My wife and I each have forty years of clothes, books, photos, memorabilia and miscellaneous stuff. The last time it was meaningfully sorted and purged was sixteen years ago when we got married and moved to the house where we currently live. Even then, we didn’t do a great job of getting rid of the old to set ourselves up for the new–as I’m reminded of when I pull out boxes that haven’t been opened in sixteen years and can easily discard half of their contents.
Now we have another opportunity. We can do it right this time so sixteen years from now (or sixty) when we (or our children) go through our things again, only the most significant stuff will remain.
Some things are easy to decide: the 1996 Jeep Grand Cherokee that’s been ours for twelve years and has over 208,000 miles on it stays behind–especially since the A/C stopped working several years ago. The couches that have barely survived two small boys, an old dog who was incontinent in her final years and now a puppy–they won’t make the trip. Clothes made for sub-zero weather? No way.
But then come the harder choices: artwork the boys made when they were small, school papers that trace their development from their youngest years to now, favorite souvenirs from family trips, ten-dollar trophies from countless sports teams–should these make the cut?
As a family historian, I can find meaning in almost any document or artifact related to one of my ancestors. Even the most meaningless items (e.g., old receipts from store purchases, pictures of their friends, piles of old Christmas cards, etc.) can shed a little light on the personality or experiences of an ancestor. But how do I choose proactively now what to save–what to preserve in the hope that it will survive for some future time to tell a story I may not be around to tell?
Being a family historian and a bit of a packrat, I have erred on the side of caution and probably saved too many spelling quizzes, Mickey Mouse keychains and Christmas cards from friends. But I can’t help but think of my sons and future generations–I can’t help but do my best to assist them in their potential, theoretical quest to know me and my family and what it was like to live in these times.