Chinese New Year is over, but many of us will still be cleaning up periodically through the year.

It is traditional for Chinese families to do spring cleaning before the arrival of the Lunar New Year. At this time, we often look at our things and think: is this trash or treasure? Trash, we throw. Treasure, we keep.

We have been doing similar sorting work for a client but on a much larger scale. This school (or rather a former principal) had amassed a large collection of documents, photos and items over many years. After letting these items languish in carton boxes for a long time, the school (and alumni) finally decided to start sorting and organising these items.

This is where we came in. The school makes the final decision of what to keep and what to throw, but as consultants, we’re required to make recommendations. It is important that these recommendations be based on objective criteria. When left to individual subjective whims, arguments arise and decisions left unmade.
Real-life example:
Item in question: An aluminum cake mold purchased for a few dollars in the 1980s
Person 1: “Poor quality material, not worth much money, takes up space. Throw!”
Person 2: “Can’t find this anymore. Rare! Will look good in the exhibition. Keep!”
Person 1 and Person 2 will never agree as they are judging the item based on completely different criteria.

To reduce the number of debatable items, we consider the following when assessing items:
How old is the item? Older items are often more valuable.
(2) How rare is the item? The fewer number of this item available, the more valuable.

(3) Produced by hand or machine? Handmade items are unique and generally available in smaller numbers than machine-made items.

(4) Who’s the maker? Is this a school girl or a now-famous artist?

(5) What’s the inherent material value of the item? For example, items made of precious metals such as gold and silver have a high inherent value.

(6) What’s the historical significance? Was the item used by an important figure or part of a historical event? Was it produced to commemorate a historical event?

(7) What’s the visual impact of the item? For exhibitions, large artefacts, or those with intricate details are fascinating to visitors.

(8) Any sentimental value? A photograph of the beloved school dog has great sentimental value.

After considering all these questions, we make recommendations which are usually not a “throw or keep” situation. We prefer to prioritise items. High priority items will be definitely kept and even conserved, lower priority items may be kept but just as is. For the lowest priority items, there is the option of disposal.

So far, this method of assessment has served us quite well. My next challenge is to perhaps use the same rigorous criteria on my own growing pile of stuff at home!
~ Stephanie

In the Workroom: Trash or treasure?