When wading through tons of clutter, keep a 'do-not-toss' box for sentimental memories

June 23, 2012|Meg Partington

The emails from Kim Reno, the chief financial officer at The Herald-Mail Co., contained good news and bad news.

The good news: the hideously old carpet in our building is being replaced. The bad news: all employees need to pack the contents of their desk drawers into boxes so our desks can be moved while the carpet is being placed.

I share a desk with Herald-Mail columnist Tim Rowland. We typically work opposite shifts — hence the reason we can share a desk — so I sent him an email asking how he wanted to handle the packing.

In typical humorous fashion, he suggested explosives — or maybe it was gas and a match. Really helpful. So I suggested he get rid of whatever he didn’t want and I would do the same. Then I would box up the surviving paraphernalia.

I’ve been at The Herald for almost 15 years and Tim has been here for almost 27, so you’d think we would have tons of clutter through which to wade.

Not so.

He had copies of his books, obscure and out-of-date reference books, postcards, aspirin, reading glasses and empty egg cartons — lots of them — that co-workers leave for his hens’ treasures.

I had my go-to dictionary and Associated Press Stylebook, red pens, sugar-free hard candies and lots of photos of my son.

There were some artifacts in the mix:

  • Story ideas and notes from interviews belonging to a co-worker who left years ago, obviously a former inhabitant of our desk
  • A pica stick
  • A plastic wheel for sizing photographs from the days when newspaper pages were pasted together
But between Tim and I, we only half-filled an 18-by-18-by-16-inch box. It was sort of depressing. But it also was a sign of the times: less paper, more technology.

Reporters and editors still take notes on paper, but the majority of their research is done online, not with books. Even phone messages more often are sent via email than left on notes stuck to computer terminals.

The empty drawers left behind after the purging are much like the bins in my son’s bedroom after he recently got rid of all the plastic creatures, fake money and assorted junk he has accrued in his 10 years on this planet. While I love to declutter, I felt like a chunk of his childhood was discarded with all those trinkets.

The walls in his room are almost bare after he decided many of the posters they had borne were too “little-kiddish” for a rising middle-schooler.

It’s amazing how quickly we can dispose of things when we’re pushed or inspired.

However, being a sentimental fool, I believe the truly important nuggets of our lives are stored in our minds and hearts — and in our desks.

In my top right desk drawer still sit that dusty pica stick and measuring wheel, and on top of my desk are photos of my son and the “love bug” he gave me when he was in fourth grade.

They’re all part of my history and will always make it into the “do-not-toss” box.

Meg H. Partington is assistant city editor of The Herald-Mail Co. She can be reached Sunday through Tuesday at 301-733-5131, ext. 6997, or by email at

The Herald-Mail Articles