We’ve already posted about Managing Personal Electronic Records, focusing on backups and archiving, but what about your personal physical archives?

We all have a story to tell, but we tend to document that story in many different forms. Many of our personal records are now digital: email, digital photos, online banking. We live in a time where all but the youngest adults remember writing letters on paper, using film cameras, and having to make a visit to the bank to transfer money to a savings account, but few of us still use those methods. Chances are you’re not holding on to your old bank records from 30 years ago, but what about letters from when your kid was away at camp, or how about the photos from your honeymoon? (If you are holding on to your old bank records, please check out our post on Managing Personal Paper Records: Getting Started on Organization.)

Common items found in personal archives include letters, photo albums, scrapbooks, greeting cards, diplomas and other certificates of achievement, kid’s artwork, and clipped articles from the newspaper, among other random paper that holds sentimental reason or historical significance to us. Often these items have a place when we first decide to keep them: at your desk, on a coffee table, or held by a magnet on the refrigerator. Inevitably, new letters, photos, and artwork come along, and the time comes to make a decision on what to do with what we already have. Many of us relegate these objects to the proverbial shoe box in the closet, though other people meticulously document our lives through scrapbooking and others just throw the majority of it into the recycling bin.

One of the most fascinating aspects of personal archives is seeing what people decide to keep and what they’ve decided to discard. Often time we create accidental personal archives purely through just keeping what we already have because it is easier to just keep something than to decide whether or not to get rid of it. These can be some of the most interesting collections to find again when cleaning out old storage space or moving to a new house. Other times we intentionally put these collection together after a milestone in our life.

Three primary factors should be taken into account when organizing or reorganizing your personal paper archives:
- Context: Typically our own memory can aid us in remember the when, where, and why of these collections, but we often forget the details with time. Other times we discover the personal archives of a relative but have difficulty determining the details. Jotting down a few notes on the back of a photograph or on the outside of a box can help provide context later on. 
- Preservation: We have a few Preservation Tips for Family Records [/blog/preservation-tips-family-records] that provide some advice on how to preserve what you decide to keep. In short, some basic steps made in advance will help to ensure the stability of your personal archives in the years to come.
- Access: How will you be able to look at this stuff again? With proper preservation, photographs and paper seem like a pretty simple answer, as long as you keep them in a handy place. If you want to share any of what you have, digitization is often a useful method for sharing your documents and photographs. Library of Congress has come useful tips on Scanning Your Personal Collections.

The momentos we gather now become the memories of the future.