My last column ended with a frustrating little cliffhanger and a cautionary tale.

A cliffhanger because finally, when I was back into the project I’d been trying to finish for months, I suddenly had to stop.

It was an album for my husband on the occasion of his retirement after 40 years of teaching classical guitar and rock history at the University of Idaho, and also covering his performance career which started earlier than that and still continues.

The documentarian-by-default, I had been rather casually collecting programs, reviews, records of student accomplishments, pictures from his annual “GuitarBQ” in our yard, etc. in a tub on the closet floor. A big Costco-sized tub, not one of those little slide-y things that fit under your bed. The tub was overflowing, plus I also had a falling-apart scrapbook that his mom might have started, and some stuffed envelopes and evidence from his earlier, longhaired rock ‘n’ roll days.

Fortunately, when he retired, my husband brought home surprisingly few boxes or files from his office. I’d been dreading what all might appear, so this was a relief, as his office had certainly been “comfortably” stuffed. But he gave away or left for the next occupant any furniture he’d acquired, and a great many books and recordings, as well as much of his sheet music he passed on to students. He said, “They can use it. I’m just keeping what I still want to learn myself.”

“Whoa, how practical,” methinks.

Since his life is about music and sound, not record-keeping, making a scrapbook would be about the last item on his bucket list. But I figured this was an occasion to go through the big bin and its overflow, and then assemble the most interesting stuff into some order. It would be a kick to see a few square feet of closet floor again too.

Well, I didn’t get it done for his retirement more than seven months ago, though I did get a start. Our daughter and her wife came for a visit after that and I thought, maybe over a week’s time, they could help me assemble something snappy? Duh! With a 9-month-old in tow? That didn’t happen.

A couple months after that, I got things out once again, and made some real progress sorting, guessing on dates, roughing out groupings.

Then of course, another project suddenly needed that workspace for a few days. I hastily set things in trays and stacked them aside, without labeling anything or noting any progress.

The cautionary portion of this story is: Don’t do that. Never kid yourself about being able to remember where you left off, especially if you’re working with archives. What is that law of physics? It takes five times the effort to restart, as it does to just continue, or something like that.So take my advice, and if you have to pause on a big project, which you surely will, at least make some notes about how far you’ve gotten or what you think comes next. Then leave the notes right there on top of everything.

Anyway, long story short, I did manage to finally spread those trays out again, and I spent a great deal more time than I should have needed to, figuring out where I’d left off. But with another self-imposed “final” deadline, I was bound and determined to get this project done, by Christmas or else.

And as often happens with a big honking project, once the engine is revved back up and the glass defrosted so that you can once again start to see the basic direction you’re headed, it becomes surprisingly fun. In this case, copying, trimming, laying out, and moving things around to tell a story … all the while reminding yourself, “This does not have to be perfect. It just has to get done!”

Well, I did manage to meet my deadline. And I even went to bed on Christmas Eve before midnight. And the project was a hit. So much so that I’m currently tackling the next big honking bin.

Jeanne Leffingwell continues in her quest to lighten up and downsize without moving or dying. Reach her at

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