20 years of memories

During the holiday break (our office is closed between Christmas and New Year‘s), I started a project years in the making. Since 1992, I’ve been keeping all my bills, receipts, letters, cards, and all sorts of other miscellany, including countless newspapers and nicknacks.

Lest you think I’m a hoarder, the items were all organized (by year) into boxes and stored out of sight in the attic. Still, the amount of content was grossly out of prorpotion to the value of the booty.

And so it was time to do some cleaning. After three days, I reduced 12 boxes to four and generated 14 stacks of debris ready for the shredder. So, what did I find? How did I choose what to keep and what to toss?

For starters, I found that receipts, menus, pay stubs and canceled checks from 1992 were novel, but not necessary. I found that a typical college paycheck from working at a snack counter amounted to $28 — enough to buy pizza and see a movie on a Saturday night 20 years ago. Or that three pairs of socks from Structure in 1995 cost just $6.

But I also found items that I had long ago forgotten. Letters from friends who today I hardly remember. My security blanket from when I was 6. Photos of my nieces when they were small enough to ride on my shoulders.

As I sorted through year upon year, I found that I was inclined to save items that were older, and those from friends and family long gone — either through lost contact or, more absolute, death. It makes sense, I suppose, to keep a letter from my dead aunt, but not from my living one. But, one day they’ll both be gone and both letters will be long lost memories. Shouldn’t I keep them both?

I tried to strike a balance… keeping letters and cards that offered more than a simple “Thanks,” or “Happy Birthday.” All photos were reserved, all financial documents (except tax returns) were set to shred. Most anything to do with my daughter I kept (except countless drawings of rainbows and macaroni animals). And yet, I couldn’t help but wonder if one day I’ll regret trashing the physical embodiment of a memory. Or if, in my haste, I’d accidentally dispose of a letter or photo or document that I meant to keep.

Over the next year I’ll pull out some specific photos, letters and other memories and share them on this site. I’m curious, though. What do you all keep? Why?

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