If Keepsakes Could Talk ─ A New Way to Save Old Things
Today’s story begins in a crowded marketplace in New Delhi, India, in the mid-sixties. Martha Ramsay, of Bristow, Virg., had just bought three, round, handcrafted brass trays, and a basket of peaches.
“I was walking through the market, carrying these heavy trays, along with the fruit when I heard a hiss in my ear,” she wrote in an online post. “I turned and saw a king cobra sitting on a man’s shoulder right next to me.”
Being a woman of calm composure, she threw the peaches and trays into the air and ran for her life. “The man ran, too! It was chaos,” recalls Ramsay, who permitted me to share her story. When the scene calmed, she went back to retrieve her trays and fruit.
Nearly 60 years later, the brass trays hang in her home, a reminder of that harrowing encounter. To her three adult sons, however, the trays meant nothing. They might as well have been trinkets picked up at Pier One Imports. That is until Ramsay posted a photo and the tale on Artifct, a new online platform for those who want to preserve the stories behind their stuff for future generations.
Part family museum, part storage locker, part scrapbook, Artifcts (www.Artifcts.com) lets those who love their keepsakes preserve them in a shareable digital collection. The truly motivated can upload audio or video files, too.
Just think of all the times your parents or grandparents told you stories, and you didn’t pay attention. This site would fix that.
“We end the mess and solve the mystery,” said Artifcts co-founder Heather Nickerson. She
and fellow co-founder Ellen Goodwin, both former CIA agents (and you thought the story couldn’t get any better) launched the platform publicly last August. Today, nearly 900 members have collectively “artifcted” over 3,000 items. Costs range from free to upload five artifacts to $89 annually to upload unlimited items. That’s a lot cheaper than a storage unit.
“The trays are a perfect example of how memories linked to objects help define a life,” Nickerson said, adding that once Ramsay’s sons learned the cobra story, they each wanted a tray.
Now, I am not telling you this to add to your list of excuses to hang onto stuff, but rather to share an alternative to clinging to actual things when what you really want to preserve are memories.
Probably like you, I had a few questions:
Marni: Why is Artifcts missing an A?
Heather: We wanted to redefine artifacts as not just items that are old or historically significant, but as anything that has meaning or value, and because to have an intellectual property approved by the U.S. Patent Office, you cannot name it with a common everyday word, so we made one up.
Q. How did two nice CIA agents like you end up launching a digital storage place like this?
A. We’re not your typical entrepreneurs. Ellen and I both worked as intelligence analysts for the CIA for ten years. Like most CIA types, we are driven and share an insane desire to gather data. We were both recruited away into separate jobs and lost touch; then a few years ago we ran into each other at the Houston airport. I told her about this idea I had.
Q. Where did the idea come from?
A. My mom died unexpectedly in 2016, at age 65. She had an estate plan, so her financial affairs were in order, thankfully, but her stuff was overwhelming. I remember sitting on the floor of her closet in tears because I had no way of knowing what she would want me to keep. I wanted to hold onto what mattered, but I had no way of knowing what did. Some people put sticky notes on the backs of keepsakes saying where they came from, or which child should get it, but the stories don’t convey. I figured there must be a better way.
Q. What are your members virtually saving?
A. Stuff they don’t want around the house but still want to remember: a special piece of kid art, an old letterman jacket (better a photo of the jacket with a caption you can easily visit, than the actual jacket in a box in the basement). They also upload images of items they want to keep but chronicle, such as jewelry, family recipes alongside a picture of the dish and the cook, travel mementos (those brass trays), and holiday decor, which are often laden with nostalgia.
Q. Does this help folks declutter?
A. Half the time we see that once someone has stored an item and preserved its meaning online, they let it go. Others upload pictures and descriptions of items they keep and plan to pass down. Some use the platform to send files to their insurance companies, or to link to their estate plans, trusts or wills.
Q. Who can see the collection?
A. Because of our CIA background, we understand the importance of privacy. When members sign on, their default setting is private. We encourage them to provide contact information for at least two legacy contacts to ensure their collection isn’t lost to cyberspace. Beyond that they can make the collection visible to whomever they want.
Q. What if something happens to you or Ellen?
A. We are not planning to go anywhere for a long time, but we do have a strategic plan, a board of advisors, and resources set aside to ensure that Artifcts can keep growing and going past us.
Q. What if the kids (i.e., legacy contacts) don’t want it?
A. Whoever inherits the account can decide to keep the virtual collection, pass it along to someone else, or download the information, export and store it. Or they can close the account and never visit again. However, if you’ve proactively stored your meaningful items online, you’ve at least opened the door to the possibility that the next generation will know the stories behind the stuff.
CAPTION: Who Knew? Before Martha Ramsey, of Bristow, Virg., chronicled on a new website the story of this brass tray and its part in her encounter with a king cobra in India, her sons thought it was just another trinket. Photo courtesy of Artifcts.