Cleaning Out the Closets of My Mind

Papers

In a little book entitled The Sage’s Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for the Second Half of Life, William Martin writes that there is no need to cling to the things than no longer identify you. “The closets of your mind can be cleaned of ideas no longer needed” (p. 62). For a retired church historian like me, the mental closets of ideas usually are accompanied with old paper files of research notes and partially written drafts of essays

Today, while purging obsolete tax papers, I stumbled across a folder three inches thick entitled “Notes on 19th Century Revivals.” Most of the material consists of photocopied chapters from books such as And They All Sang Hallelujah: Plain Folk Camp Meeting Religion, 1800-1845, by Dickson D. Bruce, Jr (1974), and The Posthumous Work of the Reverend and Pious James McGrady Late Minister of the Gospel in Henderson, Kentucky, Ed. James Smith (1837). A small portion consists of hand-written reading notes taken from similar essays and books.

I was doing this research during the late 1980s and drew upon it for a paper that I presented to a section of the North American Academy of Liturgy. Almost simultaneously, the definitive work on this subject was published, Leigh Eric Schmidt’s Holy Fairs: Scottish Communions and American Revivals in the Early Modern Period (1989). My paper was later published in Discipliana, the journal of the Disciples of Christ Historical Society (Spring 1994, pp. 2-19) with the title “The Sacramental Character of the Camp Meeting.”

What should be done with files like these? The easiest course of action, and on the gray, rainy day when I am writing this note the one that could easily be accomplished, is to dump them into a box of old papers to be recycled. Another possibility is to arrange them more carefully and include them in papers I hope will be kept permanently in my archives somewhere. From my own experience working with the archival papers of others, however, I cannot imagine that researchers in years to come would ever take the time to use these papers for their own research.

Maybe another idea concerning proper disposal will come to mind before I empty this thick file into a box already close to being full. In any case, the topic, 19th century revivals, already has been cleaned out of the closet of my mind. All that remains is to get rid of the paper trail.

4 Responses to Cleaning Out the Closets of My Mind

  1. Perhaps summarize the good points, like you are doing here, for blog publication. You are a wealth of riches for Disciples History. Roger

    • Roger: I’ve made up my mind about this camp meeting folder. There is another one of similar size with materials about Disciples worship. I’m likely to go through those papers and perhaps summarize the good points, as you suggest. Thanks for your response.

  2. I have the same issue with the files and notes I kept from working in legal management for forty years and years of work in civic organizations – even papers from graduate school. My wife doesn’t want our children to have to go through these eventually….. In addition, I had three boxes of newspapers from critical events such as the end of the Berlin Wall, Nixon Resignation, Invasion of Iraq, etc.

    I have started going through these and culled the three boxes of newspaers into one box and recycling a lot of the files as I watch sporting events. Perhaps they will ultimately all be discarded, but one never knows and if they are organized and don’t take a lot of space, keep the ones that are most meaningful to you.

  3. Some of my old papers do mean a lot to me and I might even use them at some point in the future. Following your example, I’m going to sort through one stack of folders about seven inches high and review the 200-page, unpublished book manuscript I’ve written that is based on them. I need to decide if with a little work the manuscript can be published (for limited circulation) or simply filed with my papers that will remain after my death. The paper files can be reduced in volume, but much of the material has value to the Portland, Oregon, church where they originated. So I need to sort and arrange them, decide if I’m going to make one more try on this project, and then donate them to an appropriate archive, perhaps at the church.

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