In case any of you were dying to know, the 2012 mantra for Cancer-born people such as myself is:

Letting Go Is Not Loss, It’s Freedom.

I have a bit of a hoarding problem, but mostly when it comes to memories. I’m getting much better at reducing the amount of physical stuff I have lying around (I’m talking to you, Grade 7 Social Studies class notes!), but I find it more difficult to part with the past or tokens that transport me down Memory Lane. Does de-cluttering involve getting rid of old journals and scrapbooks? Photo albums? Pictures that were supposed to go into albums but never made it past the lab sleeve? Photo negatives from the good old days of film cameras? Duplicates of photos I had planned to mail to friends, back in the good old days of regular post?

Me (in the middle) fake-smoking a cigarette that had been patched up with electrical tape. Classy memories to cherish forever!

(Yes, I have a lot of photos.) (And yes, I welcome suggestions re: what to do with a teetering stack of photos from Grade 11. Anyone? Bueller?)

You can’t just throw away your memories, can you? You can’t even donate them to Goodwill or recycle them in the most eco-friendly way possible. (Though my sister did score an XXXL shirt at the Goodwill once that proclaimed “World’s Best Grandma!” and boasted a screened photo of some random granny with a random tot on the front. She scaled it down to fit her rod-thin frame with her mad sewing skillz and then wore it with ironic pride for years.) Doesn’t that feel wrong, though? Can you really subject your should-be-private memories to the gaggle of hipster art students that pore through the aisles of local thrift stores seeking exactly these sorts of hand-me-down gems?

Front of the tin I use to store my crafty supplies

To date, I’ve burned some old notebooks in our wood stove– lined pages that contained countless lists and bullet points of everything I did in the summer of 1996. (Judging from the looks of it, not only was 1996 a stunningly boring summer– “8 glasses of water today, 650 jumps with the jump rope”– but I was also boring enough to write it all down! I wish I was making that particular jot note up, but thankfully, the whole notebook is ashes now.)

I can’t burn photographs, though. And there are some things I would never part with– but can’t, for the life of me, figure out how to save– except for keeping them in a box for eternity. There is the self-portrait that my 18-year old dad created for my 16-year old mother, one that embarrasses him profusely today and that only escaped inevitable destruction at his hands by landing into my piles of random shit:

The board is in terrible condition now, and the paint is fading and chipping, but I hold this painting so dear to my heart.

(By the way, I don’t think it’s the raw emotion or the tender-heartedness of the gesture that causes my dad to blush now. I think it’s the fact that he went on to art college and bid a firm adieu to figurative renderings– and especially self-portraits– forever.)

There’s a stack of posters I kept from the days when my mom worked closely with the design firms in Calgary. I wanted a career in advertising at the time and savoured the pop-art samples that the design firms produced:

Poster since donated, but worked with 3D glasses, too!

There’s the pair of underwear I coveted (but never wore– are you kidding me?) when my sister went to art college. I was working at a sexual health centre at the time and appreciated anything with a uterus on it. (I still do!)

Best purchase... ever? I used to pin these babies up on my bulletin board at work. Most of my coworkers rolled their eyes, but a select few understood my "so bad, it's good!" affinity for them.

(Even better than this was the shirt I bought from the same artist– no photos– which featured a flying uterus on the back! It was like the Detroit Red Wings logo, but with a uterus in place of the wheel. Absolutely righteous in my books!)

I can’t, and won’t, get rid of things like these– even if “letting go is freedom!” Where do you draw the line, though? What’s worth keeping, and what gets tossed, recycled, or donated? What do you do with buckets of old photographs, especially if the “gigantic collage” idea doesn’t seem even remotely appealing? (Seriously. The pics aren’t nearly old or good enough to be considered vintage and cool, but how many pictures do I really need of my junior high and high school friends? Suggestions are welcome!)

PS: I found it! A pic of me with my BFF, Gloria Steinem.

