I weeded through four years of my life one recent afternoon. Some folks might call it clutter. I called it memories. Or souvenirs.
It took me three hours to get four years of photocopied journal articles (copied beneath that omnipresent sign about copyright law), error-filled carbon copies of various papers I’d written, correspondence I once thought worthy of saving — thousands of pages in all — into a recycle bin.
I read each one before I tossed it, of course. Or decided to keep it. Or set it aside to read later. That’s what took so long: I had to make a decision with each individual paper. The word “overwhelming” somehow doesn’t quite capture the moment.
My office was getting a new floor and the filing cabinets had to be moved. Their sheer weight told me the time had come.
This was not my first stab at throwing out old papers, old letters, old evidence of a past life I still dimly recall. Each time, my hands quickly got dirty, my back eventually hurt, and my brain felt like it had gone through some spin-dry cycle hours after I’d said, “enough.”
I last wandered through these TWANLOVs (Things Which Are No Longer Of Value) ten years ago, a year before Woody and I left for Peace Corps. I was selling my three-story house in Philadelphia and moving to our little cabin in Virginia where we’d roost until our departure. That’s when most of the books went. But the papers were harder, more personal maybe. So I packed them up and put them in storage.
When I moved my office to a spare bedroom last year, I knew I needed to weed through those old boxes. Instead I bought file cabinets and tucked them into a closet, out of sight. But Monday the room was getting a new floor. So Sunday, I dove in.
I had once been so certain there was someone, somewhere who would love to have my photocopy of The Theory of Modern Political Thought, even if it was written in 1962. I had all but four of its chapters. That person, however, is now out of luck. This was the year it got tossed. As did the complete Attribution of Responsibility literature, circa 1959 to 1980, that I used to write my masters thesis. Really. Every article written on the subject of how we determine if someone is responsible was once in one of those four file drawers.
Now I have only some of them.
Most of these papers once guided me toward a coveted Ph.D. For years I assumed I’d pick up that trail some day. But while I’ve given up that particular path (I think), I found I still had reason to hang onto the remaining drawers: my grandchildren or (ideally) my great-grandchildren, in the days and weeks following my ever-so-tasteful memorial service, will want to wade through them.
In this futuristic version of The Bridges of Madison County — where Meryl Streep’s children find her journals and so begins the story — my grandchildren (or the ideal greats) are eagerly diving into my file drawers, giddy to find golden nuggets of Grandma. Or maybe they find something so deliciously interesting, at least one of them decides to get a Ph.D. in sociology. I would have launched them.
Yes, I do enjoy my dreams.
Four years of my life were once stored in a four-drawer file cabinet in the closet of my office. Now, only three remain full and they’re going to the basement. I suppose I could have done a better job. Maybe in another ten years I’ll weed out a bit more, perhaps not. I have to leave something for those (great) grandkids to wade through.
What TWANLOVs are stored away in your closet? Do you know what dreams keep them there?
Do you struggle with clutter? What stories do you tell yourself about your clutter?
How would you feel floating on the ceiling watching your offspring sort through what you’ve left behind for them to sort through?
I’ve told you my story. I invite you to tell me yours. And, if you’d like me to tell you my sure-fire cure for reducing clutter, just let me know. Better yet, tell me yours.