Posted by: itneverrainsinseattle | January 27, 2010


I have accumulated a lot of crap over the years.

I’ve always been somewhat of a pack rat. When you’re a moderate pack rat, once you own a house (and/or your own office space), you have more room for stuff and less incentive to weed it out and toss the stuff you don’t need.

I’ve heard that there’s now a television reality show about extreme pack rats called “Hoarders.” I’m not one of those. Not even close. But, still….

Now that a move of both household and business is inevitable, I need to start weeding out the crap.

Of course, this has been obviously the case for some time now, and it’s amazing how many other things keep cropping up that also need to be done. Nonetheless, earlier today (Tuesday, January 26th — yes, it’s after midnight, but I haven’t gone to bed yet, so it’s still Tuesday to me, no matter what the clock and the computer say), I finally managed to pick a box from a stack of boxes that have never been opened since the last move, and started weeding.

The top half of the box was a pile of mail that had obviously needed to be sorted just prior to the last move, but was shoved into this box in a rush to get our stuff out of the last place. And then it was just… forgotten. Easy enough. I like the advice from the graduation address known as Everybody’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen): “Keep your old love letters; throw away your old bank statements.” Buh-bye, credit card offers and book club solicitations. File away that letter from [someone]. And so on.

But the bottom half of the box contained my high school memorabilia. My varsity letters (with my name spelled incorrectly, no less) for swimming. My high school diplomas — in New York State, you could earn a diploma from your high school, from the state’s Regent’s Board, or both. Awards for various other things; I didn’t even take them out of the packing paper, having been called away in the middle of this chore by the phone and other matters.

As I go through each box, I’m going to face some easy decisions about what to keep and throw away, but there are going to be a lot of harder decisions. Like the ones from this box.

I don’t display diplomas… although, given how expensive my diploma from University and Grad School were, I don’t think I’ll be throwing them away just yet. I tend not to display awards, although recent taekwondo competition trophies are proudly collecting dust atop the refrigerator in my kitchen. But what of my high school triumphs? Who cares that I was a champion ‘mathlete’ or a ‘Master Debater’? Sure, I’ll keep the yearbooks and photos, just to remind myself every so often that I really did used to have hair, or that I really did used to have amazing muscle tone. But the Hugh G. Rection Award for Poetry for some crap I submitted to the school district’s “Best of…” compilation my junior year?

As a (moderate, he insisted) pack rat, I’m inclined to look at them, re-pack them, and keep them tucked away in a box until the next move — or the move after that — to be again inspected and repacked. As someone who is likely to move more than once in the next few years, as my financial situation (and living situation) contract and then expand again, I’m inclined to just throw or give everything away. Well, except my books. My many, many books.

So how do I decide what to keep? What’s the yardstick by which to measure?

When does a keepsake become a ditchsake?



  1. There is only one basic rule of thumb for such a situation as you describe. Things of a very personal nature, which cannot be replaced ever, are the ones which should get the most consideration for retention. If there is the slightest doubt that you will regret disposing of something, then it deserves to be kept. You can always decide at a later moment that its importance has faded as the ink upon it may have.

  2. This is going to sound morbid, but I often think about the kind of things my kids might like to find when I die. Yes, I don’t have kids yet and no plans to die anytime soon I hope, but this still comes into it when I decide what to chuck. It’s because of going through my grandparents’ things. The small personal details that revealed something about a part of their lives long before I knew them or even my mom knew them were the ones that thrilled me the most. Even if some of those then got thrown away, they gave me a little insight. A surprising example? My grandparents had a vase in their study with loads of cocktail sticks in it. Dozens of them. I loved looking at them when I was young. Apparently in the 60s they’d done a business trip all around America, and my gran collected these from the cocktails they drank. They were all different, with the names of bars and hotels and restaurants on them. They made me think of my grandparents as glamorous socialites breezing their way across America on an adventure together. And when they died, I kept the cocktail sticks. I love them!

  3. Hold on to what matters to you. Hold on to things that eventually you may want to hare with the kids…if only so they you, too, had a life. Trust me, you’ll know when something becomes a ditchsake. And when that happens, still think carefully. We all know I can be a little too quick in throwing things out.

    Yes, Rachel’s birth certificate finally arrived. Now I just need to get to the Social Security Administration and she’ll exist again. My bad.

  4. Re “yes, it’s after midnight, but I haven’t gone to bed yet, so it’s still Tuesday to me, no matter what the clock and the computer say” I do that too! Actually, I stop looking at the clock after about 11 pm. I figure exhaustion is partly psychological, right? Right?? Ya, anyway…

    You know, when you’re going through that stuff, show it to the kids. The older one especially might think it’s cool. If they’re too young, put it in a box marked “for the kids when they’re grown up”. I can guarantee they will be thrilled to open it later on. Their grandkids will think it’s pretty cool too. My parents didn’t keep any of their own memorabilia, and rarely talk about their childhoods, so I have none of their history. But they kept almost all of my random crap and that stuff just feels like baggage.

