15 Jan

If you have been reading my posts, you will note that I often approach downsizing as a solitary activity rather than as one I do with my husband John. Of course, we have many joint possessions and others we both enjoy and have opinions about, including our furniture, books, records and artwork. But so much of our downsizing activity, especially that related to our paper archives and our own photographs, is personal. 

Today, however, I would like to talk about a downsizing project we did together as it concerned us both—our wedding memorabilia. This post illustrates a way of pruning materials related to an event. If you are someone who tossed everything but your photos, or if you organized your memorabilia years ago, read no more. 

John and I were married more than 32 years ago. We hired a wedding photographer and eventually put together our own album. Everything else went into two boxes: 1) duplicate photos and all the extra photos we didn’t use in the album, including those taken by our guests, and 2) the cards, receipts, lists, arrangement memos, honeymoon information, etc. plus a shoe box with fabric from my dress, some ribbon, a champagne cork, and a paper wedding napkin. 

We set a date and sat down to sort through the contents of box 2. Since by now we were both old hands at downsizing, we easily came up with a scheme: toss (mostly recycle), scan and toss, repurpose, scan and repurpose, keep. Here’s are the decisions we made by these categories: 

TOSS: Most in this category were no brainers: all single receipts (rather than whole budgets); all duplicates, such as registry lists and invitations; the general menu from the rehearsal dinner; early notes about the order of events; memos to vendors; a champagne cork (one champagne cork looks much like another); the disintegrated pressed flowers from my bouquet (sadly—I wish I’d done a better job of preserving this.) 

SCAN AND TOSS: Since I’m all about life’s narratives, I put in order information that told the story of the setting up our wedding—about the space, the food, the band, the music, the gifts we registered for, the ring, a sketch of my dress (made by my sister, the overall costs. All told it wasn’t much more than a couple of dozen pieces of paper. In addition, I compiled lists of the guests and lists of who gave which present and then tossed the originals, which were handwritten.


REPURPOSE: For collage or scrapbook pages, I saved the little samples of wrapping paper from our gifts, information from our brief honeymoon (maps, brochures—I can’t seem to anywhere without collecting these), catalogs from Crate and Barrell (one of two places where we had a gift registry), some of the “tossed” material (see above). In addition, I can reuse the ribbon and the two silk appliqued flowers, similar to the ones on my wedding cape. (Some years ago, I repurposed all the ribbon bows that came on the presents to use on gifts I gave.)

SCAN AND REPURPOSE: We wanted the memory of cards from friends and non-immediate family, without the physical objects. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I cut off the card fronts and give them away to someone (or some organization, such as a nursing home) that reuses them. 

KEEP: Since we had the album and newly scanned items, we decided to keep very little: just cards from immediate family members plus a few we particularly liked, the order of events, the remarks of our justice of the peace, our vows, and a brochure for the bed and breakfast where we stayed on our first honeymoon. (The real honeymoon occurred the following summer, and we each have diaries and photos from that occasion, plus a scrapbook page I created more recently from memorabilia from that trip.) Note: I did not get married in white, but rather in a turquoise silk knee-length dress with an appliqued purple cape, both made by my fashion designer sister. Alas, the dress doesn’t fit me well anymore and seems dated, as gorgeous as it is. The cape could still be worn. For sentimental reasons, I will keep both. 

The initial sorting exercise for this seminal occasion took just over an hour. If an item was important to one person, we kept it, generally to be scanned. We are equally sentimental people and were both trying to be as hard-nosed as we could, with the goal of keeping very few actual items. We did not argue; we spent little time reading cards or reviewing song lists. There will be time for that later. As the one whose computer is connected to the scanner, I spent additional time organizing and scanning the items we designated for scanning and creating lists from original handwritten lists. These tasks took me about two hours. 

As for the photos, if the duplicates (most of which are posed shots) have no obvious homes, they can be tossed, as hard as it is to throw away a perfectly good photograph. We will need to consider the other shots in light of what is in the main album and the auxiliary album that has photos of pre-wedding events, such as the shower the female relatives from John’s family gave me. If the photos add new information or are particularly well-composed, we could add then to the original albums, or we could scan then and keep then as digital photos. Otherwise, these also can be tossed. 

There is no right or wrong way to tackle a specific aspect of downsizing, but here are a few takeaways from our experience tackling a mostly paper-based piece from our lives. 

  • CHOOSE A TIME: For joint downsizing decisions, set up a mutually convenient time (or times) for a specific project and stick to it. But don’t try to do too much at one sitting. Schedule a second date if necessary, as we need to do for the extra photographs.
  • SET GOALS: Decide on your goals for the project (i.e., what would you like to have or know at the end of your allotted time).
  • DETERMINE AN APPROACH, either by applying a previous one that worked for you or coming up with something more specific to the project at hand.
  • USE YOUR TIME WISELY: Resist reading every card or letter if that isn’t the goal of your project. But reminiscing out loud is one of the joys of slow downsizing. If you can’t decide about a particular item, put it aside for the time being and come back to it.
  • BE KIND TO YOURSELF AND YOUR DOWNSIZING PARTNER: Be mindful if the material you are handling triggers emotions, for example, about a deceased loved one. My mother, who lived 3000 miles away, was not able to attend our wedding because of my father’s health. It remains a source of sadness for me and also makes it difficult for me to discard items that come from her (even if scanned).
  • BE RESPECTFUL of the other person’s needs without necessarily giving in to each whim, especially if one partner has trouble letting go. Ask, “What does this piece mean to you?” Sometimes just being allowed to air a response or a memory is sufficient. Suggest an alternative—scanning, photographs, a summary, a story, a scrapbook page.
  • CLARIFY NEXT STEPS, who is responsible for those steps, and what will happen with the items you are keeping.
  • PAT YOURSELF ON THE BACK! You have surmounted another hurdle!
* The email will not be published on the website.