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I cleaned out the shelves and said yes to digital memories

I am a compulsive cleaner. So every few months, I open the cupboards and start to organise. I look for clothes that have been lying ignored because they never reached the ironing table. I attend to them. I don’t like things in order, not all the time, just that I think bed sheets, towels, napkins, and of course clothes look prettier when in piles or lined up on hangers. Outside home, as I wait for a friend at a coffee shop, I use the time to clean my wallet. It’s weird how much the tiny thing can hold — last week’s grocery bills, cinema tickets from a fortnight ago, a crumpled ATM slip, and even a button that fell off from a shirt.

A couple of weeks ago, my bi-monthly cleaning routine brought me face-to-face with four particular shelves in a cupboard. Confession: I’d been overlooking the same for a while. These hold magazines, yearbooks, and photo albums. They share the space with folders that hold visiting cards. Plus, there is a box, which is home to destination-specific paraphernalia — post-holiday, I return home with boarding passes, brochures to the museum, paper napkins (sometimes placemats or coasters) from the lovely place I had lunch at, et al — the idea is to make holiday scrapbooks, but lately, I have been regular at only the gathering bit.

This is the kind of cleaning, which makes me feel uncomfortable. There is a magazine, which holds my first byline from more than two decades ago — how do I throw it away? Then there are magazines, which hold writings of others and in my opinion are collectors’ items. I flipped through school, college and university yearbooks — the ones that have group pictures of us look silly. How can I discard the memories made over the terrible annual dance performance in the first-year grad? No one gives away business cards anymore, they ping us on WhatsApp, right? Okay, so I can sans guilt trash the cards — also, we now reach each other on many, various platforms — it’s no longer rude to overstep personal, professional boundaries.

A few hours into the cleaning act, I lined up everything from the shelves on the floor — I have to stop behaving like a borderline hoarder, I told myself. Times have changed and it is time to act, accordingly. So, I took a few important decisions. I spent the rest of my day with the scanner and took charge.

My journalism memories revolving around bylines, cover stories, photoshoots, special coverages, etc. are now safely tucked in Google Drive. I haven’t technically lost them, right? The same goes for wedding cards of friends that I refuse to part with, and the artworks and greeting cards that my niece has gifted me over the years. I have kept the ‘physical’ card that is shaped (cut out) as sunglasses, though. Also, a few handwritten notes by family, friends, and teachers are sitting in a tiny box. I'd keep them until the ink fades.

It was satisfying to clean and organise. The shelves are now semi-empty. Most of the discarded items are now folders on my laptop, taking up just a few bytes. Surprisingly, I am feeling okay about this shift to digital memories — maybe, I'd visit them often, now that they're just a click away. Of course, I still do want to buy a few magazines and stock up on handwritten gift tags — maybe, I should be choosy. I know that the shelves will call out for me again, soon.


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