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Lifting the Lid on Precious Memories

An Editor's Note

May 21, 2006|Rick Wartzman

During each of the seven moves I've made since college, I have felt pressure --from my wife or simply common sense--to shed various belongings while packing up the old place. Invariably, I've resisted.

In my closets, basement and garage, bankers boxes bulge with old letters and other papers; favorite LPs (even though I don't have a turntable anymore); ticket stubs to practically every ballgame and concert I've ever attended; and all sorts of other bric-a-brac worthless in monetary terms but priceless in nostalgic ones.

You can imagine, then, the dread that washed over me when I read Ciji Ware's piece on how she and her husband eventually came to "rightsizing" their lives ("Small. Smaller. Smallest." page 52).

"What we discovered . . . was how the painful process of paring down slowly shifted into something astonishingly positive, at times even joyful," she writes. "With each item sold or given away, with every trip to Goodwill or the dump, we were liberating ourselves from an outmoded way of living that had been weighing us down in more ways than mere bulk."

Weighing you down? Boy, I find there's no better pick-me-up than slipping off by myself, opening one of those cardboard crates and rummaging around in it. To me, every knickknack and piece of paper--whether a decades-old postcard from a friend or a weathered reporter's notebook--is a talisman, sacred and filled with the power of memories.

Perhaps, deep down, there is a bit of vanity involved here. Am I somehow hoping that my personal papers will prove worthy of preserving for posterity?

Ego-driven or not, I can only tell you that the idea of the paperless home and office--a direction in which society seems inexorably bound--makes me glum.

Some, I know, swear by this clutter-free existence. Brad Templeton, an Internet pioneer and chairman of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, saves all his electronic correspondence on hard drives. He notes that scanner technology is also advancing, and points out that being a digital packrat allows one to accumulate even more stuff--in a sense anyway.

"Computer disks are so cheap," he says, "there's no reason anyone would delete anything."

But that just wouldn't cut it for me. A big part of the pleasure I get is from holding the past in my fingers. "Seeing a digital image of Michelangelo's handwriting is just not the same as seeing the real thing," says Victoria Steele, head of the Department of Special Collections at the UCLA Library.

Paper, she adds, "is such a successful medium." Amen to that.

Ware would certainly call me shallow, and Templeton would no doubt brand me a Luddite. I don't mind. I'm sure I'll even get a kick out of it when I dig out this column from the closet 10 or 20 years from now.

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