28 responses

  1. I understand where you are coming from. I was also a hoarder of memories. I can suggest that you might like to ‘recycle’ these memories, or condense them. After all, how can we forget old memories when our dear friend Facebook is constantly a naked and tan “Rock” on our doorstep begging to *come inside? *Pun NOT intended. I ditched the old love notes, purposely lost some photos I didn’t care for, and slowly sifted through the baggage with a cleansing attitude. It helped me, like it might you, to move on and start a new chapter. I kept things that were most important and invested in a really darling box to cantain the hundred trinkets/photos/stickers or so. (The box is now in the corner of the closet, tucked away for some special occasion. I only pick it apart every year or so.) As for recycling these memories, make a collage or make use of them in some way. Remember— if it’s not helping you progress, it’s holding you back.

  2. Oh, Dana, this is the story of my life. I can’t throw any of these things away–but then I’m writing a memoir so sometimes even the stupidest details have some significance. I have NO suggestions. I am the world’s biggest loser when it comes to this stuff.

    LOVE the panties!


    • That’s one of the things that holds me back, too. What if I ever write a memoir, or what if A&E Biography ever comes knocking? 😉 I’ve found (for me), it even helps to scan a digital picture of them and then dispose of/recycle/otherwise repurpose the original item. Most times, it’s the photo that’s worth 1000 words for me, unless it’s an actual, developed picture from Grade 11. I’ve got more than enough of those, thank you very much!

      (Aren’t those panties GREAT??)

  3. All of the objects mentioned are amazing. I’m a bit of a hoarder, but proud of it! Throwing away photos? NEVER! I’ve yet to organize all of mine into albums, but that’s what I suggest (unless you really do have thousands? Perhaps it’s possible to be selective…)
    I justify keeping a lot of stuff by calling it “supplies”. For what? Who knows! Art projects? Entertainment for my future children? No matter. I love my stuff!
    I think I saw something online once where someone had a lot of random useless trinkets but didn’t really want to get rid of them… she decided to photograph each one, and keep the photos instead of the objects. Maybe that’s helpful idea.

    • I think that’s a really helpful idea. I don’t mind having boatloads of digital photos on my hard drive, and in many cases, I’d rather have that digital file than I would have the actual poster or trinket. I’ve thrown away many photos in my life time. I don’t know why I’m not as superstitious about that as I am about other things…

  4. Dana, you are absolutely doing the right thing by holding on to your physical memories, especially all the fotos. I understand the dilemna of how and where to keep them. I rent two storage garages (one too many) that hold many of mine, as well as practical stuff like furniture and work supplies etc.. Ideally, well-packed plastic tubs that could go to a relatives basement would be the cheapest and most reliable place to store personal treasures, ones you will be really glad you held onto years from now. Cataloguing contents is really wise also, so they can be accessed easier when you want.

    • I don’t know, Dean. Sometimes I feel like we (as a society) hold on to way too much now. The vast quantities of ‘stuff’ around really cheapens the value of individual pieces, no? I am guilty of renting storage lockers as well, but doesn’t there come a time when enough is really enough? I’m feeling that way right now. I’d rather cherish *the best* photo from my high school days than I would hold onto hundreds of mediocre ones…

  5. “One whole cow in every box!”!!!!!!! That is my favourite. I wish you still had that one.

    There’s nothing wrong with keeping old things. (I too had those darn notes from Social Studies 10 with me up until a few years ago when there was the Great Purge.) I’ve kept mainly photos. Those things you can’t throw out. Just think of all the digital photos we now have. Yes, they don’t take up a giant box, but we still collect them. If you’re really bound to the idea of getting rid of things, you can scan all your photos and then throw them out. That way you have a digital version and more easily organized and tucked away.

    • That’s true, Mary. I just hate that I have boxes and boxes of sub-par photographs collecting dust while I pay for a storage locker every month! I love the old photos that I have of my family members, but part of the appeal with those is that there are only one or two of them. I’d probably be less fascinated with old photos if there were thousands of them! 🙂

  6. See, I constantly hurt Tom’s feelings because I throw out EVERYTHING. I am the anti-hoarder and it’s a wonder I manage to stop myself from emptying out my own wardrobe. That being said, you have some pretty darn cool stuff. Uterus panties AND decorative Syphilis tin? I’d probably have a hard time saying goodbye to gems like those!

