The job of putting the letters into folders got finished last night. I’d previously used plastic concertina files but found them difficult to see into a slot to select letters from a particular individual and to get groups of letters in and out of the slot. In the light of this experience, I decided to use plastic display books with 40 pockets in each (about £1.40 each from Wilkos), and I’m finding these to be a much better storage vehicle for letters and cards. They do take a up a little more shelf space than concertina files – but not very much more; and that disadvantage is more than outweighed by the fact that they make it just so much easier to see and read the missives.
Now for some numbers: the approximate total number of non-email items I’ve kept over the last 50 years or so is about 1900 from about 145 people. Of these, about 760 were letters, 800 were cards, 100 were postcards, 81 were Xmas round robins, 16 were wedding invites or birth announcements, 28 were change of address or phone number cards, 20 were batches of photos, and 70 were sundry other documents. Of course I didn’t keep everything so these figures represent only a subset of the overall communications received.
When it came to deciding which of the items to keep after scanning and which to tear up and throw away, I initially destroyed about 1400 of the 1900 items. Of the remaining 500, I destroyed a further 90 in the course of trying to decide a set of reasons for keeping particular items. Hence, I have kept just over 400 physical items. Of these a substantial number (about 80) are airmail letters from my parents from when they were abroad when I was in my late teens / early 20s; and a further 130 are from my wife.
Excluding the above two major sets of items (airmails and from my wife), there were about 1660 items to start with (from about 145 people), of which about 260 were initially retained; and 200 made the final cut and were stored in folders.
Since the 1990s, some of the communications from my friends have come by email. I’ve left those numbers out of the statistics above because the figures I have are very inaccurate. I have copied and saved particularly informative emails, and these amount to about 520 across about 45 individuals – but they are not all I received by any means. Interestingly, I also received and saved over 1500 emails from my wife when I was working – but this is atypical: I receive a daily Word-of-the Day email, and, when I was working and leaving home very early in the morning, I would forward it to her when I first checked my email at work with any salient message about that day’s events, and she would reply. It was an effective and reliable communication channel when I was putting in long hours or working away. However, that experience can’t really inform our knowledge about the impact of email on personal communications. On that question, I have not done the ‘date received’ analysis on all the material I have that would be necessary to draw any conclusions. However, my experience seems to match the anecdotal evidence – that we now receive far fewer written communications than we used to. It’s clear that the teenagers of today won’t have letter collections of the sort described here, in 50 years time.