Do you do what I do, namely, collect things?
Souvenirs, programmes, ticket stubs, magazines, ancient photographs, postcards, thank you notes, wish-you-were-here cards?
If you do, how often do you look at any of these? Take them out of their boxes? Even just dust them or sort them? My enthusiasm for buying a programme at every event we attend, whether concert, play, opera, or anything else, is certainly not matched by any enthusiasm to revisit them. There they sit, in their boxes, on shelves, in closets, in trunks under the eaves, unregarded and unloved. Unwanted? But stored for all eternity, the piles growing in size, fading, collecting dust, yet dragged from one house to another. How could I possibly throw away ten year old gardening magazines? I have old supermarket and vineyard receipts from trips to the continent. We used to fill the backseat and boot of a large estate car with wine from France and Germany, as well as boxes full of tinned and bottled food, which was then not obtainable in the UK. It made me feel efficient to keep a record of time and place of the purchases, no doubt another sign of mental impairment. I looked at an envelope of receipts the other day, the ink on them had long faded beyond legibility. It really hurt to chuck them out.
New lovers collect everything to do with the halcyon days of first infatuation, new parents cannot bear to discard first bootees, a wisp of hair, hospital wristband, and a million baby photos. Every minute of every day is recorded, documented and treasured. I am glad to say that, as new love grows out of the habit of being new and children grow up and become teenagers, this mania lessens, at least for the saner members of the human race.
There is a valid case to be made for preserving family documents, letters which give an insight into the time when they were written and the character of the writer, as well as all those documents which officialdom requires us to keep to prove who we are. I have never forgiven my mother for ripping up and binning a box full of papers pertaining to my father's, uncle's and grandfather's role in the war; I would give anything to have them still. When I first learned what she had done, I was furious with her.
She said: "I don't want to be reminded, it's old history, it's over, times have changed." She actually believed that nobody would ever be interested in them. I think she was being particularly stupid and lacking in perception; I still think so, but nowadays I can understand. For her, the time had been hard, the feelings still raw, best forgotten. To her they hadn't been at all heroic, just doing what they needed to do and any official recognition afterwards was superfluous.
Old diaries are in the same category, even the silly ones, which run along the lines of "and then I did, and then I went, and then I said." And if they are worth keeping, how much more interesting are the ones which give an accurate picture of the way our forebears lived. Again, my mother did the unforgiveable: she threw my teenage diaries away the first time I left home as a young adult (as well as children's books). No doubt reading those teenage diaries today would make me cringe, but I'd still like to have a chance to see what a silly and pretentious ass I was.
This post is turning into an unintentional diatribe against my mother, I'd best get back to the subject in hand, which is clutter. I have no idea why I keep so much of it. Take photographs, for instance. Last summer, I took an old suitcase full of ancient photographs, many of them holiday snaps, landscapes and badly lit groups of people. Sifting through them, I realised that I hardly remembered the holidays, didn't recognise the landscapes and that most of the people meant nothing to me. Very few of these photographs survived the bonfire and, guess what, I haven't missed them once since that day. Landscape photography is best left to the professionals, who have the equipment and the know-how. Digital photography has done away with boxes full of yellowing snaps, which were never any good in the first place. At least the worst of them can now be deleted instantly.
As far as I'm aware, nobody spends many hours pouring over their collection of objects from the past. What is it that makes me collect train tickets, receipts and theatre programmes? Is collecting memories less about memories than the action of collecting? The day will come when I will disappear into oblivion; am I trying to delay that moment by creating a barricade of memories around me? Is writing a memoir part of the same syndrome?
Someday, somebody in the family will have the task to sift through my precious memories, all those bits of paper that prove that I was here. Why don't I make it easier on whoever that will be and make a start myself?