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.  🙁

Facebook Friends


It’s everywhere.

Even I’m on it.  Of course I joined, like so many other people, to be involved with a specific event.  Once the event was over, I was left with a Facebook account and a whole bunch of “event friends” that I wasn’t really sure I was interested in.

Perhaps I am not the typical Facebook user so let me tell you about my interaction with it.   I use Facebook to keep in touch with acquaintances and certain groups to which I belong.  Most of my closest friends are not on Facebook.  A few close friends are but we don’t communicate through it.  I keep my friend count under 50.

I regularly unfriend people.

Facebook, and social media in general, have changed a lot of things about how we interact with each other.  But I refuse to let Facebook define what a friend is to me.  Everybody “friends” everybody on Facebook without really thinking about what friendship means because that’s just what we do.  Friendship to me is about having a relationship with another person, one that transcends learning about him/her through newsfeeds, status updates, wall postings and images.  In other words, something more substantial than a “Facebook friend”.

Facebook makes it unappealing to ditch the dead weight among our “friends” because they use such a loaded word to perform the action: UNFRIEND.  I do it, but only to people that I don’t have a relationship with.  In my mind it’s like getting rid of clutter.

(picture credit)

Screen shot 2013-06-17 at 12.30.48 PM

Digital Photos = Digital Dilemma

One of the best

One of the best

Humans are natural collectors.  Digital formats have made it easy for humans to collect with the availability of  “out of sight, out of mind” storage (think the cloud).  Other options include inexpensive tiny drives that can store enormous amounts of content.  Not really out of sight, but also not in the way.  But should we save everything just because we can?  Are there consequences with saving too much stuff?

Last week I went kayaking on the South Saskatchewan River.  I worked hard to take pictures of the goslings, sometimes going upstream while juggling the camera and paddle.  I now find myself in a dilemma over which ones to keep and none of them are spectacular.

I love looking at the pictures because they remind me of a terrific experience.  At the same time I feel irritated looking at so many similar gosling pictures and at my inability to save the best ones and delete the rest.

My normal default is to purge everything, but I find myself making excuses about why I should keep them all, mostly because I can.  Saving them requires no additional commitment, but deleting them must be done on my phone and in my Dropbox, where photos are automatically backed up.

I could just save everything, but I know that in the future I will derive the same, if not greater pleasure, from saving only the best photos to remember the trip.   The gosling pictures are a small sample set but imagine having hundreds, or even thousands, of similar photos from a vacation or outing.  Would you save them all?

What makes our things valuable to us?  Do we value something less when we have more of it?



Multi-step Deletions

I’ve noticed that it often takes multiple clicks to delete something, but saving, or archiving, is usually accomplished with a single action.  And at the end of the process, the item isn’t even really deleted.

My current phone plan offers Visual Voicemail, meaning I can read most voicemail messages as text.  (Occasionally the service is unable to transcribe somebody’s message and I can only listen to it.)  After reading/listening to the message I can save it with one click, but to delete the message takes a minimum of 4 clicks.

First round of deletion:

  • Click 1: select tiny garbage can icon
  • Prompt appears – Are you sure you want to delete this message?
  • Click 2: select OK to prompt

When I first got the new service I naively thought that the message was deleted after the 2-click process.  Then I discovered the deleted messages folder in my voicemail box full of messages I thought had been deleted.

Second round of deletion:

The process was nearly identical to the first round.  There are a few additional options offered such as “delete multiple”.  The prompt appeared asking me if I was sure I wanted to PERMANENTLY delete this message.

OK – again. *sigh*

So here’s what I’m curious about, when did delete stop meaning delete?  We’re now conditioned to use the trash bins/delete folders as safety zones.  They’ve become our “just in case” dumping grounds because items can be restored at any time.   If we have no intention of actually getting rid of the things in our trash bins/delete folders, why don’t we just rename the container to something more reflective of its actual purpose?

In the physical world do we use trash cans as a place for things we might need later, “just in case”?  Of course not – that would defeat the purpose of throwing something away.  Most of us take out the garbage on a regular basis.  So why do we not feel the same way about deleting digital items?  Is it because we can’t see the space they take up and they will never start to smell?

Now I know some of you are probably squeamish to purge that delete folder because you got burned a couple of times, or were saved by restoring something.  I have also been burned and saved by not regularly emptying the digital trash.  However, those few isolated incidents are just that, isolated incidents.  They don’t negate the thousands of times I’ve purged items without any repercussions or second thoughts about it.

Do you empty your digital trash?  Why or why not?  Tell me about it!