  7. Hehe the panties are great! How about collecting all your treasures (yes that’s what I think they are!) into a little case or chest that looks stylish so it fits with your decor at home? I say keep the items that you cherish. Good post Dana.

    • Finding a nice chest or box would be a good idea, like Hidden User suggested below. Right now, most of these things are crammed into a bright blue rubbermaid container, which doesn’t really foster any zen-like sensations in me. 😉 I’m keeping all of the things I posted pics of here, but I’m still undecided what to do with those boxes of terrible photos from high school…

      • Never, ever throw away old fotos. They are the most minimal in space volume and largest in memory capacity.
        At Christmas I was quite fortunate to come into possession of the entire fotos/slides collection of my 98 year-old aunt; images going back over fifty years. It would have been tragic for them to have been thrown out.
        One day those old highschool fotos will not feel so recent and you will appreciate them more.
        Ah, youth – wasted on the young.

        • I should clarify: these are primarily duplicates of photos that I have already put into albums. My family, as a rule, used to get doubles whenever we ordered prints, so the boxes I have of photos are all spare copies of ones I’ve already saved.

    • I know, hey– who knew?? 😉 In all seriousness, I’m sure Mr. Brand took some feathered-hair pointers from my real dad. My dad’s stylin’ locks have inspired generations of men…

  8. I don’t want to sound like an info-mercial. I have the very same problem you have. I recently got a Project Life binder that I’m going to use to (try to) address the problem. I’m starting with this year – printing out digital photos with our new photo printer and putting them into the Project Life binder and then working backwards. We’re putting our old vacation photos into photobooks since they’re lighter and easier to transport when we move than big ol’ photo albums.

    • Haha, olive! You just needed to say “But wait! Order in the next few minutes, and we’ll DOUBLE your offer!” I remember you writing about the Project Life binder before. I should really (for real this time) check it out– thanks! 🙂

  9. I would never throw old photos away either. I have a ton of photos that a (thankfully) already in albums and they take up space, but at least they are all together. The bulk of them though are stored in one of those special boxes you get from the photo store. This is the way to go, they hold so many and stack neatly!
    (1996 was huge for me – that was the year I moved to Vancouver!)

    • I have them in a box already, but maybe it’s not special enough of a box for me to like having these photos around? 🙂 They are mostly duplicates, after all.

      I’ve usually preferred albums but we have about 8 zillion of them now. I’m thinking about doing terrible collages for all of my high school friends and mailing them off. (Dear high school friends who read this blog: don’t be surprised to find a little something-something in your mailboxes soon!)

  10. I’ve been taking a hard look at my stuff lately too and trying to figure out where it all goes and what it all means (to me). I have a lot of photos (junior high was well documented – which is sad because who really wants to remember junior high?) and am slowly just tossing them away. I had a thing about taking photos of ducks and houses – and then never doing anything with them. At least those ones are easy to throw out. But what about all the letters and cards? What about the crazy stack of letters from my very-quasi-famous ex-boyfriend where we wrote to each other Every Single Day during our first year of University? I know my husband would like me to pitch those in the rubbish bin but it seems wrong even if I have no desire to re-read any of them. I also hoard fabric but I’m hoping to do something about that soon.

    • So true. Who wants to remember junior high? 😉

      I’m actually really happy to hear I’m not the only person who has thrown out photos before. My thinking is that it just makes the ones I’ve kept all the more special, right? (Right?) I also shredded and/or burned all of the notes and letters from my exes. At some point, I just had to resolve to leave my past in the past and find ways to get rid of the things that were emotionally charged with an energy that didn’t serve or reflect me anymore. (Though if I had a very-quasi-famous ex, I might be tempted to hold on to a few mementos, regardless of whether I re-read them or not.)

      • I agree about leaving the past in the past and I suppose those letters would be emotionally charged if I let them – or if I read them – but we were so young when we started dating and changed so much together that I really don’t hold any bad feelings. Still, I have a large stack of photos I need to send to him since I used to be the unofficial “band photographer” and now i have all of his photos that I really don’t want. I also kind of hold on to them (the letters) in case he actually does do anything good with his life and needs them for his bio or something. I suspect he tossed my end of the correspondence though (or his current partner did).

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