I filled my first shoe box in 1980…the year I turned 14. It wasn’t that I was already a conscious saver of things. At the time it was just a simple uncluttering of my bedroom desk and dresser. But looking back symbolically, I see it as a coming of age event – putting away my childhood things to make room for my turbulent teenage years.
Like a lot of kids then and now, I got a new pair of sneakers every August. And instead of a diary, the new school year meant a new box waiting for stories to fill it. For the first few years, I didn’t fastidiously put things in a box; clutter would accumulate in my bedroom, and after a while I’d go through all the things I kept, throwing away the junk and keeping those few things that meant something to me. I didn’t ever look in the shoe boxes that I kept. I just knew that memories went into a box, and each year meant a new box.
I kept shoe boxes through high school, and through college. In 1988, I moved into a New York City apartment for my first job. I put all my shoe boxes (which had been taking up more and more room in my closet) into a big box, taped it up, and put it in my parent’s basement. It was another symbolic event – putting away the things of my youth and moving on to adulthood.
That could have been the end of it. Except that I picked up where I left off with a new job and a new pair of shoes — and a new year to fill the box.
And so it’s gone for 35 years and two dozen shoe boxes.
When I turned 50, I decided it was time to open those boxes and write the story of what I found.