By Dustin | If moving to New York a little over a year ago—our first move as a family—taught us anything, it’s that we have a lot of stuff. Too much stuff. So much stuff that I would be embarrassed to accept anyone’s help on our next move if I didn’t take some time to sort through it, organize it, and toss out the stuff I no longer need or want. After all, we moved a number of boxes fully knowing that we would be tossing out much of their contents. We couldn’t ask for someone’s help moving trash again.
Susan and I had spent years—decades, really—collecting this stuff. I found worksheets of mine dating to the first grade, meaning they were at least 23 years old. (I was in first grade in 1988 and 1989.) Among the (somewhat) more recent items was virtually every sheet of paper that crossed my desk in high school. That’s not hyperbole. I had Scantron answer sheets that are useless to me now not only because of their age but because I didn’t have the test papers on which the questions and multiple-choice answers were written. So I may see that I got a 95 on a test in my fifth-period Algebra 2/Trigonometry class in ninth grade, and that I got one question out of 20 incorrect, but in some instances I couldn’t even tell which answer was wrong. And even if I could, I don’t know what the question was, because I don’t have the test. More importantly, I don’t really care. I packed all of my papers from ninth grade away at the end of the school year in 1997, and I hadn’t looked at them in the 15 years since until I started sorting. I guess the biggest disappointment was having another reminder of how smart I was in high school and how much I have forgotten since. Remedial math—and science, and social studies, and English, and virtually every other class I took—here I come!
That’s not to say I saw fit to throw everything from high school out. I kept longer pieces I wrote, such as essays for tests or my senior exit project, which may end up in later issues of this magazine. I also kept a few examples of my work just to remind myself of the care I took in meticulously writing and crafting almost everything from notes in class to homework assignments. (I’ve always taken pride in my penmanship.) I would quickly jot notes down in quick (meaning sloppy) handwriting during class to make sure I recorded everything, and then I would recopy them—in my neater manuscript early on in high school, later typewritten—both so they would be neater and to allow me to review them. Man, I was such a good student.
I kept the stuff from high school because I thought it might come in handy later. (It hasn’t.) Other items I kept just because I was a packrat. Yes, I can admit that I was a packrat. It’s a habit that I had begun to break, but that moving—and my newfound fear of becoming a hoarder—broke me of once and for all. I guess that not having a lot of opportunities to go to different places growing up meant that each such experience took on heightened importance to me, and I felt the need to hold on to everything I could that would remind me of these experiences later. Take, for instance, my trip to Québec with my eighth-grade French class. In addition to the hand-painted watercolor of Québec City and the Château Frontenac that I bought, along with a few books and way too many postcards from Montréal, I also kept sugar packets from restaurants we ate at. Yes, sugar packets. And napkins, and some cups from the plane, and the long, strange plastic thing—a stirrer for alcoholic beverages, I suppose?—from a drink (a Sprite, as I recall) I had at the revolving restaurant at the top of the hotel where we stayed, the Loews Le Concorde. I also kept newspapers (though I did throw those out during the move) and the magazines and the SkyMall catalog from the flight. All in the trash. Well, recycling bin.
Some of the stuff has been pretty fun to find. In a pile of cards from friends and family congratulating me on my graduation from high school, I found cold, hard cash—some $60 or $65 of it. Whoops! Guess I didn’t look through those cards closely enough when I first received them.
Another source of good finds was my trips to the Great Smoky Mountains with a friend and her family. Most of the brochures and fliers I had picked up and held on to during these trips were pretty mundane, but one was worthy of Facebook: a pamphlet for Miss Caroline’s Country Wedding Chapel in Maggie Valley, North Carolina. Susan and I couldn’t believe that we had spent so much on our wedding when we could have had such a classy affair at this place starting at $99. That was for the Gazebo Bliss package, a “lovely traditional wedding ceremony set in a 12′ gazebo with a minister and recorded music.” This place had everything. The chapel seats 20 to 25, with overhead beams and “ruby red” carpet. Now, a red carpet is fancy, but a ruby-red carpet is unquestionably fancier. There are also realistic-looking silk flowers, honeymoon lodging packages, and lots and lots of facial hair. LOTS of facial hair. Oh, and check out the upper-middle-aged woman displaying her garter. Amazingly, it appears that this place has survived into the twenty-first century. It even has a website, misscarolines.com. Of course the website has music; websites for places like this always have music. The photos appear now to be all digital, but they still display an awful lot of facial hair. If I had gotten married there it certainly would have been “the memory of a lifetime,” as the brochure promises—the sort of thing you can just never forget, no matter how hard you try.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that my life will end up being more interesting than I thought, so there’s no need to keep so much stuff from every trip I take and every experience I have. But I didn’t feel I could sort through this stuff and throw it out without sharing much of it with at least one other person first. Once I shared the object and the memory with Susan, I felt free to toss it out and move on. Of the things I did decide to keep, I figured if they were worth keeping they were worth organizing and storing properly, and the things that are most worth keeping, such as photos, I have been working to digitize. Which, it occurs to me, is probably a good way to ensure that I don’t look at them for another two decades.