Posted by: GeekHiker | May 31, 2013

Box Of Memories

Why is it easier to get rid of the big stuff than the small stuff?

When I moved out of my old apartment and placed things into storage, I had to get rid of a lot of stuff.  A LOT of stuff.  In many ways it was cathartic, going through piles of outright junk and unceremoniously tossing it in the recycling bin or the trash.  While I do own a few nice things, collectibles and such, which I did keep, the Parentage were wonderful as a second pair of eyes to say “just get rid of it” to everything else.

One of the things I discovered along the way is that it’s a lot easier to get rid of the big stuff than the little stuff, and I have no idea why.

Some of the biggest stuff was the easiest to get rid of.  The 10 year old bed on which the springs were starting to go?  Off to charity.  The unwieldy computer desk that, while I made it work, really wasn’t that well designed?  Ditto.  The 90-lb tube television that I held on to mostly because I was too cheap to replace (and am still too cheap to replace, being TV-less even now)?  Charity again.

And so it went over a period of a couple of weeks, between the time I started packing and the actual departure on the road trip.  Papers, knickknacks, assorted dishes, old clothes, books… so much of it bagged up and off to the Salvation Army or into the rubbish bin.  The bigger the object was, such as furniture and appliances (or the dreaded “doo-dads” of spare electronics and such that I kept around because “you never know when I might need it/fix it/sell it”), the more likely it was to be tossed.  I was on a tear, trying to save space in my storage unit, and eager to de-clutter my life.

It continues, though though at a decidedly slower pace, since I’ve gotten back.  Boxes of stuff I hadn’t seen from my childhood, slowly gone through and tossed away.  You may even remember my post a few months back about my old Transformers toys; they ultimately went to one of my readers.  His son is playing with them, and knowing that they’ve gotten a second use in another kid’s hands, even for a short amount of time, is pretty awesome.

This afternoon, exhausted, frustrated, flummoxed, and ultimately feeling overwhelmed and depressed by the job search, I pried myself away from the computer and opened another box.

It was a small box.  Tiny.  Half a cubic-foot, at best.  What was inside was nothing but papers.

Paper.  My nemesis.  My Achilles-heel.  The one thing I always tend to be a pack rat about.

Inside the box, neatly organized, were stacks of correspondence.  Old cards.  Postcards.  Letters.  Photographs.

Some of them were from family, some from friends.  Some were from friends who have disappeared from my life, eliciting more than a few “where are they now?” thoughts.

Christmas letters from my Aunt and Uncle.  Graduation announcements.  Letters containing details of a family member who moved back east.  A birth announcement from my cousin for his newborn son, who’s now 16, which made me feel very, very old.

There were postcards from my parents’ travels.  A letter from my Great Aunt donating money to my college fund.  A get well card from my grandparents from when I broke my arm at around 10 years old.  Letters from high school classmates that we exchanged before after we went to colleges in separate towns.

Old birthday cards stretching across the decades were in the box, some from years when I was too young to remember anything.  One of them was from the late 70’s, with a glowering Stormtrooper on the front (I was a geek at an early age).  The inside was signed by someone named Wendi.  Who she was or where she might be now, I have no idea.

If this was your signature when you were five, say "hi", won't you?

If this was your signature when you were five, say “hi”, won’t you?

(The only wisp of memory is a very vague one, possibly of a girl with red hair from around 1st grade.  I dunno.  Maybe all of us Charlie Browns have our Little Red-Haired girl somewhere in our pasts?)

One plastic bag held a couple of photos from my Senior Ball in high school, which I’ll always remember because the girl I went with refused to dance with me, but would later, from the college in the Pacific Northwest she went to, call me to talk excitedly about the dance she attended and danced with someone else at.  (Surprisingly, looking at the pictures of my younger self didn’t make me feel old as I suspected it might.  I didn’t find myself pining for youth looking at them.  Just the opposite, in fact: I’m better looking as a mature man now that I was as the scrawny, dorky kid I was then.  I have an actual beard now, which helps too.  I guess there’s something to be said for not topping out, Al Bundy style, back in high school…)

As I touched each item, I realized that I never made any conscious effort to keep them all.  It just sort of happened.  More often as not when I got something in the mail, I’d enjoy reading it and absorb whatever well-wishes were contained therein, then end up placing it in a small pile on the bookcase.  As I moved around, I just moved the pile, never really taking the time to go through it.  Certainly not doing so before leaving on my travels.  It didn’t take up much room in the storage facility, after all.

Now I have the time.  I’m still just as clueless as to what to do.

Some are easy to toss.  Friends and acquaintances who’ve gone out of my life, that I have little expectation (or, in some cases, desire) to see again.  Random Christmas cards from my old workplace.  A Valentines-Day card from The Ex went directly to the recycle bin, possibly breaking the sound barrier in doing so.

That’s the easy stuff.

What about the hard stuff?  What about the postcards from The Parentage, detailing the travels they’ve taken that, honestly, I have a hard time remembering.  After all, we remember our own travels the best, don’t we?  But it’s nice to be reminded of where they went, with the little messages on the back detailing what they did in those far-off places.