  5. I agree with ToppHogg. Keep the things you can’t replace or that you would regret getting rid of – things of value to you. All high school and college PAPER awards can go into a large padded envelope marked as such and kept with yearbooks (or even stored in the yearbooks). Get rid of things that you don’t use that are easily replaced SHOULD you need them again. This goes for books. Don’t hang onto books just because. I also advise, if you feel culling will evoke memories that make it difficult, get a friend to help. That way you don’t hang onto something “for sentimental sake”. Think about if you really, really want to pack it, then move it, unpack it, and find a place for it in your new home. Consider the WORK that item will bring with it. Finally, there is that idea that you have to make room for the new, by getting rid of the old. I wish you luck, because this will be hard.

  6. I would keep the flat stuff. It’s easy to store by throwing into an envelope and filing it away.

    For bigger stuff that you’re not inclined to keep, take a picture. For the paper stuff you aren’t inclined to keep, scan it. Save these things on a flash drive. And then hope flash drives will still be usable in 10-20 yrs.

    I’m a purger. I collect, let it build up, then get frustrated and end up getting rid of 5 bags of stuff in one go.

  7. I’m also with ToppHogg. Think of many, many years in the future when your kids or grandkids are looking through your stuff. Wouldn’t it be cool to find stuff like that? For you great-grandkids to see a different side of their great-grandfather?
    And definitely keep pictures. Just Saturday I was at my grandma’s looking at pictures of my grandfather during WWII. She didn’t have any pictures of her in her nursing uniform. To say I was disappointed is an understatement. Seeing those pictures prompts memories which gives grandkids a chance to learn about not only a different time, but the life the people they care about had before we were even thought of.
    And as for the books, having moved more than 15 times in the past ten years, I can say you won’t miss them all. And your back will thank you for getting rid of some of them. I’ve kept most of the ones that truly made an impact on me. That romance novel I read while bored to tears in France? Didn’t keep it. Don’t regret it. Doubt I ever will. The French novel that sparked deep thought and debate about the status of women in that time period? That inspired countless papers? I definitely regret selling that book back to the university.

  8. I have at least 6 boxes of mail that I threw in at the last minute before moving the past 5 times and have still to this day not taken the time to pitch. Laziness more than pack-ratness for me.

  9. I really like _Hoarders_ and have watched every episode. There’s a related show called _Obsessed_ which follows people with various forms of OCD and their treatment.

  10. But the Hugh G. Rection Award for Poetry
    Ok, am I the only one that’s mind is in the gutter here. Huge erection??? Anyone???

  11. I went through that same exercise when I moved out of my house. For me, what was hard was tossing out old cards from my ex, from valentine’s day or birthdays or whatever, and congratulatory cards for when we got engaged, and married. But, I did, I threw them all away, because it was harder to keep them, than it was to throw them away (but not by much…). I have a lot of pictures that I have kept though, like our wedding pics from Hawaii, and all that, because I don’t want to “forget” that time in my life, or the breathtaking memories that WERE Hawaii, anyway, so I know what you mean. And for the record, the things I have NOT thrown away? Old notebooks from high school, middle school etc – I call THAT hoarding!! 😉

  12. I’m sorry… I’m not any help, as this reminded me that I have a TON of stuff (20 years worth in the same house!) to sort through myself and am at a loss on where to start. Can you say, “overwhelming??”. So, actually, this post, and the comments were helpful to me… Even though now, my brian hurts. Ugh Still… helpful. 😉 Thanks!

  13. Gosh I have no clue. I do the same thing…I keep stuff for long times, esp little memenos like yearbooks and stuff…

  14. Oh! I’m so the girl for this job! I have had friends call me over in a state of panic, especially when it comes time to move, to help clean, sort and toss. I’m not a pack rat by any means but I do keep things that need to be kept. Things I want my kids and grandchildren to see. But I’m very good at helping any woman clean out a closet or a man go through an office or dare we say- look under the bed. I love organization. I love cleaning. My hands are itching to come over and help you go through boxes. Pathetic I know.:)

  15. I did the same thing when I moved out of the place my ex and I shared and into my parents house and then again when I moved into my own apartment. I spent like a full day sitting on my floor amist all my crap. I threw out a lot of stuff that day but I kept the things that truly invoked a memory (good or bad) and that felt like a really big clue to my past. Does that make any sense? Things that helped shape me or change my life in some way or very explicitly marked a time in my life. I kept the backpack I used in high school which was like an green canvas pack that I had tattooed with all the bands I loved, letters from my best friends in high school, some photos from that time, and little funny things that stood out to me. There is a Yiddish word, “Chazeray,” meaning junk, and I think to myself when I’m sorting stuff what my best friend would say, “You gotta get rid of the chazeray.” So my advice: toss the crap and keep the clues to who you are!

  16. As someone who has moved A LOT, I still have boxes that never get unpacked move to move. Although, I have done better on recent moves. I’ve started throwing out more – things that weren’t as important as they were the last time I moved, when I decided to keep them. I usually end up with one or two boxes less of “stuff.” Which I consider good.

    Of course, it never fails that as soon as you throw something away, something you haven’t looked at in ten years, you’ll have a reason to need it. I finally threw away my junior high school yearbooks, and I swear not more than 3 months later was searching for them.

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