Last September I responded to the question, “Does Blush have a sequel?”

with this blog post, selecting “the box in the basement”

as my next project.

That phrase was a metaphor, of course. I planned to comb through

memorabilia, waiting to hear the gentle siren of the muse.

Β I underestimated the task.

Instead of one purple box, I am looking at this scene:

The purple box has moved to the library. Boxes have multiplied!

The purple box has moved to the library. Boxes have multiplied!

The basement has exploded in boxes also.

This space used to be clean and spare. Now look!

This space used to be clean and spare. Now look!

Do these pictures fill you with revulsion or

make you rub your hands in glee?

When my daughter helped me sort through mountains of boxes getting damp in the cellar under our garage,

we remembered together, laughed, and let go.

She got to choose as an adult what matters to her.

We recycled the rest.

We spent four hours last weekend paring down five damp boses into one dry one.

We spent four hours last weekend paring down five damp boxes into one dry one.

Other times, working alone with moldy old slides and floppy discs, the detritus of at least four generations, however, I have sometimes lost heart.

I hear no muses sweetly calling me to write.

I do remember, however, these words pressed into memory.

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt.” Matthew 6:19

Down in that cellar, I feel and taste the corruption of time, sometimes literally!

Next week, I’ll share how I decided to change metaphors, searching for a way out of the underworld.

Have you saved a little or a lot of memorabilia? Where are you in the process of organizing and distributing those items? What tips can you offer for those who find the task sometimes overwhelming?

Shirley Showalter


  1. Kathleen Pooler on June 24, 2015 at 2:03 pm

    Shirley, my first sense upon looking at the overwhelm! Then I thought, how blessed you are to have so many remnants of your past to sift through.But perhaps looking and letting go while saving and savoring the salvageable items are the rewards of the process. I know you have been pondering this project for quite some time. Maybe doing it in “manageable doses” will lead you to your answer. In the meantime, you have begun the journey.Brava! I wish you much success and gratification as it unfolds for you.

  2. shirleyhs on June 24, 2015 at 2:16 pm

    Thanks for these kind, empathetic words, Kathy. Believe it or not, the doses until the last week were manageable. The real overwhelm came from the discovery that the boxes in the cellar under the garage were getting moldy. That precipitated a crisis of reclaiming not only all of our slides, 1970-1985, but also all the of boxes we were storing for our children. We had to get them out of there.

    With the help of the “kids,” we both averted a worse crisis and whittled away at boxes to store in dryer conditions until they can move them into their own homes.

    It was hard work. Your good wishes mean a lot. Come back next week to learn how the metaphor is changing!

  3. Marian Beaman on June 24, 2015 at 2:37 pm

    We are the house one could dub Memorabilia, Inc. Cliff’s art business is in our home along with his and my separate collections of stuff. I would estimate we have 10x the number of boxes, cabinets that you are dealing with. The art/music studio alone contains a plethora of books, art, and sound equipment that Cliff is loathe to part with just yet.

    We are/were planning to downsize for our elder years and move into a simpler, one-floor plan. (Actually, I don’t know what verb tense to use here.) When we began sorting the Kodak Carousels, two things happened: I found fodder for blog posts along with mold, the result of Ektachrome film processing. We solved the problem of what to do next by retreating to the Smoky Mountains for a breath of fresh air this week.

    Take heart, Marian is worse off than Shirley!

  4. Shirley Hershey Showalter on June 24, 2015 at 3:57 pm

    Ha, you really know how to make a friend feel good, Marian. πŸ™‚ I, of course, couldn’t show everything with two photos. I thought of taking a picture of our garage with a mattress stashed along the wall, a wheelbarrow full of discarded paper, a full set of recycling boxes and three trash containers and four more huge paper bags ordinarily used for yard waste. We also took three car loads to Gift and Thrift. Oy.

    However, I’m sure that you do have me beat with all of Cliff’s projects also and your AMAZING collection of objects and memorabilia you have only shared a fraction of on your blog. I don’t envy your downsizing project.

    So Ektachrome is the culprit on mold?? Is there any way to salvage moldy slides? Here’s a demo that looks promising.

    Let’s challenge each other to develop ways to organize what we want to save and have the courage to throw away most of what we’ve collected. A blog is actually one way to keep a digital record.

    • Marian Beaman on June 24, 2015 at 8:02 pm

      Cliff says go easy with the baby wipes idea shown on the video. He has checked some websites and found recommendations for PEC (Photo Emulsion Cleaner). He will experiment with it when he gets back to Jacksonville. I think Jean has good advice in seeking professional help in your case.

