I adore The Diane Rehm Show. Not only does she always have interesting and timely topics to discuss, but she has the most fascinating guests and panels.
Today’s topic was Minimalism. I didn’t get to hear the entire story, but I heard one short bit that REALLY freaked me out. See if you can guess why:
The guest practices minimalism – the art of decluttering. Living with as few possessions as possible. I’m all for it. I’m a bit of a ‘collector’ myself, but if you can do it, more power to you! Of course, most of mine is vintage and antiques, stuff for my online shop, and things that have personal meaning. They admitted that it’s hard to get rid of those kinds of items but you should – take photos of important things like report cards, awards, and personal letters and then throw them away.
Yeah. Now you see why I got a bit upset.
Look, I get that everyone’s different. I understand that to some people, inheriting a house full of cool stuff is the worst thing that could ever happen to them. That they may feel zero connection to the boxes of newspaper clippings, letters, photos, journals and memorabilia in the garage or attic.
But PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE. Don’t throw it away.
I’m a historian. Right now, I can tell you that the story I’m working on – the Kimmel case – may never get solved to my satisfaction because key players in the case threw stuff away. Admitted it on the stand. Of course, that’s a bit different – that was more about self-preservation than decluttering – but the fact remains that there will always be those holes in my research because those primary sources burned more than a hundred years ago. Think how much more heartbreaking it would be to find a treasure trove of sources – only to find that they had been thrown out just days before I discovered their existence!
I love antique shops. Haunt them, really. I’m always amazed by the family histories I find there. The photos, especially. Most of them have no identification, no names or locations; I can well imagine that after a generation or two, no one has any idea who those people were. But once, someone did.
Trust me. Those family Bibles and old letters and photographs and advertisements and whatnot may not seem very important to you, but they are important. To someone. Maybe your kids, or your grandkids. Or maybe to someone like me. There’s loads of people out there who collect vintage and antique photographs. Who collect vintage letters and other things you may want to throw away. AND VINTAGE CLOTHES. NEVER, EVER THROW AWAY THE FREAKING VINTAGE CLOTHES. PLEASE.
So what can you do with them besides take them to the dumpster? Here’s some ideas:
- Call your local historical society and see if they’re interested (I bet they are!).
- Call your local antique shop and see they’ll take things on consignment (they often do, or they might just make you an offer then and there for it).
- Contact a local historian. Every town has at least one. They might not pay you anything, because they’ve got to store it, but if all you’re going to do is throw it away anyway, so what?
- Call the history department at your local college or university. It’s a long shot, but there could be a historian there who can give those items a good home, or knows someone who can. Often, historians at universities are interested in research into that town or area.
Please. Stop throwing away your family’s history. Maybe you don’t want it – but someone else might.
And if it’s got anything to do with George Kimmel, Edna Kimmel Bonslett, John Boone Swinney, Andrew J. Hunt and his wife Margie, or Charles A. Johnson of Niles Michigan, PLEASE, I WANT IT! 🙂
A link to the story: https://thedianerehmshow.org/shows/2016-07-28/the-lure-of-minimalism
4 thoughts on “The Dangers of Minimalism (to a historian)”
I just… I can’t! Why on God’s green earth would someone throw that stuff out?! That just makes my heart feel like it is in my throat.
I know! When my grandparents died, one thing I requested (since no one else seemed to want them) was the letters they wrote during WWII. My mom said no, I don’t want you to read them. She never said why, and they disappeared soon after – my guess is they were thrown away along with all the Nazi currency and other souvenirs my grandpa brought back, too. Broke my heart.
I have never actually considered this angle. Thank you for making me think.
Thanks for letting me know! 🙂