What Sparks Archives Joy

While spending a lot of time at home, many of you might be cleaning out old closets, basements, and attics and exploring hidden away boxes full of forgotten treasures. The popular KonMari cleaning method famously asks us to examine our possessions to keep only what “sparks joy” and discard what does not.

Box full of letters and documents
Donation of WWII materials

While you are cleaning and considering the joy found in collegiate mementos and a multitude of old textbooks and photographs, we ask you to consider: What sparks joy for archives?

In other words, before you pack it up or throw it away, think about whether there might be value in it for archival research. Did you have a family member who served in the military? A relative who pioneered in a career field? Did you attend Grand Valley State University? Did you collect ephemeral materials related to West Michigan? All of those – and many others! – might be reasons to consider donating and spreading the joy.

Joyful Findings

Archivists love to receive donations of people’s stories. What items in your home tell stories about your family? Consider donating:

  • Old family photographs and scrapbooks (especially if people and places are identified and/or dated)
  • Letters (especially if both sides of the correspondence are present!)
  • Grand Valley State University related items (event flyers, posters, memorabilia, etc.)
  • Old or rare book series

Remember, archivists cannot ascribe monetary value to your items, so if you are looking to have old things valued prior to donation, check with an appraiser.

What to Discard

Well, this can be a more complicated question to answer, and when in doubt consider consulting with an archivist first. Some examples include:

  • Old newspapers: Many of these are available online and the archives are kept by the paper publisher.
  • GVSU course catalogs and yearbooks (Most archives will already have multiple copies of these).
  • Textbooks
  • Items that are in very poor condition. If an item has mold, for example, it can easily contaminate nearby items which makes it risky for archives to keep.

It Still Sparks Joy…For You

Many items might fall into the category of “donate later”. Some items still hold sentimental value and you may not wish to part with them right now. And that’s totally fine! To keep your valued items in the best condition for the future – whether that’s in your family or in an archive – consider the following:

  • What’s it kept in? Items that are crammed together risk being damaged. Similarly, leaving tons of space in a box may cause paper items to fold and bend at strange angles. Think about the size of the storage container, how much other stuff surrounds it, and what the container is made of. Tightly closed plastic containers, for example, can trap moisture and gasses inside, causing photographs to stick together or items to become discolored or fragile.
  • How is that container being stored? Basements and attics, while common storage locations, can be more susceptible to pests and mildew. Make sure valued treasures aren’t kept in damp locations, and keep them off the floor!
  • Is there information that explains the value? You may have a wonderful family photo album, but you might be the only one who knows who everyone in the pictures are! Consider writing labels on the back of the photographs or in margins of scrapbooks to help future family members (or archivists!) identify who’s who and why this memory was important to you.
  • Does it require special technology to view or use properly? Technology becomes outdated very quickly! Are there backup copies available? Contact an archivist for recommendations about how to digitize or preserve your materials.

For more about the KonMari method of cleaning, visit: https://konmari.com/

For more information about donating to Special Collections and University Archives, email collections@gvsu.edu.