by Andy Rooney

Americans used to routinely put some of their weekly pay in a savings account.

Now, they depend on their company's retirement plan, Social Security and luck. None of these are as safe as we used to think they were, and we don't trust savings banks, either. I love the idea of saving anything, but all the things I enjoy saving are as hard to know where to put as money. At the moment, I'm sitting in a workroom in the basement of my house. It's separated by a door from my shop, where my tools are.

Without moving, I can reach the tall, four-drawer file cabinet which I haven't used in years because it's full of stuff I've saved. I pulled out one drawer and looked at one of about 20 fat folders. My 1961 income-tax return, along with all the receipts that went with it, is in there. You might think it would be easy for me to throw it away. The IRS is never going to question me about taxes I paid 30 years ago, but the folder is a gold mine of memories.

Everything I look at in here reminds me of something that would otherwise be lost forever in the far recesses of my brain. Maybe I can use it -- you know, for my memoirs or something. I'll save it.

I found a receipt for a Ford station wagon I bought for $3,764.13. It says, "10 passenger" but I don't think it held that many people unless they were kids. We probably had 10 kids in it, though, the day we picked some of Brian's friends for a birthday party. What a day. I remember that. But I might not have if I hadn't saved the receipt for the Ford.

There are 23 legal-size cardboard boxes piled on top of each other or stashed away under something else down here. They're filled with magazine articles I've written, articles about me, television scripts, book manuscripts, old pictures, programs for banquets I went to with the names of everyone there. I save names.

Up on one of the bookshelves I've attached to the walls down here, I see two graceful old wine bottles, empty now but still pleasant to look at. I've kept them. Those empty coffee cans over there look terrible, though. Nothing aesthetic about them. I ought to save them out of sight. Of course, I'm running out of places that are out of sight.

I wish I had a better place to save these elastic bands, too. Maybe I could put them around the coffee cans and save them that way. There's a difference between saving and collecting.

Some things, like pennies, collect while you aren't watching. I don't save pencils; they collect on me. I want one by the phone or on the table next to my chair in the living room, but they collect upstairs on my dresser where I never use one. My shop's in the same condition.

I've saved.

I can't bring myself to throw away a nice piece of wood, no matter how small it is. I recently cut a circle out of a piece of mahogany nine inches square. I'm left with a useless scrap of mahogany with a big hole in it. When I go, someone's going to find it among my possessions because I can't throw away such a nice piece of a tree that grew for so long and so beautifully.

One drawer in my shop has a collection of special small machinery parts and nuts and bolts. They all go to something. I must have taken a machine apart at some point and no longer remember what the parts are for -- but I save them. I don't dare throw them out for fear I'll find what they belong to the next day.

People who don't save things fail to understand that the future usefulness of the item saved is not the important thing. If I take pleasure in saving something, I don't care whether I ever need it or want it again. The fun was in having it, saving it -- and I wish I could say the same thing about money.

(This classic Rooney column was originally published March 8, 1991.)


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