Attics Anonymous is my name, family history is my game
Updated: Apr 13
What’s in a name? Some of us are good at naming. I’m not… My cat is called Number One, because she took over my life and household the moment she moved in. For my second cat, I could never think of anything better than the name the shelter gave it, Annie.
When I started my business, I had no idea what to name it. A witty friend, upon hearing about my time sifting through dusty boxes that had spent the last 30 years UNTOUCHED in a client's attic, suggested Attics Anonymous. I’d be the place you go when you need help with a problem you can’t face: the stuff in your attic. She had a big attic, too. She knew she had a problem. And she knew she wasn’t alone. My company name was born.
Some people have the name of their business figured out long before they start the work. I didn’t. Technically, the legal entity filed with the state of Pennsylvania is Scouten Consulting, LLC, but I didn’t think that worked for a family history business specializing in publishing books filled with family photos, family stories and lore, random papers, family trees, and more. I filed the dba (doing-business-as) Attics Anonymous about a year later.
Some people like the humor of this name, and say so immediately. Others don’t like it at all. The majority don’t comment. (I’d love to know what you think!)
I acknowledge it’s not an perfect name. But that doesn’t change the reality about the problem many, many of us have with our attics, or whatever space is being hogged by family history materials.
“My house is filled with stuff!”
I speak with people almost every day who tell me about the stuff in their house that they don’t know what to do with. The description of this stuff is not told with grace and poise. It’s not recounted with joy and pleasure. We’re talking about the monster in the attic (or basement, closets, garage) holding us hostage to the sentimental objects we can’t get rid of.
For those of us who have it, we’re either panicked or in denial about it.
If you don’t believe me, try speaking to a couple downsizing from a big house to a retirement community condo. Or asking a young mom who can’t throw away Kindergarten artwork, finger painting, spelling tests, ceramic blobs, and the like. What about old newspapers, magazines, keepsakes, and souvenirs? Any of this sound familiar? And that’s before we even start thinking about all the photographs! Photos in damaged frames that we meant to replace and never did; photos that have yellowed, curled, peeled, or stained; photos with people no one recognizes; digital photos on our phones, computers, some backed up, some not. What a mess! It’s no wonder we put off getting some order in all this.
The problem is, we put it off but don’t totally forget about it. The wintertime sound of mice in the attic reminds us that these valuables have visitors. A flood in the basement soaks the box filled with high school diaries. And because this stuff somehow takes up more room every year, there’s an inevitable argument with your spouse about not having enough room for storage. And that’s where anxiety gets upgraded to panic and frustration.
Family is inevitable, but family history should be fun
The thing is, family history can be really fun. Thinking about good times, remembering loved ones, contemplating about our lives and the future… these are great activities, far more meaningful that a lot of other things we do. So what’s the hold up?
Well, it’s a long list…
Family dynamics can be emotional and confusing.
We are reminded we don’t know as much family history as we think we should.
We don’t know where to start.
Organizing (i.e. filing) isn’t the most fun activity.
We don’t know how to archive materials.
We don’t have a scanner, and don’t understand image size and resolution.
And it goes on... There are a lot of reasons why we get discouraged, but one reason outperforms them all. The biggest winner in the category of “I’m-not-doing-this-because” goes to: And for what/who?
I’ll go to the attic, get all dusty, and for what/who?
I’ll organize these materials, and for what/who?
I’ll scan these photos, and for what/who?
I’ll do some family research, and for what/who?
It’s too much work! And for what/who? Does anyone care? My kids and grand kids sure don’t.
And now we're at the fork in the road. It’s tempting to give up. But this is actually where it gets good and exciting. In fact, it’s the best part. And here’s why:
This is the part where YOU get to decide what your family history will look and sound like. YOU get to choose which photos of you make it and which don’t. YOU get to illustrate the life of your mother/father/mentor/ancestor/loved one. YOU get to define your family’s values and legacy. Not your mom. Not your brother, sister, or some random cousin. YOU.
Who doesn’t want to be in charge of that?
Because even if your kids won’t want to read it today (or even hear about it if they’re teenagers), give them time. For many of us, family history doesn’t become interesting until we form our own families. It doesn’t become relevant until kids become parents and suddenly three generations sit on a couch together.
How do you want to be remembered?
That’s what it’s all about. It’s a serious question. It’s much more serious than the name Attics Anonymous implies. That name works to grab attention and hint at my personality. These are both important in a business name. But it’s what happens next that’s most important.
So what will it be? Will you organize all those photos? Will you tackle those boxes? Will you define your family history for future generations? Will you go as far as writing your memoirs?
I hope the answer is yes. It’s a lot of work, but incredibly rewarding and absolutely within your reach.
And If you need a little help on how to get started, or tips on the different steps, be sure to take a spin through my blog to see if there's anything helpful.