Michael justifies why he -- and many others -- feel the urge to save things. But after telling Sally about treasures from his days as a PEOPLE magazine reporter, there's no escape. Something gets shredded.
Why do people save things? Why did I save things? This is what Sally and I try to figure out in the first episode of our podcast.
Painful as it was, this first episode did reduce my stash. Not by a lot. But yes, the greeting card Sally us sent during the holidays is now gone forever. Here's what it looked like on the outside...
And here's how she took the corn outta the cocoa by amending the message on the inside...
And here's where we failed on our first episode. I swear I was ready to shred this photo of Sally and me, taken in 1975 on my family's porch. Especially after my looks in this photo drove Cindy to peals of laughter. But Sally wanted this. So I'm sending it to her. Now she's gotta throw it out.
By the way, I would have saved all that hair if I could. Alas, not possible.
I'm hoping that my attempt to review my treasures -- and tell the stories behind them -- will inspire you to share a story with a friend or family member about what you've saved, why you saved it, and what's going to happen to it. Or click here to share it with us!
If your story makes us laugh or cry or emote in some other entertaining way, we'll write back to request a photo -- and we may share your story on the site, or in season two.
Meanwhile, we bow to the team behind our rockin' theme song...
All of them have created lots of great music. Do yourself a favor and... Listen and enjoy here.
I Couldn't Throw It Out – Intro: Why Throw It Out?
I couldn't throw it out
I have to scream and shout
Before I turn to dust
I've got to throw it out...
MICHAEL: Hello Sally Libby!
SALLY: Hello Michael Small!
MICHAEL: This is it! Our big moment! The very first episode of our very first podcast which goes by this name: I Couldn't Throw It Out.
SALLY: Hmmm.. I think I like the sound of it.
MICHAEL: You'd better like it. Because I plan to inflict this project on you in a big way.
SALLY: Oh I'm used to that. You've been doing it for centuries.
MICHAEL: Don't exaggerate. I've only known you since fifth grade. And we didn't like each other till 9th grade. Now , after all these years, I feel I do owe you an explanation before I rope you into yet another project.
SALLY: You certainly do.
MICHAEL: So this is a warning. Anyone who doesn't want to understand what we're doing here should probably skip right now to the next episode.
SALLY: Okay, see ya!
MICHAEL: Wait, Sally! YOU have to stay!
SALLY: But I already know what this is about. You've got all this stuff you want to throw out and you need me to help you. Because you can't bring yourself to do it.
MICHAEL: It's not that simple! There's a lot more to it.
SALLY: Such as?
MICHAEL: Well, here's the gist of it: I'm absolutely positive that many, many people in this world share my private habit.
SALLY: Stop! TMI!
MICHAEL: Sally! I'm talking about the fact that many of us feel the urge to... save things. I can't think of one person who doesn't save things, can you?
SALLY: Ah, I agree. There are a lot savers out there.
MICHAEL: I swear, it's part of human nature. So everyone reaches a point where they have to ask, "What am I gonna do with this stuff?" Now if you're like my parents, you just leave it behind for your kids, who have to sort through it for weeks, then rent a dumpster to get rid of it.
SALLY: Or if you're like me, you wait till the basement floods and then it's all ruined so you don't have to keep it.
MICHAEL: Well, that's where you and I are VERY different. Because I still have everything I've collected since 1rst grade.
SALLY: Okay, THAT IS EXTREME. What year was that? 1842?
MICHAEL: I believe it was 1963
SALLY: You must have a ton of stuff!
MICHAEL: I do! And that's the problem. Cindy and I never had kids. So I can't force anyone to inherit it. Which means that I have only one choice. I've got to get rid of it. I have to throw it out.
SALLY: Calling Internet Influencer Marie Kondo!
MICHAEL: I'm glad you mentioned Marie. Because she's all about de- cluttering. And let me be perfectly clear: our podcast has nothing to do with clutter. Seriously. This isn't about ugly shirts that I'm gonna kiss goodbye as I thank them for their service. My objects are much more precious. The other day, I was talking about this with an excellent friend. He suggested that I'm... an archivist.
SALLY: Is that a synonym for hoarder?
MICHAEL: Actually, I AM a hoarder.
SALLY: So I've hoard.
MICHAEL: Ouch! I should have known that was coming. You ARE so well-known as the Mistress of Puns.
SALLY: I do enjoy a little play on words.
MICHAEL: Yes, but we've got to set limits. Let's say... you're allowed three bad puns per episode.
SALLY: (disappointed) Ohhhhhh...
MICHAEL: If you exceed your limit, you know what will happen?
