Even before I joined Twitter, I was always fascinated by the hashtag.  I’m not sure where my fascination originated but it sounds cool and I definitely like hearing about how it’s becoming part of mainstream culture.  I’ve even heard celebrities use the term when talking to audiences, instructing their fans to use social media and hashtag [insert word here]. 

So what is this hashtag that everybody always talks about?  Hashtags are keywords denoted by the pound symbol # and were started by Chris Messina in August 2007.  You can see the original tweet here.  Twitter can be a wild place and the hashtag was suggested as a way to group tweets related to a certain subject.  The idea went viral in just a short time, but I know from speaking with other twitter users, that a lot of them don’t use the hashtags either because they don’t really understand them or realize how to utilize them effectively.  Even I have not put any hashtags on my tweets, but that’s just because I’m still getting warmed up.

Tags, however, are not a new concept for digital formats.  A lot of sites have been utilizing them long before the hashtag existed on Twitter.  They provide descriptive terms about items including blog posts, digital images, articles, stories, websites, etc.  In other words, they are a type of metadata that can be used to describe content and offer users ways to search and interact with information.  Using a keyword to describe content for search and retrieval is not new to people in my profession, and in fact, has been used by us for a long time in a surreptitious fashion so users would not feel like they were doing extra work.  But I like to think that the hashtag has changed the perception of using metadata and made it something popular, effective and cool to use.

Hashtags are often used on Twitter to mobilize people around a certain topic or event.  In fact, many people host TweetChats, which are Twitter discussions happening at a scheduled time and get people to participate by adding a specific hashtag to their tweets.  This allows people to follow the discussion, otherwise the tweets would get buried in the thousands of other messages being created.

My one real complaint with hashtags, and tags in general, is that they can be so inconsistent.  I love that tags can be a free form way for people to interact with their information, but on the other hand, it introduces a lot of errors like spelling mistakes, or too many variations to describe one thing.  For example, think of how many ways New York City could be described in a tag: NYC, New York, Big Apple, New York City, NY City, NY, etc… How could you ever search for all of those?

So when you use tags, hash or otherwise, be mindful.

Do you use hashtags?



Archiving Gmail

I remember the first time I “archived” a message from my inbox.  It was a boarding pass for a flight scheduled later that day and it was entirely by accident.  I must admit it did raise my pulse a bit when I couldn’t figure out where this message went.  I scrolled through my folders and was surprised that there was no folder for “Archive.”  So where did it go?

After some poking around I found it tucked away in the folder “All Mail.”  Phew  

Boarding pass now intact, I had enough piece of mind to actually investigate the “archive” function.  Google offers some explanations in their support section: Archive Mail, Archiving vs. Deleting (in case you were confused about these two separate and distinct actions) and of course All Mail (so you can figure out what this folder is really for).

Google claims the Archive feature is “like moving something into a file cabinet for safekeeping, rather than putting it in the trash can.”  Anyone who has ever worked in an office probably knows firsthand that items put in the file cabinet for safekeeping usually remain there until:

  1. an office relocation or
  2. somebody dies.

After reading the support pages I’m guessing that “archive” is meant to save something that is important enough to keep, but not important enough to:

  • remain in your inbox and clutter it up
  • go in a separate folder (that would presumably be labeled with a topic or subject for reference emails)
  • get a label

But if you’re going to save something for possible future use or reference, wouldn’t it make sense to create a folder or label to identify something about this email?  Is anybody concerned about cluttering up the All Mail folder?

The Archiving vs. Deleting section implies that saving every unimportant email, rather than deleting it to free up space, is an option thanks to all of Gmail’s free storage.  Is creating space the only reason people delete things?  I’m in the habit of deleting things that no longer offer value to me, regardless of the space they take up.

Aside from the fact that the word and action “archive” is used improperly, I find the whole idea of it a little baffling.  By the way I am an archivist so naturally I’m a bit biased.

Do you use the Gmail archive function?   Do you find it useful?  Please write in with your comments.

Giving: A New Way to Purge

Part I: The Truck

I spent the weekend in DC visiting a dear friend of mine.  Last month when purging at my mom’s house, I put aside a few of my brother’s old matchbox cars to give to my friend’s son.  In my suitcase I had packed a small truck.

