A different kind of December: Say ‘no’ to more ‘stuff’ — honor what you already have

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Sales and Marketing Director

Editor’s note: I can break the rules. I’m off-topic before I begin. Just give me second, ok? If you are ever bored and have time to waste, Google “stupid gifts for pets.” Better yet, do an image search. You’re welcome in advance, and this will actually make sense if you read the article below. Enjoy!

It’s ironic that as the sales and marketing director of a company I helped create, I originally had to sell myself on my own product line.

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve always thought the concepts we champion (telling the stories behind houses and heirlooms) are fascinating.  After all, research, writing and crafting stories have been pillars of my professional life for the past 15 years.

consumerism, consumer culture, houstory, heirloom registry, shopping, holidays

Our products (The Home History Book™ and The Heirloom Registry™) are steeped in story, and I’ve always been sold on these ideas. How can you not appreciate learning the background of a unique relic, the chair grandma used to sit in every night after dinner, a grandfather clock — or the intimate details of a 1920s Craftsman home?

Concept was never the problem. No, my issue was much more tangible.

Simply put, I didn’t want to put more “stuff” into the world. Now, stuff is a broad term, but in my mind it has a reasonably clear meaning: items that hold little or no value in terms of practical use, sentimentality or enduring entertainment.

If an item falls into one of these three categories, I don’t believe it to be just “stuff.” Let’s break this down.

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Practical Use

These are items you genuinely can’t live without, and probably use more than a couple times per month.  They may include everything from a vacuum cleaner to a pair of shoes to a computer and all sorts of things in between.

Sentimentality

Admittedly, this is in the Houstory wheelhouse. These include items that you are holding on to simply because they inspire and move you. Family keepsakes, photos and heirlooms would fall into this category, of course.

Enduring Entertainment

I’m not the “stuff police,” ok? If you want to buy a flat screen TV, or spend money on a new camera, book or electric slippers, more power to you. I would simply ask that you consider the item’s true value to your life before pulling the trigger. Will you still be using these items in five years, or will they simply be discarded in a landfill  in a few months?

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I realize I run the risk of sounding preachy, but I’m not trying to. I just think if I’m going to make such a declaration, I need to define my terms.

Heck, I’m writing this from a laptop, and my home is filled with things – including stuff. Did I truly need that box of Dog Cigars (see “stupid gifts for pets” reference above)? No. That’s a poor example, actually. I don’t even own a dog.

However, I think it’s safe to say most everyone has stuff, including me.

Which brings me back to selling myself on Houstory. Before I invested time, money and started down this entrepreneurial path, I needed our products to meet this self-imposed “anti-stuff” criterion.

In particular, The Home History Book – a substantial coffee table book with 244 pages and an engraved brass plate – gave me pause for introspection. Being built to last, which the book certainly is, requires effort and natural resources. While we did our level best to build the book responsibly (see “Built Responsibly” link at bottom of home page), we also wanted to ensure it would be something that provides long-term value to its owners.

Happily, in the end, not only did I conclude we are not just selling stuff, we are actually helping people to transform their items from being “stuff” into valued belongings.

We believe the more you know about your possessions– whether they are houses or heirlooms – the more likely you are to hold on to them, and not just demolish or discard and replace them with newer, shinier stuff.

family history, conservation, preservation, houstory, heirloom registry

Why are most historic homes valuable? Quality construction? Perhaps. Location? Maybe. Or is it history? Every day, homes are saved from demolition because of the stories behind them.

What about family heirlooms?  Picture two identical grandfather clocks, side-by-side. However, you know that one clock was purchased by your great-grandfather as a wedding gift for your great-grandmother.  You know nothing of the other clock. Which one would you probably keep and maintain?

Undoubtedly, historical preservation leads to conservation.

Sadly, the term conservation has become highly politicized, divisive and attributed to more liberal-leaning factions. I’m not quite sure why, as the term “CONSERVative” is derived from the very same root word.

In reality, I think all parties are on the same page: We want to leave things better than we found them for future generations. If you do feel this way – and we think you do – do something about it.

Which brings us to our “No More Stuff/Preserve. Conserve.” campaign this month. Here are some things you can do right now.

houstory, heirloom registry, home history book, shopping, holidays

Preserve. Conserve.  And say “no” to “more stuff.”

Do it differently this December.

 

Let us know what you think. Do you agree with our campaign? Do you think we are full of hot air? Do you have too much stuff? Do you think buying stuff  — as we’ve defined it — is even a problem? Do you own Dog Cigars? We want to hear from you. Let’s get this conversation started.