SALLY: Ummmmm…. PUN-ishment?
MICHAEL: Exactly. By the way, that was pun #2. You got one more. Now getting back to the point: Did you ever see those TV shows about hoarders?
SALLY: Maybe once or twice. Depressing.
MICHAEL: M –hm. All the hoarders have one thing in common: They NEVER admit to being hoarders. So if I just told you that I'm a hoarder, it proves one thing. I'm not actually a hoarder. So this podcast is not about a major mental disorder. It's just about a bunch of smaller ones.
SALLY: I've got a revolutionary idea. If you're no hoarder, why not carry those boxes to a big trash can and drop them in? Then you're done with it!
MICHAEL: Sally... you're missing the point.
SALLY: In what way?
MICHAEL: Okay, consider this: For people like me who collect things VERY carefully, all these objects are evidence. That we existed, that we cared about things, that the events in our lives mattered. And every one of those objects is PACKED with memories. If we toss them, we toss alllll those memories. But if we save them and look at them later, you know what happens?
SALLY: You get lost in the past and never return.
MICHAEL: Actually, it’s the opposite. All those memories come into the present. Because they get transformed… into... stories. So, in a way, I'm not hoarding things – I'm hoarding stories.
SALLY: So you're telling me that the real value is in the stories, not in the things. Right?
MICHAEL: I think so. Maybe? I mean, an old concert ticket is worthless till you tell the story about the concert. And when you talk about events like that, it lets you process what happened, make sense of it in a way that you couldn't when you were right in the thick of it. After that, it might even be possible to throw out the objects.
SALLY: I'll believe that when I see it.
MICHAEL: And I'm sure you will. Because.... in each episode of our podcast, I'll reach into one of my 24 boxes and retrieve an object. OR a bunch of related objects. Then I'll tell you the story behind it. That way, you'll help me save the stories. And then you'll also help me throw out the objects.
SALLY: So you really think total strangers want to hear about your possessions?
MICHAEL: I don't know for sure. But there are so many people who can't bring themselves to look through their own stuff. MAYBE if you and I endure the surprises and the pain and the embarrassment of reviewing every object I saved, other people will get some kind of vicarious benefit? Or maybe it'll inspire them to do the same.
SALLY: You forgot one key detail: All I can see is your face on my computer screen. How will I know you're actually throwing things out?
MICHAEL: Here's what I'll do. For every episode – including this one -- I'll have two devices by my side: a trash can and a shredder. See? Trash can! And you can't see it but over here is the shredder.
SALLY: Now you're talkin'.
MICHAEL: Everything must end up in one or the other. Okay? And maybe I'll use this extra box over here to keep things that I just can't discard.
Sally: Sounds like a little bit of cheating to me.
MICHAEL: It won't be much. And I'll REALLY try to toss the rest. No matter how painful it is.
SALLY: Just so I can prepare myself... is there ANY chance I could get a little preview of what to expect?
MICHAEL: Oh, that's easy. Since I know you like the juicy stuff, I'll give you a sample from the 80s and 90s. Back when I was working for PEOPLE Magazine.
SALLY: I always had so many questions about celebrities. But you would never ever answer any of them!
MICHAEL: And it infuriated me that all you wanted was the dirt about big stars. When I was trying to write deep meaningful interesting investigative stories, not just gossip.
SALLY: Um, it was PEOPLE Magazine, not the New Yorker.
MICHAEL: Nobody gave them credit for letting me write such cool stories. But now I get to prove it. Because in two or three of my boxes, we shall find an audio cassette and a transcript of every single interview I did for 15 years.
MICHAEL: And those cassettes have names scribbled on them like... Keifer Sutherland, Drew Barrymore, Joe Namath, mmm... Keith Haring, Grace Jones... And let's not forget my cover story on Fabio, the King of Romance.
SALLY: Was this before he smashed into a goose on a roller coaster ride?
MICHAEL: Way before! He was still flexing his muscles on the cover of romance novels. Then, after that, Fabio's manager hired me to ghostwrite Fabio's autobiography (which I think was around 69 pages). I just happen to have a few extra copies right over here. I pulled them out of one of my boxes. They could be yours for the asking.
SALLY: Gee, I'd beg for one. But I've gotta go feed the dog.
MICHAEL: Now just in case you've forgotten... I was never a star writer at PEOPLE. I was mostly third-string, struggling for 15 years to reach second-string.
SALLY: Ah! They should have sent you for string training.
MICHAEL: Pun #3! You've reached your limit.
SALLY: I peaked too soon!
MICHAEL: Don't worry. So did some of the people I interviewed. Anyway, what I said is true. My archive pales in comparison to other reporters. However, I did write the weekly gossip column. Remember that? It was called Chatter?