      Yes, blog posts are a fine way to digitize our memorabilia. Now the trick is to fit it all in: sorting through a 37-year accumulation in our home/office space, creating blog posts, and making progress on my memoir. I have unplugged this week but realize I will have to keep a stricter schedule, as you did, to make dreams a reality.

      I look forward to your metaphor for a way out of the underworld next week. I believe we are on a treasure hunt here, Shirley.

  5. Jean on June 24, 2015 at 6:10 pm

    For your old photos and slides you might want to check with APPO.–Association of Professional Photo Organizers. Their website will have names of people in your area that are available to help.

    • Shirley Hershey Showalter on June 24, 2015 at 8:49 pm

      Thanks, Jean. Are you the famous sister of the famous Plain & Fancy blogger? This is excellent advice. I will remember to come back here when I am ready to consult an expert. I’m pretty sure I will do that.

      I also appreciate Cliff and Marian’s warning on the moldy slides. Probably an expert would know what to do.

      Hope you enjoy Magical Memoir Moments. Are you going to write a memoir too?

  6. Merril Smith on June 24, 2015 at 8:18 pm

    I bet you felt good getting some of this stuff organized. I liked reading Marian’s comments, too. I don’t just have boxes, I have boxes and boxes and piles and stacks! I have notes going all the way to my dissertation and subsequent projects. Tons of books, Then there are family photos, and all sorts of other stuff. I know I need to get to it, but. . .Right now it just gets thrown in a room in the basement. πŸ™‚

    • Shirley Hershey Showalter on June 24, 2015 at 8:55 pm

      I vacillate between elation and mild depression as I go through this process, Merill. Sounds like you can understand both. Loved the image of throwing things. I may resort to that too at some point. πŸ™‚

      I am thrilled that Kate and I were able to get through all her things, and Stuart and I followed Anthony’s instructions on what to save. The only things left in the cellar are garden items. That’s a reduction of about 20 boxes.

    • shirleyhs on June 25, 2015 at 7:43 am

      OOPS, Merril. Sorry for misspelling your name above!!

      • Merril Smith on June 25, 2015 at 7:52 am

        People always misspell my first name–that’s why I took my husband’s last name when we married. πŸ˜‰
        Good luck with your project.
        Did I mention I also need to clean out my bedroom closet?

    • shirleyhs on June 25, 2015 at 7:55 am

      And good luck with yours! One closet at a time. πŸ™‚

  7. Melodie Davis on June 25, 2015 at 6:30 am

    I watch my children similar in ages to yours desiring to hew a path of less accumulation than their parents, while still struggling with sentimental appreciation and urges. The reality for them hits when they finally own their own homes and Mom and Dad say, ok, you deal with your stuff now. πŸ™‚ Mold on books and slides is a great motivator.

    • shirleyhs on June 25, 2015 at 7:30 am

      Yes, Melodie, you described our situation exactly. The threat of deterioration hastened a natural progression of one generation taking responsibility for the archive of memorabilia.

      Digital photography makes a big difference in the size of the piles and boxes going forward. But organizing that material isn’t easy either, I find. πŸ™‚

  8. Janet Givens on June 25, 2015 at 10:19 am

    “Do these pictures fill you with revulsion or
    make you rub your hands in glee?”

    I love this phrase, Shirley. In one question, you say so much. How important it is to listen to our bodies; they will speak (our) truth if we just listen.

    I’m curious to learn if you feel disappointed or relieved? Or some of each.

    And, btw, I have “boxes in my basement” too. Don’t we all!

    And there they shall stay. For the time being.

    • shirleyhs on June 25, 2015 at 11:17 am

      Thanks, Janet, for picking up on that sentence and for acknowledging the role of the body in giving us clues to our inner life. Some people evidently love to organize and straighten out messes. The hand rubbing with glee was for them.

      I spent many hours in both the damp basement and the hot sun, with help from Kate and Stuart. Not all of them were happy hours. A few nuggets of forgotten fun and the thought of a clean space got me through the moldy smell and the sheer weight of the past.

      Next week, I’ll tell you what saves me.

  9. Sharon Lippincott on June 25, 2015 at 11:20 am

    You MOVED all that stuff not so long ago? The pictures remind me in a small way of what my husband is dealing with, determined to lose a ton or three rather than paying the freight between here and Austin in the near future. So far, between the 70+ year almost complete collection of Nat’l Geog’s piled in the living room awaiting final disposal — outplacement to loving new homes or the recycling bin — and at least another dozen huge boxes, of sixty-year-old college class notes, 20-year-old mags, etc., he’s shed around one ton. One or two more and we may be good to go.