I presented it to him on the first night of my visit.  It was love at first sight.

The truck.  Pepsi-cola logo, with opening side panels.

The truck. Pepsi-cola logo with opening side panels.

And he’s off… Truck still in sight.









Part II: Stuff for Baby

My friend wanted to donate some of her son’s outgrown clothes and toys to a new mother.  She asked her two-and-a-half year old son to participate in the activity by deciding which things to donate to Baby.

Her son barely hesitated as he went through his toys and clothes generously offering things.  In just a short time, two bags of clothes, books and toys were ready to go.

The result of a 30-minute purge of the outgrown items.

The result of a 30-minute purge of the outgrown items.

Only one item was hotly debated between the two.  The son wanted to donate a hat to Baby and the mommy said, “No way, you’re keeping this one.  It’s just too cute.”

Mommy made the executive decision to keep the hat, at least a little while longer.

The mommy made the executive decision to keep the hat, at least a little while longer.

It was the only time they waffled on their loosely established criteria, but exceptions can be justified once in a while…




Collections Part II: Matryoshkas

I went to Russia when I was 17 as part of an exchange program.  Among other things, I learned about matryoshkas (nesting dolls) and quickly became obsessed with them.  The end result was a collection that started and ended during my 3-week stay.  We had a contest during the trip to find the smallest matryoshka, which was defined as being “booger-sized,” meaning able to fit in the buyer’s nostril.  Teenagers are weird.  Here’s the collection:

Collection acquired on a trip to Russia in 1995 (Feb/March)

Collection acquired on a trip to Russia in 1995 (Feb/March)

Close up of a top contender in the contest:

Top contender in the contest to have the smallest one

This one nested 15 times!

And again the dilemma: save or purge?

As I spent hours going through hundreds of personal, physical items, I started thinking about the digital world.  Did I have any collections there that also needed cleaning?  And if I did, what would my options be for going through them?  Would I be able to sell or donate part of the collection?

I often think about my music as a perfect example of a hybrid collection.  The cassette tapes were thrown out.  That part was easy and painless. The CDs, however, were a different story, probably because I still own a stereo with the ability to play them.  Some were uploaded into iTunes and then donated.  Others are still in my apartment.  I now buy my music directly in digital, eliminating CDs completely.  But it’s not the same as a physical collection.  What I’ve really purchased is a licence to listen to something instead of an item that I can control completely.

So what happens when I feel like going through my digital collections of books, photos, music and whatever else?  Will I be able to sell or donate? Or will my only recourse for purging be to delete?



Collections: The Glass Menagerie

Along with the clutter at my mom’s house, I came across a couple beloved childhood collections: matryoshkas (Russian nesting dolls) and glass animals.  Years earlier, in a fit of purging, I had emphatically told my mother to just get rid of them.  My mother, however, did not comply and I was once again confronted with my collections on this latest visit.  Now the control was in my hands.

Ugh.  More kryptonite for the Deletist.

Collections are in a different class than regular, junky clutter.  I’m talking about real collections, not the ones featured in the previous posting of moldy bassoon reeds and crumpled notes from middle school.  I’m referring to collections that are hand picked, cared for and cultivated over years.  The kind of things that bring us joy to look at or be around.  Our memories are tied to them.  But what about when we cease to have a connection with them physically, emotionally and/or spiritually?  Should we still hang on to them?  Or should we give them a new home where they will be appreciated fully?

I’m quite sure that my collection of glass animals started with a pair of Whimsies when I was about five.  We were visiting family in Bermuda and I had my first loose tooth.  After trying all kinds of archaic methods to pull it out, I eventually wiggled it free on our last day.  I woke up the next morning with a rabbit and a fawn under my pillow.  Both are front and center in the picture along with the others.

Wade Whimsies – small glass animals that come free in boxes of Red Rose Tea.


From that point on I went crazy.  For years I saved and spent my allowance on miniature animals, mostly glass.  On vacations I purchased them as souvenirs.  People gave them to me as gifts.  Each one was carefully selected to satisfy a specific purpose.  I stopped collecting them over 20 years ago, and my brain, once soft and spongy, can only recall some of the memories associated with the collection.

