Monday, August 3, 2020

Sam's Weekly Quarantine Digest #20: August 2, 2020 - The Quaran-Cleaning Edition

Hi everyone,

It can be hard knowing when to let go.  It can even be hard to let go once we know that it's time to.  Early in the quarantine, there seemed to be a lot of momentum around getting rid of unneeded stuff - from Marie-Kondo-style decluttering to downsizing our living spaces, many of us have indulged in that trend, with visions of spending the quarantine in a perfectly decluttered space surrounded only by things that bring us joy, or attempting to squeeze all of our stuff into a smaller space.  Many of you reading this have probably spent at least a weekend or two this year getting rid of unwanted items - as we spend more time in our homes, it's only natural to come across those things and to notice them more than we ever did before.

Personally, I'm a collector - of lots of things.  I form attachments to people and things very quickly, and I cherish my memories.  A little scrap of paper or a ticket stub can bring back a rush of memories for me, and can keep me feeling connected to the many people I've encountered over the years, whether they're still actively in my life or not.  It's very difficult for me to let those things go, even decades later, so I've also been putting a lot of thought into how to preserve those memories while letting go of those physical things.  Over the past year, I've had to make some difficult decisions about which things to keep and which things to part with.  Last summer, my aunt and I spent countless hours cleaning out my grandparents' apartment.  We uncovered thousands of old photos, beautiful trinkets and dishes, souvenirs from dozens of trips around the world - so many things that had been cherished by, touched by, and connected to my grandparents for so many years.  At first, we couldn't bear to throw anything out.  But we also realized that we couldn't simply move every item in that apartment into our various homes.  I'm also in the process of getting ready to move to a house of my own soon - and as it turns out, I've accumulated enough stuff in my parents' basement to easily fill whatever house we end up buying, with no room for the decades of memories yet to come.  And so, on both fronts, the purging began.

Yet even when we decide to purge, or which items to purge, that's only half the battle.  So throw on the Frozen soundtrack, decide to "let it go," and then read on below for tips on how to get rid of the various things you may have come across in your purging adventures, or those yet to come.  If you have questions about anything else you come across (how to safely pack up china and crystal?  where to donate or sell clothing?  whether to sell your old Beanie Babies?), let me know - if I included the full list of learnings here, this email would need its own server to distribute.  The highlights, however, are below.

Previous digests can be found on my blog at  If you have suggestions or would like to stop receiving these emails, just let me know.


Catch-all clean-out services: Junkluggers will remove pretty much anything.  They took away old furniture, fiberglass insulation, planks of wood, assorted lamps and exercise equipment and vacuum cleaners, and all sorts of other stuff.  They were incredibly easy to work with, and their quotes seemed very reasonable for the services they were providing.  If any items can be salvaged or repurposed, Junkluggers will restore or donate it.  They'll recycle everything that can be recycled, and will properly dispose of everything else.  You pay by the truckload (or partial loads), so this service is best for large batches of assorted items.  Use the website to find the contact information for your local Junkluggers franchise and to submit the details of your pickup.  You'll get a quote within a few days, and once you set a date, they'll do a walkthrough to give you a final quote before starting to remove your stuff, so you'll have a chance to decide if the quote matches your expectations before committing.

Document shreddingLegal Shred was an absolute pleasure to work with.  They bring those big, office-size shredding bins to your home, wheel it over to wherever your papers are, load it up, and shred it in the truck outside (you can watch the whole process if you'd like).  They'll even provide you with a HIPAA compliance certificate or other document destruction confirmations if you need or want them.  We had initially priced out two bins' worth and later decided that we needed more than that - they were very flexible and basically said they'd just make as many trips as needed until everything was gone.  And when the day came, they were generous with what they actually charged us for, as compared to what they took away.  This company will also take x-rays, hard drives, and a number of other items that need to be destroyed in special ways.  I can't recommend them highly enough - we found the whole process incredibly easy and smooth, and we'll definitely be repeat customers.

X-rays: Did you know that x-rays contain silver?  You can't just throw them out in your regular trash.  Instead, find a service that will pick them up and recycle them - if you have a large batch (50 lbs or more), some services will even pay you any proceeds from the silver they recover.  BW Recycling will provide you with a shipping label; if you have less than 50 lbs. of x-rays, you'll pay them $35; over 50 lbs, you get free shipping and a cut of the proceeds from the silver.  If you don't meet the 50-lb. threshold, you'd probably be better off using Legal Shred (see above under "document shredding").

Paint: We discovered dozens of old cans of paint from various renovations and repairs over the years, but as it turns out, paint is actually quite difficult to get rid of - your town likely has detailed rules for disposal.  One option for paint and other toxic household substances like rustoleum, bleach, and many others is to make a reservation at your town's recycling or refuse center and drop off the cans at the appointed time.  I made multiple trips there last summer, but there was a limit on the number of cans that could be dropped off at any given time.  Alternatively, for at-home disposal, our town required that the paint be opened, mixed with kitty litter or coffee grounds, and fully dried before leaving the cans out on the curb along with the trash.  I ended up ordering 75 lbs. of kitty litter and a bunch of cheap wooden spoons, and then spent a day feeling like a mad scientist mixing up cans of many-colored sludge on a tarp in the backyard.  Be sure to check your town's website for your local requirements.