    Even so, we’ll probably have more than we moved here with 30 years ago when we filled an entire large van, but Westinghouse picked up that tab.

    My stuff? I could fit what really matters to me in a car and be gone tomorrow. There’s only room for one pack rat in a family.

    The biggest problem with sorting through all the stuff you face is TIME. Scanning takes time. Sorting and thinking takes time.

    I send best wishes and wish you much courage.

    • shirleyhs on June 25, 2015 at 11:34 am

      Sharon, the all caps made me laugh — ruefully. YES, we moved that stuff. We did get rid of about 3,000 books and lots of course notes, etc. But we apparently need a 12-Step program to get through all of it.

      I’m impressed with your ability to leave it all behind, and I wish you patience for your pack rat and Godspeed on the journey to a new home in one of our favorite places, Austin, Texas. I’m eager to hear your first impressions.

      Yes, TIME does not like to be under-estimated. I think I got her goat with this job. πŸ™‚

  10. Linda on June 25, 2015 at 11:54 am

    I believe I would be with the people who’d rub their hands with glee. I love sorting through old treasures, even though there comes a time when one has to let some of them go. But, I still think there’s a story or two hiding somewhere in those boxes and I’m looking forward to reading them.

  11. shirleyhs on June 25, 2015 at 12:16 pm

    Linda, I need you! I’ll bet you are so good at sorting and organizing. I imagine that a Hutterite colony has a way of handling an issue like this one communally. Am I right?

    Thanks for the faith in the stories hidden in the boxes. I’m eager to see when, whether, and what jumps out at me.

  12. Joan on June 25, 2015 at 1:23 pm

    I have next to no memorabilia to go through. My parents saved very little and though there are photos there aren’t that many. I do have thousands of slides of my own though and we’ve talked about going through them but so far haven’t had the time.

    I can see how having so much stuff can turn you off. Like anything else worth doing, it takes time. You just never know what you’re going to find.

    • shirleyhs on June 26, 2015 at 9:32 am

      Joan, isn’t it interesting to consider how memoirists differ on how much they have been given and how much they themselves keep or toss? I kept one box of drawings, stories, and drawings from 12 years of school for each child. Kate and I whittled hers down to one much smaller box. She’ll probably do even more paring when she takes her things into her own home.

      I always thought saving all these things was a loving act, and it was. We revisited childhood through it. However, if I had any advice for parents about saving stuff, it would be this: At the end of a school year, save no more than three items to place in a plastic bin impervious to dampness. Make it a ritual with your child and talk about precious memories, good and bad. Then you will still get the overall record of the past and also continuing conversations about what might be valuable in the future and why.

      We’d all be much smarter the second time around, wouldn’t we?

  13. Carrie Ann Lahain on June 25, 2015 at 5:30 pm

    Your boxes remind me a little too much of my own office, garage, spare room and…I could go on. It brings to mind the need to balance holding on to important memories and letting go of what no longer serves. Though “balance” is probably not achievable. It’s more a see-saw. Hold. Release. Hold. Release.

    Thanks for reminding me that I have some releasing to do!
    Carrie Ann

    • shirleyhs on June 26, 2015 at 9:43 am

      Exactly, Carrie. Hold, release. Hold, release. Glad this post helped you consider better ways to do this. I am getting ideas from readers myself that will help me write the next post. Thank you!

      So glad for your visit today. I know we have been bumping into each other as fellow readers and writers. I love what you said about your education on your about page. It all comes back into our work somehow.

      One of my favorite sayings is “nothing is ever wasted.” But it is up to our own efforts to demonstrate the truth of this hard saying.

  14. Tracy Lee Karner on June 25, 2015 at 5:41 pm

    Wow! I think you’re brave, Shirley. In my family, people have intended to sort through things but never do get around to it, and the heirs end up dealing with mountains of stuff that is mostly meaningless to them, or if not meaningless, then very puzzling.

    Having been through the sorting of an estate a couple of times, we decided to downsize and spare our children the burden. It took us just under five years. That included reducing furniture, clothes, everything.

    There are a few sentimental things, the best photos kept in a few albums, a few knickknacks from my grandmother that I crafted into a terrarium, some jewelry. But for all the rest, we focused on the very scripture you quoted, and then ruthlessly parted with (sold, gave away or recycled) everything we hadn’t used in the last 12 months. (Papers, books & such — using means “looking at / re-reading / incorporating into my writing). A year later we did it again; and a year after that, once more.

    It’s a yearly practice I intend to keep up. I’m finding it much easier to do, when there’s less stuff to look through.