A portion of the collection.

A portion of the collection.

Within my collection is a sub-collection of the Chinese New Year animals.  They were given to me by my mother’s friend after she took a trip to China.


Collection from China that includes a few extras I found over the years.

Collection from China that includes a few extras I found over the years.

And the rest of the animals that, along with the Whimsies, didn’t fit into the shelves.  At one point they had their own shelves which disappeared when the room was repainted.

Additional miniatures that didn't fit in the cabinet.

Additional miniatures that didn’t fit in the cabinet.

So here’s the dilemma: save or purge?

Getting Rid of Clutter

As it would turn out, the Deletist has kryptonite when it comes to getting rid of clutter.  I’m spending this week helping my mom go through all the stuff in her house to de-clutter it.  My primary job is to go through my things.  The process is slow going as it requires me to sift through boxes of old photos, bundles of correspondence and stacks of school work dating from elementary school to university.

In the days before long distance calling and email, letter writing was how we kept up with each other.  I’m one of those weirdos that saved all my letters.  Going through these piles of correspondence, I find myself faced with a number of dilemmas about how to establish criteria for keeping or destroying them.  I came up with some flimsy guidelines:

  • letters from people I can’t remember – Toss
  • letters from people I am no longer friends with – 50/50 (some toss, some keep – it depends, basically on how tired I am or how I feel emotionally about the content)
  • cards – depends on who gave them to me, for what purpose and how much is written on the inside (for example, birthday cards from my parents or grandparents were all kept, even though they were often without a date and only had a few chicken scratch scribbles on the inside)

No easy task.

There was also the discovery of a few odd things that had been kept for far too long, such as:


A kickback to my conspiracy theorist days.  Somehow I thought I could preserve history by saving a few old newspapers dating Sep13-15 2001.

A kickback to my conspiracy theorist days. Somehow I thought I could preserve history by saving a few old newspapers dating Sep13-15 2001.


Old newspapers?  What was I thinking?  In the archival world we refer to such things as “acid bombs”.  They were all recycled without a second thought.


Not quite sure why I saved these since it's kind of disgusting, but you can tell they're real old because I started playing bassoon in 1988!

Not quite sure why I saved these since it’s kind of disgusting, but you can tell they’re real old because I started playing bassoon in 1988!




Bassoon playing is still my hobby over 20+ years later, but I no longer save the old, worn out reeds.  I’m too focused on getting the new ones to play properly.



My talent as a potter was pretty limited.  Contents include: a piece of pizza, a basket with a bunny for a handle, a dish and a "music box".  TOSS!

My talent as a potter was pretty limited. Contents include: a piece of pizza, a basket with a bunny for a handle, a dish, a panda bear pencil holder and a “music box”.





Old art projects.  It’s hard to create criteria for this one.  Thankfully my artistic talents matured at a young age so I’m quite sure I could replicate any of these things without a problem.





A box full of old notes from middle school.

A box full of old notes from middle school.

A huge quantity of crumpled up notes from my girlfriends crammed into a small box.  In the front left are 2 notes written on 8.5×11 lined notebook paper and then folded into a special square with the recipient and author’s names on it.

Giggle and then TOSS!


Who doesn't like finding money when they're cleaning?  Although the envelope claims it's real legal tender, I have my doubts.  Check out the margins on the bill and the texture feels funny.    Btw, Rudolph is just a sticker.

Old Christmas money






Who doesn’t like finding money when they’re cleaning? The envelope claims it’s real legal tender, but the margins are off centre and the texture feels funny. Rudolph is just a sticker but I’m still questioning the authenticity of it.  I should’ve just spent it in 1988 when I received it.


My brother's collection of Smurfs.

My brother’s collection of Smurfs.

My best memory of the Smurfs was when I used to take my brother’s favorite ones and dangle them in front of him from the tree house by a string so he couldn’t have it.  tee hee  This memory was buried deep and only resurfaced because we found the Smurfs. Are our memories attached to the physical items?  Or is it the presence of the physical item that triggers them?


And then came the hard stuff…

Clothes, birthday cards, awards...

Dad’s stuff: Clothes, birthday cards, awards…



10 years after he died we still find it difficult to deal with personal effects.  🙁