Drowning in clutter can be a good thing

Drowning in clutter can be a good thing
They say when you're drowning your whole life flashes before you.

The same thing happened to me, but it wasn't because I was being water-boarded. Instead it was a book I got from the South Dakota State University archives.

When we decided to sell the farm and move into town, I was faced with a dilemma. What should I do with all the miscellaneous papers I had accumulated through the years?


Our daughters didn't want them. They would have cluttered up their houses just as they did ours. And they didn't have any use for clippings, manuscripts, old photos, etc.

That's when Dr. Stephen Van Buren, the university's archivist and head of special collections at the Hilton M. Briggs Library at the school, showed up at our door.

"Sure, we want them," he said, as he loaded the first of some 70 boxes full of stuff I'd been saving because – as Phyllis said – "You're Mr. Pack Rat personified."

"I'll be back for more," he explained. He even took the plaques off the wall of my office, plus the old electric typewriter I used for writing some of my 37 books.

"I wondered how anybody could make use of that mess, but he assured me they could. At least it was out from underfoot, and that would make Phyllis happy.

I had almost forgotten about it, when we got a phone call asking if we could come up to Brookings to see what they've done with my collection. Well, we were going to be on the campus anyway for a Newspaper Hall of Fame dedication, so I said okay.

When we got to the library, Doctor Van Buren met us. The library wasn't very busy – this being Friday night – as he led us through stacks of books to a lounge area.

I wasn't ready for what happened next!

There were people gathered around a fancy display of food, and I spotted a few familiar faces. It was a reception in my honor, of all things.

I was flabbergasted. Another archivist – Crystal J. Gamradt – presented me with a bound volume of what she had done over a period of one and half years with my "stuff." There were dozens of smaller printed booklets, each headlined "Guide to the Robert F. Karolevitz Papers" which would be available to library patrons.

That's when it hit me!

I wasn't drowning but here was my life flashing before me: as a freelancer, a book producer, a military writer, a political publications man, an after-dinner speaker and lots of other things, too. I was speechless as Doctor Van Buren (on crutches because of a foot problem) said my collection was a valuable asset to be preserved and made available to students everywhere.

I was honored and I thought I was just getting rid of clutter!

Maybe there is a lesson there. Don't throw anything away. It might be good for something!

© 2007 Robert F. Karolevitz

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