Building a collection of articles with no end in mind is not quite as strange as it might seem

In my house I have a couple of waste bins for paper – one in my home office (which is different from my office office) and one in the downstairs hallway.

Into these two receptacles go envelopes, advertising literature sent through the post which has not held my interest, old shopping lists, notes brought home from work, the occasional newspaper, last week’s Radio Times, and a few other odds and ends.

The volume of materials isn’t great – my recycling bin (emptied every other week by my local council, rather than once a week as promised by the Government) is rarely more than half full, even when I add in the occasional (and I stress occasional) bottle that once held wine, the unwanted rest of the newspaper, empty cereal packets and similar detritus that I have accumulated from the recently opened mega-sized Tesco which I and about six other people frequent.

However, this careful selection of the correct bin (we have four in my area, one for garden waste, one for recyclables, one for plastics and the like, and one for food) and my cautious approach to getting rid of things means that I accumulate.

Not, I hasten to add, more and more rotten food or broken digital radios, but rather, more and more paper.

Yes, I must confess, I do actually accumulate more paper than I jettison.

Now I am not a totally hopeless case. My house is still habitable, and when I finally pass away and my family come to clear the place out, this won’t be one of those situations where they have to call industrial clearance companies and risk being buried under mountains of printed materials which collapse the moment one item is moved.

But I do see things in the paper and in magazines, and I keep them. Then a year or two later I look at them and think, “Why on earth did I keep that?” and maybe I throw the item away. Or maybe I think, “I must have kept this for some reason – I know if I throw this out, I am going to regret it,” and so it (whatever it is) stays in the collection.

At least that has how it has been until this past year, because last year I made a resolution, introduced (as is the way of such things) on January 1, in which I would, each week, spend an hour or so indexing, sorting and throwing out the unwanted.

And I’ve been doing that, indexing, sorting, setting aside, throwing out, and filing.

It has been the most interesting experience, not so much because things are now in a proper order, but rather because I now understand much more about what I keep and why I keep it. I tend (for example) to keep newspaper and magazine articles about the surveillance to which our society is now subjected. It is a fascinating subject for me (even if nobody else cares) and maybe one day I’ll pull it all together and write a book on it.

Or maybe not.

I have found I also tend to keep articles about places in which I have lived or spent a lot of time. Memories of days past I suppose.

Anyway, you may well be asking what this has to do with anything. Well, what struck me was that we don’t tend to do the same sort of thing anymore with computers. We read, we digest, we delete.

Now I know that when my last computer went pop it had within it a lot of stuff that I had collected – articles, files that sort of thing. Some of these went onto my new computer, but a lot were just left, and have ultimately been wiped and crushed.

Maybe that is good, because we can’t really go on keeping and keeping, but it does mean that some of the occasional archiving of materials, kept for reasons that gradually become less and less clear, is slipping away.

And yes, of course it is all stored in the British Library archives. But that’s not the point. My collection is my collection – what interests me, from my singular point of view.

I do hope that some of us do continue to keep clippings and cuttings, because these collections are of value, not just because of what is in them, but because of what they say about the collector’s view of reality.

It would seem that I am not the only person who does this as we have a number of customers who every now and then move their collections into our Document Storage.

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