A scanning sprint through most of the personal correspondence you’ve received over the last fifty years replays your life in high definition. So many people – so many memories. The experience was accentuated by the exercise I was conducting in parallel to systematically examine all my work documents to ready the collection for any interested repository. I got to wondering if resurfacing it all again, was making any significant changes to my memory and brain generally. However, I don’t think there any apparent changes to my state of mind – I’m perhaps just more, well, AWARE of what’s been going on.
Anyway I finished scanning the whole letter collection yesterday. Despite my intention to only keep the most precious originals, I ended up with a substantial number of items. Perhaps this was hardly surprising given the previous work I’ve done on reasons for keeping document and mementos. However, those insights seemed to count for nothing as I stormed my way through the mass of letters and cards, keen to just get through the job, a little dazed by all the memories, knowing I needed to throw away most of the items for an established rationale, but knowing that once I had torn them up that was it – gone forever. It was spur of the moment instinct that dictated what I kept rather than any clear reasoning; and now, at the end of the process I have two full concertina files from relatives and friends, an envelope of airmail letters from my parents who were abroad in my late teens/early twenties, and all the letters and cards my wife has sent me in the 37 years I have known her. I intend to keep the latter indefinitely; however, I think I need to do some further work on the rest if only to reduce the amount of space they are taking up.
Hence, I plan to do a reasons-for-keeping analysis on them which I will then subsequently compare with the findings from my previous reasons-for-keeping exercise. The aim will be twofold: a) to identify which items can be thrown away, and b) to expand my reasons-for-keeping analysis to include personal correspondence. As a by product of the analysis, I may also be able to derive an approximation of the volume of correspondence I received over the period in question – such data is always useful for comparison purposes when assessing other examples or when considering before and after situations (for example, before and after the introduction of email).