Letting go and decluttering old study material

In a nutshell – Who said you have to get rid of everything? Who are the clutter police anyway? It is totally fine to keep things if they make you happy but ditch them if they don’t.

"Dangerous Liaisons" by Stephen Frears, with Glenn Close 1988 (based on a novel by Choderlos de Laclos). (Photo by Etienne George/RDA/Getty Images)

“Dangerous Liaisons” by Stephen Frears, with Glenn Close 1988 (based on a novel by Choderlos de Laclos). (Photo by Etienne George/RDA/Getty Images)

I still have my thesis, 25 years at least after I finished the degree. It’s the unbound version, bundled together in a Felix the Cat folder, because the beautifully bound version with marble end papers got stolen from college. About 10 years ago I thought about getting rid of it, I thought I better read the thing before saying goodbye to it and I got as far as page 2. It is embarrassing, pompous, self righteous and really badly written. It actually makes me feel bad about myself and there it is lurking in a cupboard to remind me what a farce I am.

I’m keeping it because it also reminds me of a most wonderful summer spent researching costumes in films. I spent weeks in a warehouse with the costumes from Dangerous Liasons! I got to wear them while I worked and my job was to organise them so tops were near the correct bottom halves! The other part of my job was to work with a really nice crew of makers on costumes for something with Hugh Grant in it. I know it had Huge Grant in it because I swore at him when he got in my way when I was sent on an errand to bring back “20 dresses from 1840 suitable for older people” and they were very heavy! I got to speak to historians who told me that cod pieces smell and I got to mess around in white gloves with acid free paper wrapped clothes in dark museums.

I’ve seen, touched and turned inside out a Coco Chanel dress to see how it was made and I still have pattern I cut from the famous hood from A French Lieutenant’s Woman. If you ever need an authentic 17th century corset pattern I’m your woman.

I’m not Roy Batty and it’s not time to die but I have seen amazing things. They may not be so exciting to other people but they are an important part of what makes me who I am.

I don’t do any work with costume, or in film, or in theatre now and I don’t want to. I don’t need to keep the thesis as proof that I’ve done that. I’m keeping it because despite the terrible, self conscious writing, it reminds me of a summer of deep joy when I was totally immersed in something I had a great passion for.

Do you have to get rid of it?

Who says you have to get rid of everything in your life anyway? Stuff related to studying is part of what has made us what we are now, even if you are not doing what you trained to do. If it is taking up space you really need, you are moving to a smaller home or it is difficult to store you might need to consider downsizing it but if decluttering it will make you sad, then don’t get rid of it.

Can you get rid of some of it?

There may be bits of your educational history you can ditch, it’s all a matter of balance. For me, the happy memories outweight the bad ones.

  • If you can find it online do you need to keep a physical copy?
  • Can you get rid of bits of it and keep some things to remind you of it?
  • Can you scan any of it so you can keep it in a less space consuming way?
  • If it brings back amazing good memories then keep it!
  • If you feel you might regret getting rid of it keep it.

My strategy

Personally, my thesis is staying in a box on a shelf high up in a place that is difficult to get. I might look at it again in another decade. It’s not taking up much space and when I watch a film with Hugh Grant in it I’m reminded of what I said to him. He looked somewhat alarmed and that makes me smile when I think of it.