Or the birthday card from my best childhood friend, the one who raced around the backyard with me flying our X-Wings and Tie-Fighters on long, hot summer days?  The one who I lost touch with when his military family was moved back east?

Or worse, what about the old birthday cards from my Grandmother?  The ones where she wishes me the best and writing how much she loves me?  I have a whole series of those cards… enough that I can actually see her handwriting degrade as the years went by, which is both sad and endearing.  Sad because of the ravages of age (the ones chasing us all) become evident over time.  Endearing because it’s clear how much effort she made to send a birthday wish to her grandson, writing less cursive and more each character separately as time went by.

You can see the effort to make each letter in the lower image.  Though, to her credit, it's still way better than my handwriting is now.

It’s subtle, but you can see the difference in the lower image (or at least I can). Though, to her credit, it’s still way better than my own handwriting is now.

On a purely practical level, there’s probably no reason to keep them.  I rarely look at these things in fits of nostalgia.  Heck, look at how long many of them sat on a bookshelf, gathering dust?

On the purely emotional level though, it’s tough.  Running my fingers over handwriting of someone that is gone now, and who will never write me a “happy birthday” message again?  Even having not looked at the cards in years, it pulls.  What about the birthday cards from The Parentage?  It seems silly to keep an inch-thick stack of cards… but if I toss them now, will I regret it in 20 or 30 years?

Practicality vs. nostalgia?  Which should win?



  1. That’s pretty much the only thing I save — cards, letters and photos. I don’t know the answer to whether to continue keeping them although I have wondered, having moved so much lately. I’ll be interested to hear what you finally decide. I half-heartedly wondered if I should scan everything so it’s at least easier to store but that’s soooo time-consuming.

    • There is something to be said for storing these things digitally…

  2. In my book keeping personal cards, letters and of course photos IS practical because I don’t want to ever forget any of the important details and I want to be able to show the next generation where I came from. So I probably shouldn’t even comment 🙂

    • You make a good point. If I had kids, it might significantly shift my point of view..

      • I felt like this before the kid, but still, I think it’s got to do with personality. Treasure to some, garbage to others.

  3. It is often the smallest things that contain the most memories. We don’t pick up a desk while hiking a trail but we may pick up a shiny rock or take a picture of a beautiful view. We don’t buy a mattress when we travel in a foreign land but we may pick up a trinket (or, in my case, a fridge magnet). It’s these small things that often bring back the strongest and most beloved memories.

    The cards, letters, and photos in your pile are placeholders. They are keyed to memories. Think how your mind wandered while you went through that pile. I bet you remembered things you haven’t thought about in years. As we age it gets harder to bring back some of those memories and having a small token to remind us, worth little when we are young, becomes precious as we get older. In other words, put the cards, letters, and photos back in the box and keep it in a safe place. Someday you will thank yourself for doing it.

    • What are you talking about? I bring back tables all the time, and carried three mattresses home from New Zealand… 😉

      Yes the mind did wander… but not always to happy places. Maybe I should filter out the bad memories from the good…

      • Maybe, but we are a result of the good and the bad. Maybe you can keep the bad at the bottom of the box … a very deep box.

  4. I loves me some good stuff-tossing, but like the other commenters, I keep photos & letters.

    I got rid of toys and most other “sentimental” things from my younger days, and I’m not sorry I did, but perhaps because I got rid of that stuff that I hang on to the photos and letters: maybe there’s a kind of memory-barter going on, in which by shedding this I feel all right about holding on to that.

    Besides, it’s only a box apiece. . . .

    • True. I guess it’s hard because it feels like I’ve accumulated so much “stuff” (okay, not as much as many people, but still), and this just feels like yet another box of stuff…

  5. Didn’t you write a similar post a year ago before the trip? The truth is, if you hesitate and feel torn, it’s a sign that you shouldn’t make a decision, and that deep down you know the answer and you are trying to rationalize it (or against it). Being human, however, is more often than not, NOT rational. So just hang on those these memories and put them away in the box. Ten years down the road, you may still question your decision and wonder why you keep those things, but maybe then you will have wised up and put them back without a second thought 🙂

    • Goodness your memory is good! I remembered that over the weekend, but I didn’t think anyone else would! 🙂

      You make some pretty valid points, though… food for thought on the post I’m writing tonight…

  6. […] thought about my last post quite a bit over the weekend.  Mostly because I stepped over or around the box all weekend long.  […]

  7. I remember the previous post too. I say as long as it all fits in a small box, keep it. Some of my friends turned their box into a binder, or a book, so they can flip through old cards and letters like a photo album or they MADE a photo album and incorporated their letters/cards/tickets… It could be a nice project. My papers are in a pretty photobox. 🙂

    • I see the merit in your thoughts… still, there’s that overwhelming desire to get rid of STUFF!

  8. […] I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been reading Mark Twain’s “Roughing It” off and on for a few days now.  After a blisteringly hot 110 degrees on Saturday […]

  9. Never look in my closets if you come visit. I save so many cards and letters and random memorabilia. I have many Rubbermaid tubs…

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