    • shirleyhs on June 26, 2015 at 9:47 am

      Tracy, I salute you and hope I can follow in your path. My mother, bless her, has managed to pare down only with the help of her children (and a dumpster or two). She still has about a dozen boxes of stuff that she always intends to get to. πŸ™‚

      The idea of an annual purge that isn’t just dumping stuff but making wise disposition of it (including transposition into words) appeals to me. In theory at least.

      The most encouraging/discouraging thing you said? Five years!! πŸ™‚

  15. Dora Dueck on June 25, 2015 at 6:04 pm

    Wow, sounds like there’s a lot of us of a certain age and certain tasks — such as downsizing and memory review and all that. I’m wondering if any of you have read Marie Kondo’s “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying up”. I’ve got it reserved at the library. Mind you, she’s young and doesn’t have children, but wondering if she has any tips on this kind of sorting.
    Well, it will be fascinating to see what and whether you write out of all this, Shirley. All best!

    • shirleyhs on June 27, 2015 at 11:08 am

      I had not heard of the Marie Kondo book until you told me about it, Dora. Looks great. Here’s the Amazon link for those who might want to explore or buy:

      Yes, this kind of project begins to call people of a certain age. Maybe younger people, following Kondo, might accumulate less and have less of a task when they pass age 65 or so.

  16. Dolores Nice-Siegenthaler on June 25, 2015 at 6:59 pm

    Looking forward to hearing about the gold that gets spun from your boxes.

    • shirleyhs on June 27, 2015 at 11:09 am

      Thanks, Dolores. I’ll keep that optimistic image in my head. Onward!

  17. Karin Larson Krisetya on June 25, 2015 at 8:50 pm

    Being a globe trotter I have had to whittle down and organize my stuff every three years or so. But about 5 years ago I said, ‘Enough of the ruthless tossing away! I want a place to keep my things.’ So I have rented a storage unit. It’s not cheap and the space is small; paying to store these objects of memory reminds me to keep sifting and sorting as I go along. Every few years when I come back to the US, I take a few moments–or rather many long hours–to dip into history. I relish both the giggles and the reflection.

    • shirleyhs on June 27, 2015 at 11:15 am

      Karin, it’s great to have your voice and international perspective here. And thanks for saying that physical items are important enough to make some sacrifices for. That helps balance the need to toss ALMOST everything.

      Something to observe: the giggles, tears, and stories we hope to preserve sometimes surprise us. They change meanings as we age.

  18. Richard Gilbert on June 25, 2015 at 8:57 pm

    I feel your pain, Shirley. I hate such workβ€”but really feel good once I have done it!

    • shirleyhs on June 27, 2015 at 11:16 am

      Thanks, Richard. I’ll keep my eyes on this prize.

  19. Marylin Warner on June 25, 2015 at 11:01 pm

    Depends on the day/year, Shirley. Two years ago, I came across 4 boxes stored in the back of our guest room closet, and after I gave 3 boxes of my aunt’s old shoes and sweaters to Goodwill, the 4th, smaller box was an amazing gift of pictures, books and needlepoint pillow tops.
    However, last year my cousins and I were called about another aunt’s storage unit; we had a month to clear it out or sign and pay for a fine and another full year’s rental. We found an unbelievable mess, including garbage bags with, well…garbage. No more surprises, please.

    • shirleyhs on June 27, 2015 at 11:19 am

      Oh my, Marylin! What a terrible task to impose on someone else. The thought of preventing such an imposition will keep me at my task.

      Glad you found a few heirlooms at least! Thanks for your story.

  20. Elaine Mansfield on June 29, 2015 at 3:00 pm

    I feel discouraged by my pile which is in the upstairs of my house and has become more disorganized each time I’ve rooted around for something. There are a few boxes from my motherI wish she’d sorted and gone through her photos. I don’t want my sons to say that about me, but I can’t seem to take on the task of my husband’s huge (although well sorted) collection of slides and negatives. They need to be digitalized.

    I don’t think my next writing project is in these boxes and photo files, but I don’t know where it is. More likely in the books I’ve neglected the last few years. I love having a focused project in the works. This looking phase needs faith. Calling all Muses… Calling all Muses…

  21. shirleyhs on June 29, 2015 at 3:20 pm

    Elaine, it’s encouraging to know that you are also waiting for the muse to strike again. I think this sorting and reducing instinct of mine, stimulated in part by the mini-crisis of dampness in the cellar, is part procrastination, part necessity, and not nearly clear at all about part miracle.

    For this week’s post, I’m writing about the poem The Woodcarver by the ancient Taoist philosopher, Chuang Tzu.
    You probably know it?

  22. […] I’m visiting the underworld and the way seems long and dark, I need a new […]

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