On Keeping a Personal Archive

IMG_5131-2Ever since I started working in the Local History department at the library, I have had a whole new appreciation for the personal archive. So many things that we have in our collection are things that I would have thrown away or found too mundane to save, if I was living a hundred years ago. All the old receipts, income tax forms, random photos of buildings and other paper paraphernalia tell the story of our city. While processing these things at work, I’ve had a lot of time to think about the stuff that I’m saving and recording in my own life. I’ve been thinking about this for years, but it was brought to mind again this past Christmas when my grandfather gave me something from his personal archive.

Since my grandfather retired in the 90’s, he’s been keeping a record of his daily life. It’s not a “dear diary” kind of journaling. Instead, it’s a simple record of his activities for the day, and a very careful record of his meals, especially breakfast. The journals aren’t the emotional epic of a preteen, fuzzy, pink diary, but the paired down sentences speak to the kind of man he is and what’s important in his life. When he gave me the old, spiral notebooks –most of them bought at the local Dollarama– I couldn’t stop reading the entries. It was a fascinating look at his daily life, and quite frankly, I was moved.

Looking through his journals and all the little bits tucked between the pages, inspired me to start my own daily record. I’ve tried to journal in the past, but I always found it exhausting to parse out my day. However, the simple description without any analyzing was appealing to me. There’s a certain kind of authenticity to it. Maybe I was just swept up with the romanticism of it all, but I bought my own journal to keep record of my days.


I decided to get a small planner and write my entries under each day. It’s very pretty, but I kind of wish I would have just used a good old fashioned notebook (I certainly have piles of them that have been gifted over the years). The planner doesn’t really give me enough room. What a surprise, the writer wants to write once she gets going, haha. That being said, I’m excited to be able to look back at the things I experienced from day to day. So often I think I could never forget something, and yet I always do.

Current trends seem to shun keeping “unnecessary things,” and that always makes me a little sad. Personal archives remind us of where we’ve been and give texture to memories. They also connect us to other people and to the world we inhabited. Marie-Kondoing and purposeful living are all good, but please for-the-love-history save a few things now and then. Your future self (and maybe an archivist) will thank you.



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