Downsizing and Honouring Memories: Seniors Helping Seniors

From the summer of 2016 to March 31, 2017, we are conducting a project with the goal of harnessing and supplementing the skills of seniors to mentor their contemporaries on culling and sharing belongings and information for the benefit of future generations. The Government of Canada’s New Horizons for Seniors Program provided funding.

Many seniors are struggling with the burden of “too much stuff” and the worry of preserving prize possessions and information of historical value. Elders familiar with our financial literacy and digital literacy programming asked us to develop programming to address these needs.

We engaged volunteer senior mentors in cooperation with partner seniors groups, conducted information and training sessions both in our own building and in partner groups’ facilities.

Topics addressed included the psychology of downsizing, practical tips for sorting and discarding, technology for recording and preserving (scanning photos, taking pictures of special objects, making digital and physical scrapbooks), information about giving to historical societies and museums, and income tax implications of gifts to charitable organizations.

Through our project, we harnessed senior power to mentor other seniors on positive late-life management of possessions and preservation of valuable objects and information. The mentoring is having a multiplier effect through the partner groups who are replicating the project’s benefits for years to come.

Here’s what project participant Nancy Barr said about her experiences:

I was delighted to participate in Atwater Library’s project to help seniors digitize their memories. I came into Eric’s workroom with audio cassettes, vinyl LPs, photos, reel-to-reel tapes and an old tape recorder that I had brought with me to West Africa, where I was a Peace Corps volunteer from 1967-1969. I taught grade 7 in a primary school in a small village up the country. I had already transferred my slides to digital format and Eric helped me do the same with my sound recordings. Once the audio was ready, Eric helped me make a slideshow with music. We just posted it on YouTube, so I can tell my former Peace Corps friends to watch it and see if they can recognize themselves.

The possibilities are staggering. I just mentioned that I had a box of letters I had written home. Eric pointed out that I could scan them, along with many snapshots, and produce a book.

I also brought in some record albums that I couldn’t listen to since my turntable and speakers were given away during my last move.

Not only am I downsizing in the physical sense (this old technology takes up so much space), but the material is now easily accessible on a memory stick that I can share with others. It was a voyage of self-discovery since I hadn’t played the tapes or listened to music in years. It was wonderful to hear the voices of my students telling folktales and singing traditional songs. The sound on the tapes was poor since the tape deck introduced so much noise made during the original taping, but Eric had the know-how and the equipment to greatly improve the quality.

For more information, contact project coordinator Eric Craven at or 514-935-7344 ext’n 207.

2017 Schedule of Project Activities

January 10 through March 28, 2017 — 1:00 to 4:30

Karen Kennedy, one of our digital media mentors, is on site to demonstrate how to use scanning technology as well as how to copy cassettes into digital formats such as MP3 and WAV. Advance registration is required. Email Eric Craven at

Friday, January 27, 2017 from 1:00 to 2:00 pm
In collaboration with our research partner ACT, we are are holding a group discussion about choosing recorded music to bestow to future generations. This is inspired by the BBC radio program Inheritance Tracks. Following the discussion we will demonstrate how to transfer vinyl to digital formats.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017 from 1:00 to 2:00 pm
Mark Gallop, an archives enthusiast, presents “Does It Tell a Story? Some lessons learned by an amateur family archivist.”

Saturday, February 4, 2017 from 1:00 to 3:00 pm
Project mentor Karen Kennedy presents “The Delights of Digital Downsizing: An update of the ongoing daring adventures and challenges of one determined senior who is joyfully embracing computer technology to de-clutter and simplify life.” Following her talk and discussion, attendees will have an opportunity to scan personal photos and make them into postcards.

Friday, March 17, 2017 from 9:00 am to 2:30 pm
SENIORS MEDIA DAY – A full day of learning, discussion and exhibition of project accomplishments. Click here for the schedule.

2016 Project Activities

Monday, June 13 and Wednesday, June 15, 2016
Information sessions.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016 at 1:00 pm
Talk and scanning workshop.
Karen Kennedy gave a short talk called “The Delights of Digital Downsizing: The ongoing daring adventures of one determined senior who is joyfully embracing computer technology to de-clutter and simplify life.” Following her presentation, there was a hands-on scanning workshop where attendees began to scan their own photos and documents.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016 from 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm
Learn to curate your own photos
Edward McCann, retired museum curator and photography expert, discusses options for preserving and sharing special photographs.

Friday, November 25, 2016 from 1:00 to 2:00 pm
Learn to digitize audio cassettes
Chris Jordan, a retired dancer, current teacher of traditional Caribbean dance and coordinator of the Union United Church Heritage Committee, and Saundra Samuels-Anierobi lead a public conversation about preserving culture through digitizing cassettes. There will be a hands-on demonstration of how to make digital transfers of analogue audio.