Treasures & Trash: Or Why I Hate to Clean and Why I Hate to Throw Things Out

I could have titled this post “Tidying Up, Part 2.” But I decided on “Treasures and Trash” because that is what I found.

It started as a simple project. I have a chest in which I have stored items for many years. It’s a small chest, the height of a short dresser, and it has cupboard doors. Over the years, when I had photographs printed, I would throw the envelopes of snapshots (together with negatives or CDs) into the chest. Old family portraits I didn’t want to display anymore went into the chest, along with the frames they were in, unless I had another portrait to put in the frame. I stored many other keepsakes in the chest as well. After each item went in, I shut the doors and rarely thought of it again.

Occasionally, I rummaged through the chest looking for pictures for this blog, or searched through my kids’ baby books to find a date or a certificate. But for the most part, out of sight, out of mind.

It was getting hard to keep the doors on the chest shut. So I finally decided I had to clean it out. Really, I thought, if I just put the loose envelopes of photos into boxes, I could keep the chest neat enough to close the doors. So one Saturday afternoon, I found some boxes and started in.


Before: The Messy Stage

There is always a stage in a cleaning project when it is messier than when one begins. This immediately became true of this project. No way could I simply cram photo envelopes into boxes and stash everything back in the chest. There was too much stuff in there.

I’d been afraid something like this would happen, which is why I chose an afternoon when my husband was away. Messes—at least my messes—make him nervous.

But I’d started. I had to do something, to get it back to a stage when my husband wouldn’t see a mess.

So once everything was out of the chest, I started sorting. I found many things that were trash, and many that were treasures. In the trash category were about two years of old financial statements from the mid-1990s. And many terrible snapshots of family members (though I didn’t bother to sort these out). And also a costume I’d worn for Halloween at work in about the year 2000—Catbert, Evil HR Director.

But there were even more treasures. Things I’d been looking for. Things I’d forgotten I had. Things I don’t think I ever knew I had. The photograph of my brother and me with Santa Claus from 1960 or 1961—I’ve been searching for that since my father died two years ago (though I think this copy was my grandmother’s, not my parents’). A 1950 picture of the adults in my husband’s family at a civic event (one of the things I didn’t know I had). A postcard from my husband to his great-aunt announcing that he’d taken a girl (me) home to his mother (another thing I didn’t know I had). Many pictures of momentous occasions in my children’s lives I’d forgotten about—my daughter’s preschool graduation, my son’s Eagle Scout ceremony (now if I could just find a copy of the speech I gave), and many visits and vacations. And so much more.

These treasures are why I hate to throw things out. I didn’t have time to look through all the photos. I’m sure there are more treasures in some of the rolls of film from years ago. If I simply toss them, I might lose something precious, a memory that would make me smile.

In months to come, you’ll hear more about the treasures I found. And maybe about some additional treasures, if I can steel myself to get back into those boxes. If I can bear to attack the chest again.

After: Much neater, and less stuff

I spent a miserable afternoon at the chore, but the treasures were all back in the chest before my husband got home. The trash? It’s been thrown out, the financial records shredded.

When have you found family treasures you didn’t know you had?

Posted in Family, Philosophy and tagged , , , , .


  1. Oh, my. I have a spare (not so spare now) closet like that. With financial statements going back much farther than two years. May haps, (or probably not) I’ll get some shredding done.

    • Janet, what I shredded doesn’t include the past ten years of records that are in three boxes in my office! Nor what I keep in another cupboard in the bedroom that really MUST get cleaned out at some point.
      Cheers. Theresa

  2. Boy, does this one resonate. I have so many boxes yet to sort through, although we spent almost five weeks last summer going through boxes of mementoes, photographs, journals, files, papers of all kinds, and we did get a better sense of order and organization. I think we need to do it once more to pare it down again, and I still don’t know what to do with most of it. Make scrapbooks? I even scanned about 10 shoebox sized boxes of photos getting them onto CDs. And yet, I neglected to name each photo, so now when I want to view them, I have to open each one. Whew. I could hire a professional organizer if I had the funds. Hats off ot you for your efforts.

  3. When i started to clean out Mother’s house I found due bills from their gas station for 1937! They read, “Albert G. Baby Ruth Candy Bar $.05.” And on and on. I asked my mother why she kept them. Did she expect to collect the money? She shook her head with a blank expression. For a moment I considered using them as wall paper, then thought better of it. They ended up in the trash in short order.
    By the time I got to the cabinet in her 4th bedroom, I discovered great-grandfather’s diary and Daddy’s WW II letters which have been turned into “The Late Sooner” and “Hard Times in the Heartland.” I guess some of that stuff really did turn out to be a treasure!

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