I understand hoarding. I also understand throwing stuff out. Hoarding is only fun when I’m doing something with what I have acquired. Throwing stuff out is fun no matter what, though it’s scary. So many bags of paper hauled to the shredding service, gone forever! It’s cleansing.
Over the course of a life, I hung on to crates of letters I wrote, as well as old transcripts, photos, pamphlets, and programs. A few years back, I threw out most of them and scanned the rest so they wouldn’t take up space in my house and so they’d stop making me sneeze.
I also long kept a daily handwritten journal, first sporadically and then, starting thirty years ago, almost daily. For a while, I took great satisfaction in the accumulation of composition books on my shelf, but at some point I realized they, too, were just so much crumbly clutter. I put about a year into re-reading them, typing up the bits I wanted to remember, and shredding the rest. It’s the daily process of writing that I value, not the physical writing itself.
I was an enthusiastic blogger for a long time, in addition and in parallel, though I kept it mostly friends-locked. Blogging got me through my spouse’s mid-life crisis, my graduate school ordeal, my ten-year span of being my mother’s caregiver, and my teaching career. A while back I downloaded all my blog posts and put them on my computer, then deleted the online blogs. This is the only one that’s left and it’s very occasional.
The process of paring down my archive continues. For instance, I have had a Twitter account for a very long time, but I regularly delete my old Tweets. I mostly have the account so I know the breaking news before it’s encapsulated in the Washington Post. I was an early Facebook adopter, but a year or two ago I got rid of all my old updates, likes, images, tags, and shares, and then deleted my account because it was clear I was the product they were selling. I have another Facebook account so I can keep up with some groups, though the new Meta policies make me suspect I won’t be able to do that much longer, either. I just downloaded and deleted my Instagram account, because it’s trying to be TikTok. I like TikTok okay when I’m bored, but I don’t post; I joined Instagram so I could take photos of things I saw on the street and share them with friends.
And now, here I am, with a tidy folder of digital files. With what’s left, I could write a memoir.
Memoir has its down-sides. Among the digitized documents on my computer is an “autobiography” that a nice volunteer helped my mother write when she was in the skilled nursing center. Both my mother and the volunteer were amiably confused about just what Mom had done, and when. It’s really disconcerting to read her autobiography, because I know for a fact that a lot of it is out of order or just downright wrong. I don’t want to write one like that, if I write one at all.
I haven’t come to any conclusion about all this. I’m just making a timeline right now, with some notes, and it’s mostly for my benefit. It’s both awful and lovely to remember some of the things I did. And it’s a great opportunity, once I’m done, to get rid of most of the rest of the “archives.” Somehow, I think that would be the evental goal. To organize it all, to sieve it and boil it down, until all that’s left is a story I could read to myself when I am bored and want to know who I was, once.