I was going to call this one, “The Notebook,” but it sounded too much like a Nicholas Sparks novel. And although there is a lot of sentimentality to this project, “binder” more appropriately describes the physical object.
What is it? The binder contains paper “souvenirs” that tell something of my life story.
My binder is a 2” three-ring notebook (and I will be starting a second one) with D-shaped rings to keep the pages flat. I use archival quality, heavy duty clear sheet protectors for the contents. I have binder dividers to break up sections although I am still working on the organization of the binder.
How is it different from a scrapbook? According to Collins: “A scrapbook is a book with empty pages on which you can stick things such as pictures or newspaper articles in order to keep them.” Most of my binder pages require no sticking, just inserting, although some pages did require some assembly. I made only a few attempts to be artistic, though.
Why produce such a binder, and what are its advantages? In short, the binder’s contents remind me of what I did and what I accomplished, who and what was important to me. It’s a snapshot of my choosing. As someone who finds it hard to throw away my life’s souvenirs, it allowed me to be more selective about what I kept. For example, instead of keeping a whole catalog for a graduate program, I cut out descriptions of courses I took and pasted them on one sheet. I don’t have to hunt through the whole catalog to find what I want. In addition to being simple to compile, It is easy to browse through. I can also pull out a brochure or similar item if I want to read it in detail. I assume that at some point, if I am lucky enough to make it to old age, I will enjoy having all this information in one place. A final advantage is that it can be changed easily at any time. If I want to add or eliminate pages, I can do so at will. My binder is flexible and can evolve. The binder can be anything you want it to be!
How do you choose the contents? As I was going through my hundreds of files and boxes of paper, deciding what to toss, summarize, scan or keep, I would come across something I that felt emblematic of who I was, what I did, who I worked for, what my life was like. Here are some examples of items I chose.
From my childhood: an early drawing, a song I wrote complete with musical notation, a page from a day-camp newsletter in which I passed my first swimming test.
From secondary school: scanned copies of final report cards from each year and a summary of comments made by my teachers, my Cum Laude certificate, my class graduation photo.
From my early jobs: a flier for a Vietnam war protest, a sample page from a report I’d typed for the MIT professor I worked for, a copy of my teacher’s diploma, a page of photos of my children in my second teaching job, my personnel appraisal on that job, the ”swan song” a fellow teacher and I wrote upon leaving our jobs.
From my early graduate work: a map of the area in Wales where I studied to be a teacher, a spreadsheet summary of the courses I took for my master's degree in counseling along with a page of descriptions cut from the catalog and pasted onto one sheet. (I have another binder created for a college reunion that summarizes my four undergraduate years, an important time of my life.)
From my avocations: the one-page brochure for the one month group camping trip I took around the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, a page from the newsletter for a folk-dance camp I attended, a flier I made for a Cinco de Mayo party two friends hosted, a page of descriptions of the continuing ed art classes I took in my 20s.
My binder also includes many other items from my later graduate school program and work life. It is still a work in progress as I continue to sort through papers.
What you choose to keep is entirely up to you and what jumps out as you are going through your archives. I chose not to include letters/correspondence or photographs that weren’t part of newsletters as I have preserved these in other ways, and I was concerned that these would make the binder too unwieldy. I also haven’t used it to record travel or cultural events, such as plays, I attended, nor souvenirs related to family members. But you could!
In most cases, I used the items as they were. However, I have many instances in which I typed up something from an original that was hard to read, was disintegrating, or took too much space; compiled items from several pages onto one page; or created a spreadsheet that summarized key information.
How do you organize it? As with the selection of contents, how you choose to organize your binder is a personal matter. Currently, I’ve organized mine loosely by chronology: childhood, school (and reunions), early jobs and post-college life (including avocations), later jobs and consulting career, later life events. But I may rearrange these, especially as I add things and perhaps expand into a second binder as needed.
What are its limitations? It’s selective; it only includes items that can easily fit in this format. It doesn’t include objects although you may choose to photograph objects and incorporate these. Presumably, if you are the kind of person who wants to preserve memories, you will have other formats you use. The binder can get heavy and unmanageable if you don’t apply some organization to it.
I love my binder, and it gives me great pleasure to look at. Of all the ways I’ve chosen to preserve memories, it’s the one that gives me the most satisfaction despite its simplicity.