Top 10 Web sites for old house ‘DIYers’

This week, we borrow content from another house-themed blog — “The Craftsman: Writings for the Historic Home.” Author Scott Austin Sidler is the owner of Austin Home Restorations in Orlando, Fla.,

He recently put together a very nice piece on the “Best Web sites for Old House DIYers.” Even if you don’t own an old house, we recommend you take a look, as you can apply a lot of the themes that are touched on to any home.

Scott, who founded his company in 2010, has been around old houses for most of his life. He developed a fascination with them when his parents purchased a 1759 Colonial in downstate New York during his childhood.

As he states on his Web site, “The hand-hewn timbers, antique glass and overall sense of history intrigued him. The grandson of a painter, he began his first restoration in 2001 with a 1918 townhouse in Astoria, NY.”

Now, he works to preserve the historic homes of Central Florida. Thank you for the article, Scott!

We’d love to know your thoughts! Let us know — do you have other sites you’d add to this list?

If you have knowledge in a topic our readers may be interested in — such as historical preservation, home genealogy or homes in general — and are interested in writing a guest column for us, please let us know! Contact us at info@homehistorybook.com.

Yes, it’s true: Not every house has a happy story to tell

By Rick Read — Special to the Houstory Hearth

Last week, genealogist Rick Read shared his insight into how to effectively take “then” and “now” photos of your house using an older home in Bellingham, Wash. as the example. This week, he returns to tell us about the heartbreaking story behind those photos.

Rick has nearly 40 years of experience as an award-winning TV producer. He is also an avid still photographer and genealogist and was, for five years, the research aide for theWhatcom Genealogical Society (Washington state).

My previous blog entry focused on creating a “then” and “now” display of old and recent photos of your home.  What I did not talk about in that article was why the original “then” photo was taken in the first place.

Credit: 1995.0001.019938 Photo by Jack Carver Courtesy: Whatcom Museum

Jeff Jewell, Whatcom Museum photo historian (Bellingham, Wash.), asked me to research the photo, taken by veteran Bellingham Herald photographer Jack Carver. The photo was catalogued into the museum collection with a one-sentence description that included a surname (that I will not reveal for privacy reasons); a time frame (“spring 1958”); and a word (“murder”).

Not much to go on. So, how to proceed? With an approximate date, I could have simply looked through three months of newspaper microfilm to find the event. My experience has been that, depending on the magnitude of the event you’re researching, it can take up to an hour to scan through a month’s worth of newspapers. OK, so I could have found the article in about three hours. Fortunately, there was a quicker method.

The surname mentioned in the photo description was more uncommon than common – a big help. The event in question was a murder, so I knew I could check the state death index to find that surname. That would lead me to a first name and date. That would cut my research time considerably. But was there any quicker method?

If your subject was born, married or died in Washington state, the answer is “yes.” The Secretary of State’s office has created a wonderful online resource – the first of its kind in the country – called, “The Washington State Digital Archives” (http://www.digitalarchives.wa.gov). By entering a first and/or last name, you can find birth, marriage and death records – as well as additional information – for almost anyone who was born, married or died in the state.

In this case, I did not have a first name, but I did have an unusual surname and an approximate date. So, I entered the surname, clicked on “Death Records,” then sorted the records by clicking on “Death Year,” and up popped a single death record for 1958. Suddenly, I had the victim’s full name, date of death, and even the names of her parents.

Minutes after arriving at the Bellingham Library, I was looking at the reason why Jack Carver had taken that photo back in the spring of 1958. Turns out it was front-page news.

Background: Sam and Ethel had lived with their three children at the house on “I” Street for three years (I found this information by researching their name in the city directory). On the night before Father’s Day, Ethel walked her daughter to a babysitting job just a few doors down the street. When Ethel didn’t return promptly, Sam became concerned. He went outside and discovered his wife, beaten and unconscious, lying alongside their home. She passed away the next morning. An 18-year-old man was arrested later and he confessed to the random killing.

This turned out to be on of those “be careful what you wish for” stories. It can be a fascinating process to research the stories associated with your home. Just keep in mind that not all of those stories may be happy ones.

Editor’s note: While it is true not every house has a happy story to tell, we still believe it’s important to document the past and present. After all, history is not always pleasant — but it does help to give us context and insight — which is why it holds value. 

For more on disclosure of your home’s past, Inman News — a great resource for independent real estate news — recently published an article on the topic entitled, “Disclosing crime when selling a home.” 

We’d love to know your thoughts! Let us know — would you want to know the full history of your home, warts and all? 