SALLY: Oh yeah. That was on the back page.
MICHAEL: That's when I collected a lot. Like I still have the invitations to celebrity parties, the "While You Were Out" note from Andy Warhol, photos of me with Yoko Ono... and Richard Gere, mmmm... and, of course, there’s every expense account where I justified things like... um... lunch at the Russian Tea Room with Boy George's friend Marilyn, and on and on...
SALLY: Very justifiable!
MICHAEL: Then there was my side hustle – the book I wrote about rap music in the early '90s... So I have every tape of every interview with Ice-T, Ice Cube, Queen Latifah, Will Smith…
SALLY: Please don’t tell me that he slapped you.
MICHAEL: Nah. I was safe. It was a phone interview.
SALLY: I guess you DO have some surprises in those boxes. Are you sure you want to throw out those interviews?
MICHAEL: I thought about that. But every celebrity who talked with me has done a ton of interviews and you can get them all on Youtube. The one thing that’s different is that I know the back story. In my boxes, there’s evidence of what was going at that specific moment for both of us. The kind of stuff that gets cut from an interview before you put it on TV or in a magazine. But now, after so many years, maybe THAT’S where the best story is.
SALLY: So it’s more about what happens when two people meet – and one of them happens to be famous.
MICHAEL: Exactly. Of course, the celebrity stuff fills only about a quarter of my boxes. The rest of them contain the same kind of stuff that everyone else saves: family histories, school projects, hobbies. I would argue – even though YOU and a million others might disagree – that the stories lurking in THOSE objects are just as powerful, maybe moreso, than any celebrity interview. And I'm determined to prove that to you.
SALLY: Well, you've got your work cut out for you.
MICHAEL: C'mon. I know I can convince you that there was a good reason to save my origami scrapbook from elementary school. Why was I obsessed with folding paper? That's what we've got to figure out.
SALLY: Does it suffice to say that you were weird?
MICHAEL: Nah. That's too easy. Of course, you MIGHT say that about my Creepy Crawlers Collectors kit, which is full of the multi-colored giant plastic insects that I cooked in my Thingmaker when we were in fifth grade.
SALLY: Don't tell me you saved EVERYTHING from fifth grade.
MICHAEL: Well, I do have a wooden ruler with the name of our classmate in block letters on the back. I borrowed it in fifth grade and forgot to return it. Michael Hanlon, if you're out there, you can have it back now.
SALLY: I'm just praying that you left me out of this.
MICHAEL: Oh, I'm afraid your prayers have not been heard. Because I also have every card or letter that anyone sent me since I was 6.
MICHAEL: Yes, listeners! If you ever wrote to me, I have it. But do not worry. Nothing will be shared that would embarrass anyone other than me. UNLESS, of course, your name happens to be Sally Libby.
SALLY: Let's not get into that.
MICHAEL: How 'bout all the other projects you and I worked on together? The high school yearbook, the literary magazine...
SALLY: I still don't understand where you kept this stuff for all these years.
MICHAEL: Well... At first I kept it in my desk, in what I called my "personal memories drawer." When the drawer got full, I moved it to cardboard boxes. And when the boxes disintegrated, I moved it to plastic boxes. And now I've got 24 of them.
SALLY: And you lived with them for 20 years in your New York apartment?
MICHAEL: Nah. I got help from an extremely important person. It's someone who is really, really different from you and me, Sal. For one thing, this person is sane. She is reasonable. She hates being the center of attention. And yet, ever since she sat next to me in 7th Grade French Class, I've been driving her crazy by advertising her many fine qualities. Everybody who knows me has heard about how great this person is. So, until she cries foul, I think we can call her The Very Famous Nancy.
SALLY: Nancy isn't helping with our podcast, is she? She doesn't strike me as the hoarder type.
MICHAEL: That's putting it mildly. She HATES clutter. She throws things out while she's still using them. But she's also an excellent friend. So if you wanted to check out my 24 boxes of possessions, you gotta ask Nancy. Listen to this.
MICHAEL: Okay, um, and.. uh, where are we now?
NANCY: We're just outside my garage.
MICHAEL: And, uh, let's go inside and take a look.
GARAGE DOOR OPENING SOUND
MICHAEL: Okay. Over in that corner I see something really excellent and full of a lot of promise and excitement. What do you see?
NANCY: I see a lot of boxes of old papers.
MICHAEL: So I first came to you and said I wanted to put the boxes in here, and what was your first reaction.
NANCY: Ah.... I was very hesitant. Because I had just cleaned out a lot of garbage from this garage and I didn't want to put anyone else's junk in it.
