Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, February 26, 2024

Kolumn: Collecting memories wisely

This spring semester, I am interning at a senior citizen’s private house, helping him to scan, curate, allocate and categorize over 30,000 prints and contact sheets passed down from his parents.

He had been keeping them in a controlled environment for over 20 years, and finally initiated this massive project to not only unearth valuable family memories, but also a long-gone story through world history as he and his partner traveled to over 65 countries during those turbulent years of the 1940s90s.

Learning about the world’s shifting visages by physically flipping through piles and scrutinizing the content of each 35 millimeter black-and-white photo on 8-by-10 inch resin-coated paper is both novel and educational for me. For example, seeing their photos taken in the 1980s in Bangkok was how I learned that the primary way of local transportation back then was kayaking on canals.

Moreover, the action — or even the idea — of sitting down, touching something tangible and identifying its past is often romanticized in our fast-paced, ever-changing society. With increasingly disordered media exposure, public oblivion of social issues becomes more prevalent; with miscellaneous distractions engulfing our lives, collecting and organizing memories wisely is therefore not only meaningful, but also necessary for  resisting a growing sense of numbness.

One of the easiest and the most apparent ways to keep a memory is to save things relevant to the occasion. Regardless of their importance, seeing things always triggers the hippocampus, which controls the consolidation of information from short-term memory to long-term memory to spatial memory. Examples of these physical mementos can include various tickets, dried plants and souvenirs.

Even those with minimalist mindsets would agree that saving things for the sake of preserving memories is reconcilable with their lifestyle, but the key is to keep those things in place. Mindless accumulation might result in the opposite end of the spectrum: a hoarding disorder.

Counterintuitively, this clinical disease is often seen in intelligent, well-educated and creative people. As Jeanette Cooperman writes, “the psychological understanding is that objects are gathered in a futile attempt to fill emotional emptiness—piled up like a barricade to protect oneself against an uncertain future.” It again underlines the insecurity and loneliness experienced by modern people. The very phenomenon has come to be viewed as a common failing.

Every time I move house, I have found surprising things such as notebooks from every stage of my education, birthday cards from friends and even hygiene products from different hotels buried deep in the closet, drawers and under the bed. They are each meant to commemorate an experience, but their respective significance either fades away or alters. I felt exhausted simply browsing through and assessing their ‘keepability,’ but at the same time delighted when floating pieces of memories solidified into physical things and emerged into my mind.

The standards for diagnosing hoarding disorder are yet to be improved. Holding on to things generally is a dilemma too, and a question of letting go. We should always keep in mind how to wisely keep things and memories in place.