My friend Jan gave me this photo in a frame after we graduated from college, and she moved to California. I've saved all of her letters, including emails. And I still check my e-mailbox often to see what hilarious tale she has to tell me.
My birthday is coming up, but don’t mail me a card. Forget a Christmas card, too.
As much as I’m eager to hear from you — and I assure you that I am — I’ll be compelled to save whatever you send to me. I miss as much as anyone the fact that almost no one sends a “real” card or letter anymore, but it’s like booze to an alcoholic to me.
Your card, photocopied newsletter of your trip around the world, photos of your kids and dogs, the rare actual hand-written letter — I keep it all. At least I’ve given up stamp-collecting, so I don’t have to save the envelope, too. (Although I might!)
It’s bad enough that I save every scrap of paper that my children have ever doodled on, but I also keep the greetings of people whose names I barely remember from Christmas to Christmas.
Once in January while walking with friends, I saw a ripped trash bag, its contents spilling onto the grass. Christmas cards and –worse still — photographs were swirling in the wind. I was horrified. Someone threw away photographs? I have every photograph I’ve ever gotten, plus the ten thousand I’ve taken myself.
“I throw away everything after a couple of weeks, ” one friend, Karen, said as I picked up one of the tossed treasures. I even knew the family, which made it more heart-rending. These poor smiling people were on their way to the dump. Karen saw nothing cold-hearted about a trash bag full of holiday greetings and carefully posed family portraits. She never sends any of these items herself, so maybe it’s understandable. Her weakness is sending beautiful party invitations, which I’ve kept, of course.
“You didn’t throw away my photo, did you?” My children with their cat, Malcolm?
“You can’t keep everything,” Karen shrugged.
“You can’t?” Well, I’m certainly trying to.
Recently, I looked through my Christmas cards from 1999. I cried again over the loss of a friend’s father. That could be a clue. Research studies are under way on the nature of hoarding. It must be a primordial fear of not having enough of something, whether food, memories or information. At least I use my saved stuff — when I can find it.
Sometimes, I read “how to de-clutter” books, patting myself on the back that I got them from the library and didn’t add them to the glut of books and magazines I already own. I even take some of the advice — for about a week.
The internet has been a gift. I love email from friends. You can keep in contact with people throughout the world. The mail is easily filed and stored, thanks to Yahoo and Google. My husband was shocked one day to see that I had 10,142 read messages in my inbox. Why not? Google can handle it.
A related problem is saving articles on various interesting subjects. I call it “cliptomania.” I won’t tell you how many file cabinets I own and how many stacks of clippings are waiting to be filed.
I also save articles in cyberspace, where they don’t clutter my office, although sometimes I save the “hard” copy, just in case. I think this means I’m a “digital pack rat.” The New York Times allows you to save its articles at no charge and even tells you how many others saved the same one. I’m not alone….usually.
Well, at least I don’t collect anything else. Oh, gosh, I forgot about matchbooks, but since smoking is being banned in restaurants (I never smoked, and I never used any of my matchbooks….) free matchbooks are hard to come by these days. Problem solved there.
Naturally, I married someone who can keep everything he’s saved in one file drawer. Periodically, he happily does a purge and then looks at my stuff. The scariest words my husband can say are, “I’ll clean your office for you.”
Still, one Christmas he gave me ten pairs of scissors so I can clip wherever I am. It’s like giving drugs to an addict. I’d enter a twelve-step program, but I really don’t want to quit.
I was just kidding about the birthday and Christmas cards. I’ll be waiting by the mailbox.