Over the years, I've talked a lot about clearing out my files and boxes and closets. I've made many valiant efforts and been partially successful. But I still hung on to an awful lot of paper. Some of that was simply due to weariness -- never having the stamina to keep on clearing it all away. Some of it was due to haste -- each time I moved, I would think I would have the time to sort and purge beforehand; I would do some of that, but inevitably some things just got shoved in a box and moved. And some of it was due to misplaced archival impulses. As the child of a packrat academic in the pre-digital era, I grew up indoctrinated into believing that one should keep documents and books as part of a "library" or because "you might need it someday."
Well, the world has changed a lot since then, and I have changed my beliefs about the objects and paper that I accumulate. In recent years, I've been focusing on only adding paper files that are really truly necessary (praise be to PDF). And now the time has come for my liberation from my past.
Over the last couple of days I have sorted and shredded three plastic containers of old correspondence. I'm not reading most of it, though I have dipped and skimmed here and there, to confirm with myself that I really don't need to keep these things. I have to thank Flavia, whose post about her own archive showed me that although I too worked for years in a manuscripts library, I don't really have that impulse about my personal documents. I never did sort and categorize them properly, after all. And I'm not nostalgic. I have never opened up these containers to read through the letters from high school music camp or from old exes.
But I had some kind of superstitious feeling about those letters -- handwritten, numerous, oh so numerous pages of notebook paper, graph paper (when we were pretentious new wavers) and sometimes stationery. To my digital eyes used to the back and forth of email, even the emptiest of handwritten and doodled letters from a bored 14 year old seems very personal -- and so I'm shredding them, so as to put the spirits of those old friendships appropriately to rest. My dipping and skimming confirms that the content of most of the letters is not worth keeping for the ages-- most are the equivalent of late-afternoon emails complaining about one's boss or roomate and speculating about the weekend ahead. God, we were young back then. And we wrote so copiously. I say "we" loosely -- for I have no idea what my own side of these correspondence threads might have looked like.
It has been nice to remember the strength of a few long-gone friendships, but I don't need the documents any more. I have never been nostalgic by temperament, and so my compulsion to hang on to objects and letters has always been more of a burden than a resource. It's time in this new year to release these things and make space for new people, new ideas, new possibilities.
I feel lighter already.