Saturday, September 19, 2009

You just keep me hangin' on...

My husband and I used to chuckle at our parents -- his mother in particular -- and their inability to throw anything away. She saved EVERYTHING for a rainy day -- plastic wrap, rubber bands, string... there were cubby holes all over the house, neatly labeled, with "things" in them -- lost, pre-used, abandoned -- that for the most part just gathered dust. We called it "that depression mentality" and attributed it to the shortages she had experienced as a child.

But now, as we age and attempt to pare down our lives, I see that we are not much better than she was. We may not save string or plastic wrap, but we do save plastic bags and cardboard boxes. And, like his mother, my husband still has clothes left over from what I suspect were his high school years -- at least, they definitely pre-date the time I've known him; he hasn't even been able to FIT in them in all the time I've known him. But he also hasn't been able to throw them away -- or even to give them to Goodwill.

I tease him about this from time to time, and every year or so I make him go through his closet to cull out the things too worn or too tight to wear; this year I've been trying to get him to cull his book collection, with about the same amount of limited success: he finds it very hard to let things go.

I'm better at that -- with books and clothes, anyway -- but just as bad or worse when it comes to throwing away photographs; something I'm painfully aware of at the moment, after a summer of traveling and a hard drive that's continually grinding to a halt with an overload. I'm good at asking my husband to toss duplicate copies of books. I'm good at asking him why he needs so many blue oxford-cloth shirts. I'm not so good at explaining why it is that I cannot bear to throw away a single picture of a red barn in a green field -- even though I may have 20 or 30 that are similar.

It can't be that I am saving for a rainy day. Nor can it be that I am attempting to single-handedly conserve the image of our vanishing farmlands. It's just that if the photo has anything remotely redemptive about it I just can't seem to part with it. I can organize them, and sort them, and label them -- just as my husband can sort and organize his burgeoning book collection. But I am no better than he at throwing out the stuff I know I will never use. There is this what-if factor -- a remnant, perhaps, of my parents' depression era challenges, passed on to me? -- that has trouble getting rid of a photograph that has even the tiniest promise of potential.

But I'm working on it. Since I last emptied my computer's trash can, I've apparently discarded over 700 photographs -- which sounds really good, eh? But I suspect that many of that number still exist somewhere on my computer in duplicate form. And I've barely made a dent in those farm photos -- most of which were shot from a moving car or train during our sojourn in the midwest. Clearly I have more work to do!

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