Over the course of these three plus years that I’ve been writing about slow downsizing, I’ve certainly mentioned three key tools of my trade: my camera, my scanner, my shredder. Each plays a different, but important, role in my journey to lighten my load. Two of them, the camera and the scanner, are ways of holding on; the shredder is for letting go.
The tool. Because photography has been an ongoing hobby, I own a decent SLR camera, but at a pinch I use my camera phone. I also own a compact point and shoot that takes good quality photos.
Using the tool. Consider both your lighting and your background as you take photos. I often set larger items on a plain wooden or tile floor in daylight. I sometimes place very small items on top of a piece of non-reflective black velvet cloth. With clothes, I use a body form (a gift from an old consigner who was closing up shop). But clothes can also be shot on hangers against a plain background or flat on a surface. For 3D objects, you may want to take photos from different angles.
Uses. I take pictures of objects that have some significance to me but that I am parting with—donating, selling, or discarding if they are in poor condition. These might include vinyl record covers, professional books from different eras of my life, clothing, toys. I also take photos of groups of paper items that I am discarding. For example, as a child, a friend and I had developed an elaborate club, with fictional dues paying members, meeting notes, a club pledge, permissions from fictional parents, lists of badges earned by members. I took a photo of the artifacts of this significant representative of my imaginative childhood.
Organization. Currently, my downsizing photos are loosely organized and distinct from other photos (such as travel photos) and saved in a separate folder. The collection is becoming large and will need another level of organization if I care to access these photos in the future. If you shoot on a phone, you will want to consider downloading your photos to another source.
The tool: I own an HP all-in-one Printer/Scanner (less than $150.) I’ve already burned through one. Apparently, the scanner on these all-in-ones can wear out with use. I’ve been given a tip to turn it off when not in use. The set-up is simple even for the non-techy among us.
Using the tool. My current scanner takes only 8.5 by 11 paper sizes or smaller. For larger, items, I need to use my camera. It has a document feed for one-sided documents (a real boon!) and offers a pdf or jpeg options. I use the jpeg options on photos and art and anything else whose size and shape I want to control. A word of caution—the scanner will slow down if in use too long. Take breaks.
Uses. Obviously, the scanner is limited to any artifact that is flat but not just paper. I use it for anything I want to preserve and for which I don’t currently have a digital file. For me, that is any document I created (or was sent to me) prior to about 2001. (Although I got my first home computer in 1987, many of those earlier files either no longer exist or are not currently readable.) That’s a chunk of my life. I try to be judicious about what I scan. For example, as I’ve indicated in earlier posts, I don’t scan every letter I’ve kept, just a few select ones that say something about the person, me, or the era about which they are writing. I also have not scanned every paper I wrote in college or graduate school. But since multi-page, single-sided papers are easier to scan than letters, which must be hand placed on the scanner glass, I am less discriminating. I have liberally used my scanner to preserve paper artifacts from family members.
Organization. I have created files by person and within my own, by era of life and place (e.g., various schools, colleges I attended).
The tool. Several years ago, while I still had my consulting business, I bought a heavy-grade cross-cut shredder from Staples (on sale!) With care, it has held up well over the years and was well worth the extra I paid for it. It even takes documents with staples. There is something very satisfying, though permanent, about feeding items through the shredder.
Using the tool. No rocket science required here. A little trial and error allows you to find the right pace and numbers of sheets at one time, pausing every 10 minutes or so, so that the shredder does not overheat. Feed a lubricating sheet through the shredder after a couple of bags. You can shred a surprising amount of paper in a short amount of time.
Uses. If the paper you are discarding has nothing private on it, recycle it. But financial and medical records, anything of a private nature, or documents that are proprietary to me (like drafts of my novel) or others (like reports or company data), I shred. I also shred old credit and membership cards and have shredded those very early floppy disks that truly were floppy. At the start of my downsizing efforts, with the low hanging fruit of my consulting business, I did vast amounts of shredding. However, I also saved myself time by using a shredding service. At one point, I had accumulated enough bags of shredding to justify a service that came to my house. Nowadays, when I have a bag or two, I go over to Staples. It’s not cheap but it’s a calculation I’ve made of my time versus my money. Some professional shredding services will also take the harder type of floppy disk and old cassette tapes.
Organization. I accumulate a small pile before shredding. Then, it’s off to the recycling bin. It’s a good idea to make note of what you are shredding so you don’t find yourself madly searching for something that has bit the dust!
Don’t have one of these tools? Add it to your holiday gift wish list!