Cleaning (Out) My Room

When I planned to be home in New York for part of the summer, I planned on cleaning out my room. My parents had been threatening to stage a coup and throw out everyone in my room if I didn’t sort through all of it. (Yes, it’s still my room and no, they wouldn’t really do that, but I bargained with them that the big clean out would be before I went to grad school. I also have to vacuum thoroughly and dust everything.) Fortunately, my parents understand that I tend to move back and forth across the country and cannot carry everything with me.

This is my third or fourth day (it’s becoming a blur) cleaning out my room and I have figured out why I have saved papers, tchotchkes, photographs, books, stuffed animals, etc. The answer is that I can remember the origins of 95% of things in my room. I can pick up anything and easily recall where it’s from, who gave it to me, what I used it for, what doll it belonged to, why I saved that piece of paper… and the list never ends.  Just call it a blessing and a curse. I get it from my mom.

Luckily, I have just moved most of my belongings 850 miles and I am in the mood to not have so much stuff for the next time I move. In other words, I’m in a ruthless mood, which is the best mood to sort through my room, which equates to most of my life in material possessions.

By some miracle I’ve been able to recycle bags of papers and give away many useless tchotchkes and the dozens of pocketbooks that the closet collected from my sisters and me over the years. It’s been rather productive and everyone is impressed. (With that said, it’s still a mess and it’s a good thing I’m home for a while).

But while room cleaning is a great way to earn my keep around here, it’s also a wonderful trip through my life. Many items deserved to be tossed, but I’ve found wonderful mementos such as my first library card, long lost photographs, letters, and my grandmother’s notebook of songs from 1943. I took time to read through scrapbooks that I made of my grade school years and a family scrapbook from a reunion 10 years ago that I’m bringing to our reunion on Sunday. I’ve sorted dolls, doll clothes and their accessories into what is good enough to save for future generations and what should be given away.  Needless to say it’s been fun and I keep smiling.

So, what am I leaving? For now, I’ll leave scrapbooks, a collection of notes passed to me by friends in high school, books, editions of the high school newspaper for which I was an editor, a box of high school track medals, and other sentimental items. I’ll bring this to my house once I settle in one place. For now, the room has enough empty drawers and closet space to be used for a guest room, and my mom can redecorate the walls. Everyone’s happy.

A question to ponder: do you think preservationists have a harder time throwing away things than non-preservationists? I don’t mean this in a pack-rat sense, but just in a different understanding of individual history. I’m just curious. Leave comments below.


2 thoughts on “Cleaning (Out) My Room

  1. kvlandau says:

    To answer this question in a few words.. YES! I guess I wouldn’t call myself a preservationist, but wouldn’t an archaeologist be the same way? All my ‘things’ are artifacts from my life and to have these material reminders along with the memories and feelings they provoke is priceless! It is in a sense ‘personal archaeology’, no? You can never know who you are if you don’t know who you were.

  2. Jen G says:

    Most definitely yes. My family doesn’t understand why I need to save so many things, but when I look back at our old family photographs or a pocketwatch or pair of glasses that my great-grandparents used, it gives me chills! So I am willing to be the family archivist for our generation(s). However, this does translate into keeping more stuff than I really should, and I also need to do a big clean-out every now and then to reevaluate what I have saved…

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