The human race consists of two kinds of people: those who keep everything and those who chuck anything for which they have no immediate use. As in every other generalizable division except saintliness and evil, neither keeping nor chucking is better or worse than its opposite. They’re just different. Attempts to make a keeper into a chucker or vice versa are going to be imperfect at best, a dismal failure at worst, especially in the long run.
On the Sisters in Crime e-list recently, someone wrote in to ask what to do about “stuff,” citing such examples as conference catalogs and brief mentions in the local newspaper. The replies divided themselves neatly into keepers and chuckers. The keepers cited such rational reasons for keeping every scrap of paper as the possibility of making money decades down the road by selling archives and having evidence for a possible audit by the IRS. But that’s not really why they keep stuff. They simply can’t bear to throw anything away. I know this because I’m a keeper myself.
One consequence of being a keeper is a cluttered home. I’ve got one of those. Two, in fact: an apartment in New York and an 800 square foot (yes, only two zeroes, that’s not a typo) house on the East End of Long Island into which not so much as an additional wall calendar will fit. I flunk feng shui, but I don’t care. I love the stuff with which my home is cluttered. To me, it says, “Interesting people live here.” I fill my space with mysteries and African masks and pottery and photographs. I have straw necklaces from Timbuctoo that I bought in 1965 and the autobiography I wrote for fifth grade in a ten-cent notebook covered with construction paper and filled with drawings and snapshots.
Can a person be a keeper/chucker hybrid? I’d say yes, because my husband is one of those. He keeps library books and stuffed animals and toy soldiers and the little blue tickets the dry cleaner puts on his shirts and hundreds of dollars’ worth of pennies and nickels and dimes. But he throws away ATM receipts. And he talked me into selling my canoe. I’d bought it dirt cheap at a yard sale, and everybody else I know thought I’d been clever to get such a bargain. My husband considered it a malevolent plot to put him to work lifting a heavy and unwieldy object onto and off the top of our car. So I had shoulder replacement surgery and my right shoulder aches if I reach for something on a high shelf, not to mention when I paddle a canoe. So what? I might need a canoe some day. By selling it, we may have thrown away our chance of escaping a tsunami or post-nuclear holocaust. We certainly aren’t going to get away by car along two-lane Route 27 from Montauk, even though the signs say “Coastal Evacuation Route.”
The other thing my husband persuaded me to throw away was my files of tax returns and documentation from the 1970s. “You’ll never need that stuff,” he said, on a roll in pure chucker mode. “Everybody says the IRS only looks back seven years at most.” So now, with New York City rent control under constant threat, I no longer have proof that I’ve occupied my apartment since 1970. If my billionaire landlord ever tries to pry me out, the earliest piece of paper I can show is a canceled check from 1986. I wish I’d never thrown those back files out. Will I ever let my husband live it down? Are you kidding? Hell, no. I’m a keeper.