I don't know if it's summer, but everyone around me seems to be on a "get rid of stuff" kick. At work, at home, friends, neighbors, colleagues, you name it--everyone seems to be in this hyper-energized "let's clean up the world" frenzy.
And I'm right there with them...sort of. I like clean. I like organized. I certainly like being able to find things.
But I also like eclectic. And unusual. And unique. And historical. So I really struggle sometimes about which stuff is really worth keeping, and which stuff needs to go. After all, museums and archives are full of items that some character long ago opted to keep, when everyone else would have given it the old heave-ho.
Believe it or not, the stuff that people leave behind is the stuff of history. Early telegrams, medieval codpieces, seventeenth-century murder tracts, Jersey Shore memorabilia, Geisha veils--all might have disappeared if someone, somewhere hadn't decided to preserve them for posterity. Just because something seems like junk, doesn't mean that future generations can't learn from them. Historians are trained to use anything they can to help glean new insights into the past.
But it's not just objects, and it's not just about history....I really don't know what do with my written work. I don't even view myself as much of a pack rat, but I've always had that annoying feeling of 'Will I need it again?' Case in point: A few years ago, I finally got rid of all my grad school papers. Really, who does need that stuff? I mean, I have a transcript. I don't need to prove to my kids I once could write a five page paper in five hours. Plus, it's all on disk, right?
Unfortunately, I didn't have all that work on a disk. There was a great murder from nineteenth century France that I'd written about that I wanted to share on this blog (don't ask!)... But I can't remember the name of the trial, and so I can't find it again in the archives. I hate when that happens!
Here's a few more items--Would you keep these? If you wouldn't keep them, what would you do with them?
1. The received correspondence of friends and family, including one verbose pen pal, for the last thirty years.
2. About one hundred journals that I've kept since I was 12.
3. Multiple printed, annotated, and handwritten drafts of A Murder at Rosamund's Gate, from first scribblings to final proofed copy edited version. (Do I need them? Do I? DO I?)
4. About five more started novels, in various degrees of completion.
5. Postcards from every trip I've ever taken.
With the exceptions of 3 and 4, I sometimes think these items could be valuable for historians trying to document the social-cultural history of people (not me specifically!) living in turn-of-the-21st century America. In that case, I should wait for another fifty years to give it to a diary or personal correspondence project, right? Or is that just me rationalizing?
So, before I do something with this stuff. You tell me...Did you ever give away something that you really regretted? Or have you already forgotten everything you've ever pitched?
Historian. Mystery writer. Researcher. Teacher. Occasional blogger.