelihood that someone in your family will show interest and take it on is about 50%.  The likelihood that someone in your family will show interest if its in boxes unorganized drops to about 1%. 

If you can’t find great grandpa’s will (the original, not the photocopy)  in all the clutter, what makes you think your grandchildren are even going to try? If it requires someone to learn a complicated system similar to the Dewey Decimal system to learn, they are more than likely going to toss. 


The other day, Mom was going to bring me Dad’s funeral books. I have my grandparent’s and one uncle’s in special acid proof boxes.  For some reason she still had Dad’s. So she brings me a funeral home bag. Knowing Mom, I opened the bag and found: A graduation invitation to a graduation for a child she babysat. He graduated in 2005, several file folders, three envelopes, and a family history I’d done in 1995 for the family reunion.  Dad’s funeral books weren’t in the bag. I handed it back to her and ask where was the funeral stuff. She looked at the collection of stuff in the bag, and said, “Oh, this isn’t your Dad’s bag any way. It’s Aunt F’s.”  So now I not only have to figure out where she put Dad’s funeral books, but apparently somewhere in her house are Aunt F’s as well.  At least when we go through boxes at her house it’s like a scavenger hunt in a box. You just never know what you’ll find.  Bless her heart as we say here in the Deep South….

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