Time travel exists, and it’s free. I discovered it last year when I was getting ready to move. You see, I’d accumulated way too much stuff, way too much junk, and so I figured I’d do a classic purge. Lighten the load. I’d start with some of the outdated files I kept in the back of my closet. There was a leaning tower of manila envelopes in there, each one stuffed to the brim with receipts from the previous ten years. I barely needed to save those in the first place, I certainly wouldn’t need them after my move.
But one of the whole reasons I’d kept them in the first place was because I enjoyed the security of knowing I’d held onto them. Just in case it becomes necessary one day to prove what I ate at Chipotles on 03/11/2008. Once you throw a receipt out, it’s gone. Like you were never there.
So what I did was I dumped the contents of all the envelopes into a big pile and I started rifling through them. I could probably throw out the McDonalds ones and the Chevron ones, I reasoned, but maybe there were a few in there I might want to hold on to. Car repair, new computer, big stuff like that.
So I got to work, and an interesting thing happened right away. Just about every little receipt—even the boring ones for McDonalds—triggered an image in my head. A memory. Maybe not a specific “There was an old lady who kept eyeballing me” memory, but a cocktail of images and feelings associated with the time and place indicated on the receipt.
I’m gonna keep going with my McDonalds example. I found a McDonald’s receipt for the McDonald’s by the place where I worked at the time. Yes, all McDonald’s are similar, but each one has its own special personality, especially based on where in town it’s located. I hadn’t thought of that particular McDonalds in about five years, but now the memory was fresh in my mind.
And with it came memories of the gas station with which that McDonald’s shared its building. And with that, I recalled the Target directly across the highway from that McDonald’s. I remembered people walking around in the Target. I remembered the Starbucks they had there. I remembered how I felt on a saturday morning walking around Target with a cup of Starbucks coffee, looking for polo shirts. I remembered the sushi place right next to the target. I remembered going there and ordering some weird chicken meal, and they’d served it in crumply aluminum foil and there was a hair on it.
Really, I could surf the memories all day if I wanted to. So what I did was I took that McDonald’s receipt and put it aside. I figured I’d hold onto it in case I wanted to time travel to that zone again at some point further down the road.
Of course, the surfing didn’t end there. Every receipt I looked at—every one—brought back memories that my brain had long ago placed on “standby mode.” Even if I couldn’t remember when or why I went to establishment indicated on the receipt, the address and date would usually do the trick.
“Oh, yes, I remember going on that trip to Sacramento with such-and-such a friend!” I could usually reverse-engineer a receipt in this fashion until it finally clicked where, exactly, the receipt had come from. “That’s right! We went to get coffee but the place was crowded so we went to that weird diner with the blow-up Godzilla behind the counter!”
Another receipt relegated to the “save” pile. I knew that without that receipt, I’d have never again in my life thought about that diner with the Godzilla behind the counter. I’m not a big “selfie” guy. No silly photos of me doing things to the Godzilla existed. And I just wasn’t ready to let go of that Godzilla.
I ended up throwing out quite a lot of my receipts, but only after amassing a large pile of “greatest hits.” I still have them, in case I want to go time traveling again.
Readers, I recommend this time travel method to you. Don’t throw out your receipts, not even old and faded ones. Give them a moment of your time, give those waves a moment to collect and swell. You’ll visit places you’ve forgotten that you’ve forgotten.