Deciding What to Keep

When your parents passaway, you may be facing a storage room of items, or an attic or basement full, or just several boxes of photographs. Or perhaps you have these items in your house.

How do you decide what to keep and what to get rid of?



Photographs:  If the photographs are labeled on the back then you have the history of that photograph and you know something about it.  If the photo is not labeled, do you know who the people are in the photo or where it was taken?  If you do, make the note on the back of the photo using a pencil and write close to the edge.  If you do not know the people in the photo, you may be able to ask a relative if they know.  If you have no one to ask, you will need to decide whether or not to keep it.



Documents: When you come upon a box or drawer full of paper documents you need to read through them to figure out what they are.  Do they pertain to the family history?  Are they real estate documents, financial documents, a Will, correspondence from family and friends, etc.?  Once you have figured out what the documents are, you can then decide if they are worth keeping or if you should dispose of them.



Artifacts: What is it?  Is there information about it such as when it was purchased, where it was purchased, how much was paid for it at the time of purchase, was it a present and if so who was it from and what was the occassion?  If it is a collection like in the photograph above, who collected the items and why did they collect them?  Did they keep a record of when each item was acquired?  These are just a few questions you can ask about an item.



Clothing and Textiles: What is it?  What type of fabric or fibers is it made from?  When was it purchased, where was it purchased, how much was paid for it at the time of purchase, was it a present and if so who was it from and what was the occassion?  Is the item clean or badly stained?  Is there any paperwork describing the item?  If it is a dress, is there a photograph with someone wearing that dress?  The same goes for other clothing. Rugs – is there a photograph showing the rug in someone’s house.  Quilts/bedspreads, etc. Is there a story behind the item?  Is there a photograph that shows the item?


When deciding what to keep and what to get rid, you must become a historic researcher.  If you do not know what the item or documents are you can ask the folks at your local historical society, local genealogical society, and/or local museum.

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2 Responses to Deciding What to Keep

  1. Interesting article but where’s the passion? I have been blogging about sorting through the belongings of my late father. I have had the benefit of doing it at my leisure and with some assistance from my mother who still lives in the family home. Had I gone through the process shortly after he died I would have got rid of things, seemingly worthless (both value and sentiment) that with time have taken on a different value. Deciding what to keep should be a process and not a rash decision. (Dad’s Drawers –

    • This article is to get people thinking about what to do with their own items so when the time comes that one passes away their children or other friends and relatives are not left feeling overwhelmed as to what to do with all the “stuff.” And it is information for those who are left in the position of having to deal with the items. If this blog was about one of the museum staff’s or board’s relatives, like yours is about your father, it would undoubtfully be more passionate. As a museum we need to stay neutral and share information. As time goes by and the museum starts blogging about processing items, cleaning items, and researching items, I am sure the humor will start to shine through. And, I am so happy that you are enjoying going through your father’s things, perhaps there is a book in there somewhere. Things do bring back memories, good ones and bad ones. Thank you for stopping by.

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