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For the sake of keepsakes

staff note

I wouldn’t say I’m a hoarder. I’m a big proponent of tidiness (though perhaps not to Marie Kondo’s level), and I’ll clean my room well before turning to homework, or perhaps a pressing editor’s note that I have to publish in a few hours. But over the last three years, I’ve made more and more room in my dorm to house smaller objects on desks and dressers, all meant to capture some snapshot of my college years. 

Perhaps this is most noticeable in my dorm decor. Freshman year, I went to the career fair and purchased as many Michelangelo and “How I Met Your Mother” posters as I could fit in my room, trying to fill up all the white space on my walls with proof that I was an interesting and cultured person. As the years passed, more and more of these posters ended up tucked under my bed or hidden in a desk drawer, no longer necessary to make me feel like I had passions worth expressing. 

As senior year rolled around, I realized I had too many small keepsakes to justify taping each one individually to my wall and risking peeling the paint off. So I fashioned two lines of twine and bought some clothespins from Michael’s, and clipped up all the small pieces of paper that had littered the bottom of my desk drawer for the past year: old football and movie tickets, a witty postcard from my trip to Nashville, a handwritten note from my mom, a button given to me for my birthday, a photo of my dog at the beach by my house, numerous Polaroid pictures we had forgotten to turn on the flash for. 

When I went abroad to Berlin last fall, I didn’t buy many keepsakes for myself, knowing that they would get left at home or forgotten. Instead, I bought a postcard at each of the (admittedly numerous) museums I wandered into, collecting paintings of German biergartens and a Van Gogh sunflower or two. I couldn’t walk out of a museum without combing through its gift shop and picking out the post card most representative of the two hours of my life. Now, they’re all arranged in a five by five square by my desk, a tangible reminder of my abroad experience. For me, they have more value than photographs, which can be awkwardly staged or badly shot. The postcards remind me of what I have seen and what I hope to see again. Across from the postcards are all of the Recess covers from this year, a physical representation of the hours spent editing stories in 301 Flowers. 

I was home over break and realized that this preoccupation with keepsakes wasn’t a recent discovery. I looked through boxes from middle school and high school, trying to scale down the amount of old notebooks and reading assignments that littered my closet floor, and found dozens of little notes and doodles tucked away for posterity’s sake. I couldn’t even bring myself to throw out an old planner due to old inside jokes scribbled in the margins, even though I had forgotten the meaning of the joke years ago. Seeing these items again felt like viewing them for the first time, or like peering into the life of an old acquaintance who you’d lost touch with over the years. I didn’t make much progress in sorting through my old notes, deeming many of them to have an emotional significance stretching beyond helping me pass AP Euro. Most of the contents of that closet floor ended up placed in plastic bins, to be perused again when my next wave of nostalgia hits me. 

When I went to the Women’s March with my roommate this past weekend, I asked her if I could keep the program of the speakers. I didn’t want to look up them up, exactly, but I liked having something to remind me of how it felt to be surrounded by so many empowered, inspiring women, beyond a few quickly snapped selfies. So I tucked the program in my jacket pocket and brought it home. 

What is it about keepsakes that make us hold onto them, long after they’ve served any purpose at all? What keeps cheap kiosks on boardwalks across the country in business? They become so much more than objects, hearkening back to however you were feeling when you went to that concert or received that birthday card. And there’s something powerful about choosing to display certain objects instead of hiding them in photo albums or file folders, no matter how insignificant they seem. It’s the choice of which pieces of paper are worth holding onto, which photographs deserve to be framed, that show as much about us as our music tastes or hobbies. Maybe keepsakes stay with us because, in Kondo’s words, they spark joy, or at least a sense of permanence. 

I only have three months left at Duke, so soon all of these photographs, postcards and movie tickets will be shoved into a folder, dropped in a cardboard box and shipped off to, well, I’m not sure where yet. But wherever I am next, I’ll be comforted my little snapshots of college — until I have new memories to replace them. 

Christy Kuesel is a Trinity senior and Recess Editor. 

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