This past weekend Kim (my wife) and I began going through grandmom’s papers with a focus on the period 1920 to 1938, representing when she entered the family business until her father’s death. During this period they built a large number of homes in Ventnor (next to Atlantic City) NJ, including the first high-rise apartment in Ventnor, the Seafoam. Imagine holding and reading from the leather bound Articles of Incorporation and Corporate Meeting Minutes from 1925 behind this accomplishment. And then came 1929. The minutes continue through foreclosure and corporate dissolution in 1936.
Accompanying this one book are a trove of other documents ranging from the application for initial loans to blueprints to rental records to a slow collapse from unpaid rent leading to evictions, then difficulties in maintaining payments to vendors and then to the banks and all of the legal documents leading to the end. The Waisbains did manage to retain a smaller apartment building (which I now manage) and much of their properties in Paulsboro (at the other side of New Jersey) but Barnet had lost his crown jewel. My grandmother told me “he died of a broken heart” two years later.
Moving across my old office to the files from my father’s I find the original blueprints for his apartment complexes in Philadelphia. I also find stacks of 11 x 17 rent registers meticulously filled out by his office staff for the 500 units. Perhaps I will save one, the rest are repetition. As to the old books of rent receipts, bank records and cancelled checks, file cabinets filled with files from his old vendors of the 1950s through 1980s, and even an old set of Sweets Catalogs, as well as (from my grandmother’s collections) shoe boxes of receipts (neatly labeled from the 1940s through 1995), I feel that I have carried a ton of paper to the dumpster just this past weekend. But each box has to be open, contents reviewed, treasures removed, before disposal. A letter from a congressman responding favorably to my grandmother’s request for help for a nephew to get a job with the government; he is still alive and now a retired judge. An old stock certificate (we now need to check to see if this is the predecessor to IBM or just wall paper.) Newspaper clippings of momentous events. A letter I wrote to grandmom while I was away at college.
My own files include hard copy of every report I ever prepared since starting my practice in 1983, as well as a number of copies of final reports prepared on various projects when I worked for previous employers. What do I save; what do I trash? Blueprints of projects for which I prepared the schedule I can trash. What about the one or five sheets of hand drafted pure logic diagrams (on mylar or vellum) I had prepared? My printed reports and even computer drafted time-scaled diagrams are all in electronic format (and saved on multiple removable hard drives kept in various locations) but I feel that I can part with the hardcopy even if such has an occasional marginal notation or tab. My custom made “weeksheet” planner and time recorder records go back to the 1970s. Tax returns back to when I turned 21. Paid receipts back to when I started my firm in 1983.
Textbooks. My father's Mechanical Engineering Handbook. My grandmother's set of law school textbooks. My own texts from college, graduate, law school, post-graduate (to PhD), continuing education and conferences in multiple professions. An uninterrupted set of National Geographics back to the 1950s. Periodicals and journals from ASCE, AACE, PMI, ABA and other Bar publications, NHBA and many others. Extra copies of CPM in Construction Management 5th and 6th editions (as well as a few of the current 7th edition).
Big and bulky boxes from my Construction CPM Conference; extra T-shirts, sweat-shirts, duffle bags, badge holders, extension cords for vendor setups, vendor affinity ribbons, and signage. Our next conference is January 12-17 in San Diego. I do not intend to ship there; for 2016 we will again be in New Orleans and I can shlep in our van, but does the cost of storage until 2016 exceed for buying new?
What do I save; what do I trash? Yes, I know I have been a bit of a pack rat, perhaps even a hoarder, but maintaining a records retention (that being an affirmative discarding) policy can also be time consuming, and until now I have had ample filing cabinets and shelves for the banker boxes. I have a few weeks to make decisions; I will even retain my old office space for a few weeks beyond my move thus perhaps bringing over questionable “saves” after seeing how the new layout feels. The adventure continues.