Clutter-free gifts for the genealogists on your list

gifttagcroppedAs a professional organizer, I frequently help clients declutter their physical possessions. Over and over again I’ve seen how difficult it is for most folks to let go of an item they’d received as a gift, even if they don’t use or love it.

This realization has changed the way I give gifts. As I’ve written repeatedly on my organizing blog, I think it’s much kinder to give a gift that doesn’t have a chance to turn into clutter. So I find myself giving these types of gifts:

  • digital gifts (iTunes gift certificate, for example)
  • services (gift certificate for a massage or a float)
  • ephemeral goods (like edibles and cut flowers) and
  • experiences (an outing or meal together)

If you have any genealogy enthusiasts on your list, you’re in luck. There are all sorts of opportunities to give clutter-free gifts to those folks. Here are some ideas.

  • A subscription to an online service, like Ancestry, Fold3 or MyHeritage
  • A membership in a local society or other association, like the NGS or the Southern California Genealogy Society (so they can have access to the webinar archives, my pick for deal of the century)
  • A gift certificate to work with professional genealogist
  • A handwriting analysis of one of their ancestors
  • One or more of my Orderly Roots guides (you could download it for them and email it, or contact me for a special code they can use to download a guide you pay for)
  • Your help with their genealogy (maybe offer to spend a couple of hours on one of their brick walls)
  • Your help decluttering or organizing their research space
  • A trip together to a cemetery or research library
  • Registration for a genealogy conference
  • A donation in their name to a worthy genealogy cause (like Preserve the Pensions or their favorite genealogy society)

If you do want to give a physical item, be sure it’s useful. You could consider a Flip-Pal mobile scanner or a ShotBox portable photo light box.

Before you buy anything, check out the Genealogy Bargains area of the Geneabloggers website to see if there are any special deals to be found!

Illustration by Traci Gardner via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.

What’s your biggest organizing challenge?

When it comes to organizing your genealogy, what’s your biggest challenge? (For me, I think it’s finding the time and using it well.)

I’d love to know what your challenges are, so I’ve created a little poll. Select as many answers as you’d like. Feel free to select Other and fill in your challenge if I haven’t thought of it. Also, feel free to elaborate in the comments. Knowing what you find challenging will help me decide what to write about.

How orderly is your research desk?

cleandeskIf you can’t remember the last time you saw your desktop in your genealogy research space, perhaps it’s time to experience the joy of a clean desk. I know that time to do genealogy research is limited for most people and the last way  you want to spend your precious genealogy time is on cleaning up your desk. But it’s worth it. When you sit down at a clear desk, your mind is more clear and you can be more focused on your research.

But there’s good news: It doesn’t have to be hard or time consuming. Here’s a step-by-step suggestion for creating some order on your desk, swiftly.

  1. Set your timer for 25 minutes.*
  2. Clear everything off your desk (and I mean everything except, perhaps, your computer). Put like things together into rough categories as you go. (For example, put papers together in a pile on the floor near your desk; put office supplies together, etc.) It might helpful to have some bankers’ boxes or plastic totes handy to hold the categories, but the floor will do too.
  3. Put away the items that already have homes. For example, put binders and books where they belong. If something belongs in another room, put it in a box or bin that you’ve marked “Relocate to another room” so you don’t wander away from the room you’re working on. At the end of the session, you can put all that stuff away.
  4. Go through the non-paper items and put back on the desk those things that deserve to take up such prime real estate. Only those things you use every research session should be placed within arms’ reach when you’re sitting at your desk (with the possible exception of items that give you great pleasure to look at). Relocate or discard the other non-paper items that were on the desk.
  5. Take all those papers and put them in a box of some sort. Mark that box “Backlog.” (I use a box similar to this one from IKEA for that purpose and I place that box on a shelf.)
  6. Every time you’re at your desk, set a timer for ten minutes and go through the papers in the backlog, discarding, scanning and/or filing as required. Do this ten minutes a day for as long as it takes to eliminate the backlog. (You might be surprised how few of these short sessions it takes.)
  7. Don’t add to the backlog box. Instead, at the end of each research session take the time (probably less than five minutes) to clear off your desk and put everything away. That way, you’ll start each session fresh.

* When your timer goes off, stop what you’re doing and take a five-minute break. Then set it for another 25 minutes and get back to work, unless you’re done.

8 reasons not to print

8 reasons not to print genealogy documentsWhen I started this blog in 2012, I printed everything. I did a lot of research online, but I would print out the documents I found online and read the printed version. Then I would  file them in my paper filing system after recording the information into my family tree software. Gradually, I’ve stopped that practice. I think the turning point was when I created an electronic filing system that I was confident in. Before that, I was afraid I wouldn’t find the document on my hard drive.

Now, the only paper that goes into file folders are documents that came to me in hard copy form. And even some of those are scanned and discarded.

In an effort to encourage others to consider giving up printing, I’ve come up with a list of eight advantages to going paperless:

  1. It’s less expensive. When you print, you’re using paper, toner (or ink) and electricity. And you’re creating wear and tear on your printer.
  2. It takes up less space. As your paper files (or binders) grow, they take up more space. (And certainly piles of unfiled paper take up a lot of space!)
  3. It’s easier to file. More effort goes into filing a piece of paper into a physical file folder or binder than into an electronic folder.
  4. Electronic documents are easier to find. If you misfile a paper file or leave it in a pile, it can take a lot of effort to find it.
  5. Electronic documents are searchable (usually). With a few keystrokes you can find all your electronic documents that share certain attributes (like a surname).
  6. Electronic files are easier to read. You can zoom, adjust contrast, brighten and do all sorts of things to electronic documents that make them easier to read. And that makes your research easier on your eyes. (I can’t remember the last time I used my lighted magnifier!)
  7. Electronic documents are easily backed up. I recommend using both an external hard drive and a cloud backup.
  8. Electronic files are easier to share. No photocopying or mailing necessary!

Do you have any reasons to add? I’m convinced, but I’d love to hear from anyone who would like to make a case for keeping paper copies of everything!

Photo of printer by Sir Adavis via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License. (Red X added using PicMonkey.)