If you have knowledge in a topic our readers may be interested in — such as historical preservation, home genealogy or homes in general — and are interested in writing a guest column for us, please let us know! Contact us at info@homehistorybook.com.

Bring your home’s history to life using these simple photo tips

By Rick Read — Special to the Houstory Hearth

Occasionally, the Houstory Hearth will feature guest authors who have knowledge and expertise related to the world of Houstory Publishing. This week, we feature Rick Read. Rick has nearly 40 years of experience as an award-winning TV producer. He is also an avid still photographer and genealogist and was, for five years, the research aide for the Whatcom Genealogical Society (Washington state).

One of the great aspects of the Home History Book archival journal is that it encourages you to take note of the changes that occur in your home over time. And what better way to demonstrate those changes than to compare old and recent photos – “then” and “now” photos. You can make the comparison even more dramatic by taking your “now” photo from the exact location at which the “then” photo was snapped. I will refrain from becoming too detailed here.

If you want the details, check out this great Web site.

I am using a “then” photo furnished by Jeff Jewell of the Whatcom Museum in Bellingham, Wash. (There’s an interesting story about this photo – I hope to share it with you in the future.) The first thing you’ll want to do with your “then” photo is to scan it and print a large black and white “work print.” This print will become your guide for lining up your “now” photo. Printing in black and white will also help you focus on the details of the photo.

Take a close look at the photo. Note the relationships of features that might still exist today:

  1. How the front left part of the porch exposes the house behind the subject house
  2. How the vertical end of the porch railing (on which the young boy is sitting) lines up with the window behind the rail
  3. How much of the building in the back right of the subject house is exposed

You may find it helpful to draw a grid pattern over your “then” photo. The horizontal and vertical lines can be helpful when lining up your “now” shot. Avoid using relationships to transient items, such as the height or width of a tree. You’ll quickly discover that these relationships will only lead to frustration.  Another thing about vegetation: winter can be a better time for taking “now” photos, as any leaves that block your subject will be gone.

THEN PHOTO — CLICK TO ENLARGE 1995.0001.019938; photo by Jack Carver; courtesy Whatcom Museum

Once you’ve made note of several physical relationships on your “then” picture, you’re ready to take your “now” shot. You will find a tripod especially helpful for this process. It’s tough to hold your camera in one hand and your “then” photo in the other, while trying to get the shot lined up properly. Keep in mind, too, that the position from which the “then” photographer took his photo may have changed. He may have positioned himself on a hill that is long gone, or he may have been standing in what is now the middle of the street. (You might want to take a partner with you to serve as a lookout.)

When you’ve found that “sweet’ spot, click away. Take a few shots, move slightly and take a few more. Continue to refer to your “then” shot, as you make adjustments. You can present your finished photos side by side or as a blended image.

Check these Web sites for more examples:

* Leningrad Seige — Then and Now

* Normandy 1944 — Then and Now

NOW PHOTO — CLICK TO ENLARGE

Whichever display method you choose, you’ll have some great images to add to your Home History Book archival journal and to share with future owners of your home.

If you have knowledge in a topic our readers may be interested in — such as historical preservation, home genealogy or homes in general — and are interested in writing a guest column for us, please let us know! Contact us at info@homehistorybook.com.

Need a 2012 resolution idea? Start preserving, sharing your stories now as a gift to the future

The Home History Book™ archival journal is primarily designed for users to fill in the “current” history of what is happening in their home. No research required — just tell your story. In other words, it will be a first-person account — invaluable information for future home historians and homeowners.

The Home History Book™ archival journal Deluxe Mahogany: Built to last

Simply fill in one of the book’s 10 repeating “Our Home’s Stories” sections as often as you like (we recommend once every few years) with photos and information. Essentially, it’s a baby book for the home … that stays with the home. And because it stays behind — even as owners come and go — it allows future owners a glimpse into what happened in the home before they lived within its walls.

Whether you decide to purchase a Home History Book archival journal or not, please start preserving and sharing your home’s stories now. Just keep them safe and accessible! Think of the value these memories will have for those who may live in your home just 10 or 20 years from now.

It is our passion to inspire home genealogy. After all, the more you know of a home’s history, the more likely you are to take care of it. In other words, we hope our product encourages stewardship — both in terms of the environment (caring for what you have, as opposed to simply throwing it away and starting over) and cultural stewardship (protecting stories for generations to come).

For more information — including free research materials that will help you discover your home’s beginning history (before you lived there) — visit www.homehistorybook.com.