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The line between being sentimental and a pack rat

There's a dusty box in the basement, attic or garage of every house in America.

We sat in the middle of the living room floor, next to our dusty box of things that were "too special" to throw away — an assortment of school assignments, tests, practice sheets and art projects that dated back to first grade.

But we’d reached the point where the amount of "stuff" in the house was about to surpass the amount of "room," and something had to go.

It might have been easier to just toss the whole box into the dumpster sight unseen, but that seemed sacrilegious. At one point, everything had gone into the box for a reason, and at the very least it deserved one last look.

Steven had just completed third grade, and he was as curious about the treasures inside the box as I was.


We weren’t disappointed.

The first thing to come out was a sheet of lined tablet paper with a list of 10 spelling words.

Nine of the words were spelled correctly; there was a red check next to the eighth word on the list, "receive."

"I before 'E' except after 'C'", I reminded Steven.

We put the spelling test on the "save" pile.

There was an early exercise in cursive writing.

"I think a capital 'G' is hard to make" Steven said.

I always thought so, too. We put it on the "save" pile.


We decided to save an art project that involved spray-painting macaroni noodles gold, then gluing them to a sheet of green construction paper.

A scribbled picture of Frosty the Snowman torn out of a coloring book went on the "throw away" pile, but an "identify the shape" worksheet was saved. The rectangle was colored red, just as the directions had asked. The triangle was green and the circle was blue. Most of the coloring stayed within the lines.

I briefly considered putting everything back in the box and returning it to its corner in the basement.

The amount of space we were going to save — even if we threw out the whole box — would be inconsequential, and at one time it had all been important.

But there’s a fine line between being sentimental and being a pack rat. I crossed that line a long time ago, but I’m trying to change.

So we continued with our sorting. A multiplication worksheet with 48 out of 50 answers correct went on the "save" pile; a worksheet with 39 out of 50 answers correct went on the "throw-away" pile.

We saved an unused Scholastic Books order form (for historical reasons), and anything with a gold star stuck to the top of the page.

An essay called "What Thanksgiving means to me" went in the save pile, along with a drawing of a lopsided, snaggle-toothed jack-o'-lantern. A mimeographed note from the teacher about head lice went on the throw-away pile.


An hour later, we’d gone through everything in the box.

The save pile was about the same size as the throw-away pile, but the things we agreed to save seemed to be a nice shapshot of elementary school.

And more than that, it brought back lots of good memories.

"That was kind of fun," Steven said. "If that’s all of your old school papers, can we do mine?"

"Maybe some other time" I said. I didn’t want to explain my real reason for not wanting to sort through his school papers.

They’re too special.

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