Old film, slides, VHS tapes, etc.: We found boxes of 16mm film, 8 mm film, Super 8 film, VHS and VHS-C tapes, slides, and many more forms of old memories.  I tried a few companies before I found Digitize NY, which did a fantastic job with our family treasures.  They took a very long time to complete the order (literally over 6 months), but it was well worth the wait - they came through with a DropBox link to all of the videos, which I was able to transfer to my Google Drive and share with my family.  The quality was exceptional - from 70-year-old film (no exaggeration), I was able to meet my great-grandparents (who I'd only ever seen dogeared black-and-white photos of) in living color, laughing and waving and cavorting on the beach or blowing out birthday candles.  Digitize NY picked up the film from my apartment and dropped it back off at my door as well, even delivering it during the quarantine.  I'll be honest, the pricing for these types of services was shockingly high to me, but for most of us, converting 16mm film to mp4s is not really feasible.  Given that, the thing I valued the most for this one was trust - and Digitize NY, despite the delay, delivered on that front.  My items were kept safe and sound and returned in perfect condition, and the video files were flawless.

Recipes: While cookbooks have largely become a thing of the past for many of us, and it's often easier to just ask Google to deliver you the perfect recipe for a blueberry scone or lamb pappardelle, I'm still in love with good old-fashioned cookbooks, and they're some of my favorite items in my apartment - some of them are like old friends who have been with me since college or even earlier, and some are new ones that celebrate my role models and heroes.  And what more beautiful centerpiece could there be for your bookshelf than a cookbook filled with your own family's recipes?  Every year, my family rotates through my great-grandmother's recipes for each Jewish holiday, and those foods are a huge part of our traditions.  Passover wouldn't be the same without our brisket and our matzah kugel.  As one of the keepers of our family traditions, I feel a sense of responsibility for preserving our memories and ensure that my children and my grandchildren have access to the "secret sauce" of the Fink family holidays, too, even when I'm not around to tell the stories or make the kugel.  I've been collecting our family recipes (many of which are just something along the lines of "add these ingredients to the pan, cook until done") and working on recipe-tizing them into a form that someone who's never made that dish before could follow.  I've found two sites I intend to use (see here and here), and I'm then going to order enough copies to go around the family. 

Photos (digitizing): Most of have hundreds or thousands of photos laying around our houses.  Photo frames haven't quite gone the way of the dinosaurs just yet, but new photos are almost all digital, and that's certainly the easiest way to share them.  You would think we'd have come up with an easy way to digitize old photos by now, but alas! we have not.  There are really two options: Pay a professional (like Digitize NY, mentioned above with respect to old videos), or do it yourself.  Pricing for digitizing photos is very high - usually around $0.50/photo, even with bulk discounts.  That seemed exorbitantly high to me, given the number of photos we had, so I embarked on a year-long quest to digitize our family photos, which is nearly at an end.  You can use a scanner bed or wand scanner to do this, or you just use your home printer, which has been my weapon of choice.  You can generally scan 1-6 photos at once on a standard printer/scanner, and then it will take a few additional seconds to make copies, crop, and label each one.  I've already scanned over 10,000 photos and documents, I'm a few more solid weekends away from completing the cropping-and-labeling phase.  Don't get me wrong, it's a LOT of work - but it's been absolutely worth it to be able to share all of these memories with my family and friends.

Photos (sharing and displaying): Once you've digitized your photos, there are various options for making them enjoyable so that they don't just start collecting virtual dust on your hard drive the same way they were collecting physical dust in your closet or basement.  Google Photos is absolutely incredible - I've been a huge fan from the day it launched in Beta when I worked at Google, and I've used it nearly every day of my life since then.  All you have to do is upload your photos (or sync Google Photos to your Google Drive account or your phone to ensure that new photos get automatically ported in).  Then you can search by keyword (e.g., "happy" or "cookie" or "dog"), place, date, or face (literally, by face - you can see thumbnail photos of everyone who appears a certain number of times in your collection, and you can label them by name if you choose - contributing to birthday books or reunions has never been easier).  You can even ask Google Photos to make a book for you by selecting an occasion/theme and the person you want to spotlight, and it will automatically create a photo book that you can order in a few clicks!  If you'd rather create your own photo books, I've long been a fan of Snapfish (some of you have probably received books from me over the years as gifts, or a copy of my two self-published books of my own nature photos).  If you're looking for formal, photo albums instead, Milk made it simple to create gorgeous, heirloom wedding albums that even impressed my grandmother, and for prices far lower than most other album companies I checked out before I selected Milk.  Be sure to get a 20% code from their website or a friend, and let me know if you want to know the specific options I selected (if nothing else, definitely go for a lay-flat option).  Finally, for storage of all of these newly-digitized photos and videos, I highly recommend looking into Google Drive or Apple iCloud, both of which offer 2TB of cloud storage for $9.99/month.

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