(Yes, hi, it's January 1st, and this may well end up being one of the few times I blog all year, but who knows.)

My in-laws are hoarders. They go around their neighborhood on a roughly weekly basis and buy up anything that they think has any kind of value. Their principal home is full-to-bursting with other people's detritus; their second home is filling up rather more slowly, since they aren't there very much these days. But again, it's other people's stuff taking up space. The prospect of helping my husband and sibs-in-law go through all of this stuff is daunting.

I am a packrat. I have accumulated a lot of stuff as well, but nearly all of it is something tied to me or to my nuclear family: my/their papers, my/their souvenirs, and… my rocks, my fossils, my shells, my techno-findings, my "someday these will make extraordinary assemblage sculptures!" wooden bric-a-brac. However, I have been having some Salient Thoughts about this packratitude, to wit: (1) if I'm going to do some assemblage art, I ought to do it, and do it now; and (2) I do not want to inflict upon my posterity anything resembling the time-consuming awfulness that awaits Mr Mo and his siblings once my in-laws die. Given the winter and my bum shoulder and all, the second activity is easier to manage at the moment.

Accordingly, I have been spending this holiday time in France doing a lot of sorting and scanning and tossing… mostly of loose, binned papers, with occasional forays into scrapbooks and photos and such. I kept a LOT of the kiddies' papers over the years (OMG, such a lot), most of which I suspect they would find of marginal value and interest. I'd already done a bit of triage a few years back, but now I'm being more ruthless, at least physically: I'm still scanning too many things, but I've been keeping only perhaps 5% of the papers themselves (official documents, awards & certificates, letters from friends, anything resembling a journal entry, that sort of thing). My aim is to give each of our children access to The Great Cloud in Which All Things Dwell Eternally (sort of), with maybe a backup USB key. They can delete or save as they wish, but the raw files will endure forever, Amen. That is the theory.

The loose papers have been something of a jumble-y mess: in a given daughter's bin has been, for example, a mini-masterpiece from the Children's School stacked on top of, say, an orientation brochure from X university, followed by a middle school grade report. I have pretty much scanned things as stacked and put each digital batch into an appropriately-labeled folder (along the lines of "Offspring-2-A").

But there is Overlap and there are Intersections. Offspring 1's bin contains a copy of the same program that I already scanned from Offspring 2's bin. One daughter participated, the other attended. Depending on the event and the year and all, Offspring 3 may also have a copy, and of course I probably kept a copy of the same program as well. I mostly just plow ahead, I confess, as there's no easy way to go back through the digital docs at this point, but I don't like the duplicate/triplicate/quadruplicate effort. Finding and copying the Overlaps would be harder.

When I get around to scanning in all the family scrapbook stuff, my ultimate aim will be to select the best photos and include the most interesting parts of the brochures (as appendices?) in some kind of Grand Year-by-Year Family History. It will look and read like a travelogue and a catalog of places and events and … well. We have lived a life of upper-middle-class privilege — one of (dare I say) educated good taste in matters of art and aesthetics and so on. And as simple travelogue and catalog, all this effort points toward a very shallow, self-indulgent, and even sort of snobby self-congratulatory product: Look at us! Look at all the amazing places we've been! Look at all the fun we've had! Look at all the great art we've seen! Look at all the things we've done!

… What I want to try to recapture in all of this, as much as memory will permit, is how these experiences, these excursions, these very privileged activities impacted our lives, made us (hopefully) better people, broadened our views, deepened our sense of connectedness with other people. Does it matter that we went to Virginia Beach (long before 3 was born)? I remember the alligator snapping turtle at the remote WV campground on the way down. I remember the boardwalk through the mangroves — the dark, brackish water, the Spanish moss hanging down… and somewhere, just somewhere in a scrapbook or another bin or even in some poor sad little notebook in which I sporadically kept a journal, there may be more to what I remember, better descriptions of the still air, the surprising lack of mosquitoes, the slight hope of spotting some kind of exotic-to-us bird or maybe an alligator (not sure alligators lived there).

At various points in time, I have been caught up in reliving the past. My current effort, however, is aimed at imposing order and putting the past in its proper place and in better proportion. Getting rid of the excess is part and parcel of (re)claiming what is important about these life experiences; and being able to pass on more than just Bins of Chaos is worth the time. My past, my family's past is my favorite hobby, and that idea — past as hobby — has been very freeing.

And now — to the bins and to the scanner! Away!