In cleaning out old (paper) files, I found those words on a folder with my dad’s initials. He was an incorrigible saver of almost everything, including clothes and shoes. He made a practice of clipping articles from magazines and newspapers, scribbling in the margins the names of one of his seven children whom he thought should find this article interesting. After his death, we found stacks of articles he had saved, which somehow never reached us. Because these missives often were tinged with my father’s biases, they weren’t entirely welcome, especially since my father and I had different, if not polarizing, political views.
Yet, I inherited the need or desire to save articles from magazines or newspapers, stashing them away in folders and large envelopes, which have been sitting for decades unbothered until I embark on a cleaning project in the basement or the back of my closet. I have found articles I saved 10, 20, even 30 years ago on subjects that no longer mean anything to me. In a file folder in my cabinet called “Articles, interesting,” I found a 2001 interview with former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark and an article about “Truth in Advertising” from 2001. I can no longer remember why I found those articles from 20 years ago interesting, but you can be sure I won’t be rereading them to find out. Today, I need to educate myself on new issues and challenges—the Ukraine war, gun violence, climate change.
The articles I saved when I was younger appealed to me at a certain time of my life, addressed my emotional state at the time or validated some political or social issue I was passionate about. Similarly, I have books (too many) that seemed profound in my 20s but are meaningless to me today. The passions of youth are not the concerns of old age. In my younger years, I was preoccupied with finding work and buying a house, finding stable footing with my parents and trying to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. My parents are long dead, and, although I’m still trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life, my choices have narrowed, and I’m now focused on how to make the most of my remaining years.
I wish I could go back to my younger self and tell her: things change, you’ll change. Don’t save so much. Donate that book instead of putting it on your shelf. Throw out those articles after you read them. But it’s too late, and I’m left to deal with a lifetime of accumulations. So, as I continue what seems to be a never-ending project to get rid of things and simplify my life, I’ll toss before reading. Sorry, Dad.