No, I’m not talking about taking stuff back or “just in case” scenarios connected with everyday life. I’m thinking of future immortality in the historical record. As a novelist and social historian the receipts and printed debris of the past are like magic carpets. And for someone else today’s petrol station receipt or fast food flier will act the same way. Think before you throw it away.
If you do throw it away perhaps consider not throwing it away very well. Don’t carefully recycle it but perhaps sweep it away into a drawer in order to get the surface cleared. Chances are it may get lost under the drawer liner (hopefully made from old newspaper) and only be rediscovered when someone buys your old chest of drawers and clears it out for restoration. They might be amused or even touched by what they found.
We bought a Scotch Chest for £35 in Jedburgh about 20 years ago. A Scotch chest is a particular style of everyday furniture of the 19th century, characterised by the big deep drawer in the centre, used for keeping hats. (I keep A4 files in mine).
Now our chest is very similar to this one and you will note that there is a broad strip above where the drawers start. This turns out to be a long, shallow drawer, not immediately obvious to the eye. Certainly we didn’t realise it was there until we got it home and found it. In our case it was still full of stuff. There were photographs, a fake pearl necklace, a ration book and postcards. All completely overlooked and forgotten about.The impression they made on us was rather emotional – surely these things would be missed by someone? We asked the shop if they knew where the chest had come from but they had no idea so we could not send them back to the family. So we kept them, most of them still in the drawer where a slick of our own stuff has been added to them for the future to discover. One day someone will be quite confused.
I was entranced to read a piece about the restoration of an old house where children had apparently pushed all sorts of interesting things through the gaps in the floorboards, playing cards and ribbons and so forth. I was delighted then when the floorboards came up for renovation in our flat and the electrician found a very old cigarette packet and a copy of a 1888 evangelical tract, addressed to the working man. I can imagine our long vanished workman had having that pressed into his hands by some earnest urban missionary in Victorian Edinburgh, only for him to abandon it under the boards of the house he was working on. It was obviously not worth taking home…
So don’t throw away your receipts. They are the ghosts of the future.
Anyone else found anything accidentally like this? I’d love to know.