Saturday, June 1, 2013

How To: Organize Correspondence

I don't get letter-writing. I mean, I get that writing letters is thoughtful and fun, but it's not my first choice for communicating over a long distance. This objection is less about the ideological implications about "old time" communication and media, and more about the pragmatics of the thing.

  1. Postage: As the USPS continues on its slow but inevitable descent, those intent on delaying the inevitable are also intent on gouging their customers 'till the very end. Fifty cents doesn't sound like much, but I could subscribe to Amazon Prime for the same cost as sending four letters a month. And that does not sound like it ought to be analogous.
  2. Time: Just as a dollar sounds like a steep price compared with gratis email, the varying transit time required for letters sounds needless compared with instant email. While there's something to be said for delayed gratification, it's a challenge to carry a real conversation and keep up with the daily small talk when days pass before your letter is received.
  3. Carbon-Copying: Letter writing also has the curious characteristic of depriving you of the words you've written. Whenever I receive a response to a letter I've sent, it always requires a degree of mental gymnastics to remember what exactly I said and what the other person is responding to. This adds an element of guesswork to making conversation. 

As much as letter-writing confounds me, however, it's always fun to get something in the mail. I've exchanged letters off-and-on with various individuals through the years, and I've accrued quite a stack that holds sentimental value. As part of my grave-dressing processes preparation to leave the country for a year, I've been cataloguing/liquidating/preparing to store my possessions for easy transportation through the rest of my life. Which brings me to the purpose of this post: how do I store all these letters I've accumulated? Pinterest has been of little to no help.

Nevertheless, I've considered a few different options.

The Digital Method

A lot of my memories are already housed in the space-efficient annals of my hard drive. This is of course simple for school assignments, pictures, and even some video, because cloud computing and the digitization of life began about the time I started using computers. I've been on that bandwagon for a while. It's a pretty simple system, just scan the letters, save as images or PDFs and organize by folders. The downside is twofold. 1) What if your hard drive dies? All your data is lost. So fun. 2) Legibility may suffer. Many of my correspondents have horrendous handwriting, and though my scanner is pretty sharp, there's always the potential for data loss when transferring between media. 

The Folder Method

This approach involves ditching the envelopes. It works best if most of your letters are 8.5x11, then you can paper clip any pages together and slide them into page protectors. Group page-protected letter sets in a folder or binder. What I don't like about this option that it not super seemly. Once you get all the letters in the binder, what do you do with the binder? It becomes an endless circle of "What am I supposed to do with this?" I have the same problem with photo albums. We have boxes and boxes of these things in a closet somewhere; they're not quite the right size to keep on a shelf and they're not quite pretty enough to leave hanging around as decorations. 

The Box Method

You take your letters and notes, and you put them in their envelopes (and if they don't have an envelope, you give them one and label it), and you put them in an archival box. You can put in little separators that sort the letters by year or by person. Or if you're feeling crazy, topic. (I.e. graduation, birthday, thank you notes.) Then you can take your box and put it with all your other boxes. Maybe make it a decorative box that you can keep on your coffee table or bookshelf so you can peruse it when you're feeling particularly nostalgic.

Any suggestions for how to tame my collection of sentimental papers? And while we're on the subject, what criteria determine what's worth saving and what is a waste of space? I'm coming to terms with the fact that I can't save everything and it's majorly bumming me out. At what point does memory preservation become too obsessive? (And does asking that question indicate that I am fast approaching that point? Possibly.)

1 comment:

Art said...

The best thing I've done with my reams of notes is to put the ones from tour in a scrapbook (which is still unfinished. . .I have not found the time to sit and arrange like that again).

At this point, I am trying to save everything that meant something to me to receive. I use the box method mostly, and the stick-this-in-a-corner-on-my-bookshelf-and-wonder-where-it-is-when-I-want-to-read-it-again.

I don't have any good advice, but I'm saying "hi," and that I get it. :)