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?
8/1/2012 01:58:05 am
Great post as always! You've gotta keep all those things. Find a nice, dry place to store them and then you should break them out every few years to look at them.
8/1/2012 02:23:24 am
I vote keep as well. Some of the closest moments I've had with my parents/elders include going through their past follies, in the form of photos or letters.
8/1/2012 09:18:04 am
Just move internationally a couple of times you will find the keeps is getting smaller and smaller.... :-)
8/1/2012 09:31:16 am
Definitely keep! What if Willy (or De Vere if you believe the conspiracy theories) had this same struggle to purge or keep? Imagine life without his Folio. Oh no, what if he did?! With that in mind may I suggest http://scanworksllc.com/proper-paper-storage/ ?
8/1/2012 07:38:08 pm
Contrarian view: get rid of everything. Or rather, scan it all so you have electronic copies, dump the originals except where the actual original might have some emotional value.
Jeff, you're so contrarian! :-) I agree with you to a point though. Interestingly, there's a larger issue that's bigger than me and my stuff. Historians and archivists would protest the destruction of original letters. There's that funny issue of preserving the past that they hold dear. It's like having the capacity to study in 3D perfectly rendered images of Michelangelo's David (or Mars, for that matter!)--something inexplicable is missing when you can't have access to the original.
8/2/2012 05:49:37 am
I saved a box of notes from jr high & high school from my BFF who I had not talked to in over 20 years. About a month after I threw the notes out, we reconnected on FB. I wish I still had those notes for us to read together and laugh!
8/8/2012 10:33:36 pm
Well, I vote keep the journals, the correspondences (good blackmail potential, right), and absolutely keep the postcards, especially the ones I sent you from my trips. Your kids and future grandkids may enjoy seeing what you were like, and what your world was like, when you were 12. You can always hide the journals until you are ready for your kids to read them, and can deal with their unbelieving comments: No cable? No Wii? No color TV? No microwave? You get the idea.
beckerys--don't worry, I've kept all the postcards YOU'VE sent. I meant the postcards I brought back from my trips. I used to get them because I don't take pictures as nicely as the professionals do. And actually it is fun to have postcards from places that don't even exist anymore. The funny thing about the journals--of course its not just my reflections about myself--they might indicate my interaction with the world, which might include interactions with sisters, kids, friends...so they should only be available after everyone is gone, right? :-)
8/10/2012 09:25:01 pm
I agree in spirit. However, if everyone is gone, including kids, and potential grandkids, who besides historians would gain that understanding of you and your take on things? I think you could probably put in your will that certain journals from specific years are to be held until x number of years go by, or until all specifically listed people have passed on as well. Or let them read them, and then they can decide if they want that journal available to a historic society or wherever you left them to.
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Historian. Mystery writer. Researcher. Teacher. Occasional blogger.