To declutter your house, you may have to ask yourself hard questions–especially if you’re the family archivist. Is that old apron or state fair ribbon just clutter or is it history? If it’s a nice piece of history but you can’t keep it, where can you donate it? Professional archivist Melissa Barker takes on these important questions for genealogists.

Before you declutter your house, ask yourself these 3 questions.

1. Will this item help to tell my ancestor’s story?

So many of our ancestor’s stories have been lost to time or by people throwing things away. Many of the artifacts and memorabilia that we own help to tell our ancestor’s story. A first place ribbon from the State Fair where Grandma won for her apple pie recipe tells a story. Because Grandma won a ribbon, her pie was the best of all the pies submitted and she was a great cook! A great idea would be to keep the ribbon and write up a story about how she won the ribbon so that your descendants will have this story. A bonus would be if you have the actual apple pie recipe to put with the ribbon and story. If the item helps to tell your ancestor’s story, maybe it should be kept and preserved.

declutter your house


Before tossing those genealogical records, photographs, or artifacts, consider contacting an archive where the family is from and see if they would be interested in the items. Many of our libraries, historical societies, genealogical societies, archives, and museums accept records donations to add to their collections. This way, if a researcher contacts or visits the archive and is researching the same surnames you are, they could benefit from the items you donate. Make sure to call ahead and find out if the archive takes donations and set a time to take your items to them. (TIP: Click here to see how to use ArchiveGrid to search for repositories in specific locations.)

declutter your house


Many times we don’t know the value of what we have in our genealogical collections. The value could be monetary and what we own could be worth money. It’s always a good idea to get objects and memorabilia appraised by an expert if you think they could have a monetary value. But maybe your items have historical value and if you toss these items, you would be throwing away history. Many genealogists have one-of-a-kind documents and artifacts that help to tell the story of an historical event. That event could have taken place at the local level, state level, or even the national level. Checking into the monetary value and historical value of an item before tossing it just might change your mind!

So, if you are considering cleaning out that closet and tossing items that you don’t think mean anything to anyone and are just taking up space, ask yourself these questions and make sure you are making the right decision.

Declutter your house by repurposing old family heirlooms

You can often transform the family “gems” from your piles or boxes of clutter into meaningful items to use or display. Get inspired by these upcycled heirloom projects:

A New Heritage Quilt from Old Family Fabrics

An Old Earring Gets New Life as a Wearable Conversation Piece

Create a Heritage Scrapbook

Melissa Barker

Melissa Barker

The Archive Lady

Melissa Barker is a Certified Archives Records Manager, the Houston County, Tennessee Archivist and author of the popular blog A Genealogist in the Archives and bi-weekly advice column The Archive Lady. She has been researching her own family history for the past 27 years.

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