Back in the day, people wrote one another because phone calls were expensive, especially if they were long distance. I have this box of old snail mail
letters from my college days and shortly thereafter. A treasure trove of envelopes of multitudes colors and sizes, stamps of all varieties, and postmarks from exotic places such as Kirksville, Missouri. Yes, I saved them all, sentimental fool that I am.
I tend to hold on to things too long. Old memories, mementos and more than a few grudges. I’ve been holding onto these letters for decades, moving them from home to home but never looking at them. So I figured the time has come to deal with them once and for all.
I thought I could take a quick, first pass through them and cull the less meaningful, superficial ones. They cannot all be gems.
This proved harder than I thought because often within the contents of a typical boring letter are nuggets of goodness. I see things that I missed, undervalued or outright ignored the first time.
The Case for Getting Rid of It
You should only hang onto old memories, and their physical artifacts, for two reasons. One, they provide some warm fuzzies that elevate your mood. Two, they remind you of what to do or not to do when life throws you in that situation again.
These letters meant something to me decades ago. Leaving NMSU back in my college years was traumatic for me. I had a good group of friends. I was doing okay academically and repairing the damage to my GPA that my clueless freshmen self-inflicted.
Alas, I had to leave because of finances and for years I tried to get back to Planet Kirksville and the life I had to leave behind. I would visit Kirksville and later St Louis, even considering relocating there to be with my college friends.
I spent a lot of my 20s struggling because I didn’t have the support structure here that I had there (or thought I had there). I spent a lot of time and energy holding onto something that didn’t exist anymore and probably didn’t really exist in the first place. And had I been able to let go sooner, I probably would have had a better 90s and 2000s. It wasn’t until I built something solid here that I was finally able to let go.
I saved these letters because I figured I might read them in my old age and enjoy some warm memories. But honestly, if I have to read these to have warm memories when I’m nearly 80, my life didn’t turn out so well.
The Case for Keeping Some of It
I googled what do to with old letters and surprisingly half a dozen articles appeared with that title (hence why I’m not using it as the headline for this post). The best advice was Get rid of all cards and letters that don’t add to your happiness. You know, the letter from someone who promised they’d write and at the tail end of summer you get a postcard saying “hey dude, how’s your summer been? ready to get back to classes,” Signed: Somebody That I Use to Know.
Since I have access to an Enterprise sized scanner I am scanning everything, significant or insignificant. But this is proving to be a challenge since many of these letters are folded, crumpled odd-sized pages and as such, are a bitch to get into the feeder.
There are a few people I will be able to send the originals back just in case genealogists and family historians want some insight into how their ancestor thought, what made them happy, and what broke their hearts.
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