MICHAEL: And so then there was a change in your attitude. And I'm curious: Do you remember why you changed?
NANCY: Well, you told me what you were paying for your storage unit in New York.
MICHAEL: Do you remember what it was?
NANCY: I don't. But I remember I was horrified.
MICHAEL: $150 bucks a month.
NANCY: And you would pay that to store this?
MICHAEL: So when you heard that, you changed your mind.
NANCY: Yeah. I thought I can do this for Michael.
MICHAEL: What was our agreement between now and that moment when the boxes have to come out of this garage.
NANCY: If I move out of this house or die, you have to get rid of all this stuff.
MICHAEL: But your kids are out godchildren. So I feel like it would be worthy of me to leave it to them.
NANCY: I don't want my children to deal with this. I've been killing myself so my children don't have to deal with all my stuff.
MICHAEL: If we flash forward into the future two years, where would you want these boxes to be?
NANCY: At your house?
END AUDIO CLIP
MICHAEL: So you see, Sal, I have no choice. I've gotta get those boxes out of Nancy's garage.
SALLY: Aren't you moving to a house with an attic? You can take them back now.
MICHAEL: Oh, that's not happening.
SALLY: Why not?
MICHAEL: Because of another person. The most important person of all. The one I vowed to love and protect.
SALLY: Could this be the person you married?
MICHAEL: Yup. It's Cindy. Also known as the greatest artist in America. If anyone doubts me, go to cindyruskin.com. That's cindyruskin.com.
SALLY: I do love her paintings.
Me: I totally agree. Of course, some people are waiting for her to be famous before they give their approval. But when her art starts selling for vast sums of money, who'll be laughing then?
SALLY: Probably Cindy.
MICHAEL: You're right. She's kind of a laugher. Listen to this.
END AUDIO CLIP
MICHAEL: And I didn't do anything special to get that. I just turned on the tape recorder. She seemed to find the microphone funny. Anyway, if I leave this planet before Cindy, she'll be left with those 24 boxes of stuff.
SALLY: Mike, you know I'd do anything for you and Cindy, right?
MICHAEL: I do get that sense.
SALLY: Well, if it's what you want to do, and if it'll make Cindy happy, I'm ready. Let's go.
MICHAEL: Yay, Sally! I was HOPING you'd say that. Because I just happened to pull a couple special objects out of my boxes, ripe for tossing. Both of them involve you.
SALLY: Uh oh.
MICHAEL: Here's a goodie. It's the holiday card you sent us a few months ago.
On the outside, there's a picture of some holly next to two cups of cocoa with marshmallows. And a message that says: Our friendship is made of a thousand little moments of joy and warmth and sharing.
MICHAEL: Then on the inside YOU wrote: And bickering and attacking and accusing and neglecting.
SALLY: So true!
MICHAEL: Well, Sal, what do I do with this? It definitely made me laugh. If I throw it out, it'll be the first card you ever sent me that I haven't saved. Can I do it? Can I shred it?
SALLY: Yes! Yes! Away with it!
MICHAEL: First, let me take a photo for the website. And here it goes -- into the shredder.
MICHAEL: OH! I can't believe I did that. It literally hurts. You know what my first reaction is? I'm wondering if you could buy that card again, write the same thing in it and re-send it.
SALLY: NO! If you want to see it, go to the website.
MICHAEL: Wow. So harsh. Before I start bawling, let's get to the other object. I don't know if you realize this, but there are very few photos of us from high school.
SALLY: Of course. Because selfies didn't exist in those days.
MICHAEL: Yet... I found a black-and-white picture that was taken on my porch. I see a wine bottle in the background where I was rooting a prayer plant. I must have been praying for something. In the foreground, there you are, wearing a t-shirt and overalls with a crazy look on your face. And I'm there with lots and lots of hair on my head.
SALLY: I need to see that. Hold it up to the camera. Oh! You did have a lot of hair back then. And a checked shirt with a very wide collar!
MICHAEL: When I found this photo, I was so happy that I showed it to Cindy.
MICHAEL: Cindy – I found this picture of Sally and me. And I was really happy when I found it because I used to think I was the ugliest person in the high school and then I saw this and I didn't look so bad, do I?
CINDY: Let me see. Well, it's not very masculine.
MICHAEL: That... that isn't exactly what I was hoping you'd say when you saw the picture. I thought you would say the picture looked good.
CINDY: Well, I mean it's really cute. It's sweet. For a little boy.
MICHAEL: But I was in 12th grade.
CINDY: Oh my God! For 12th grade!!!
END AUDIO CLIP
MICHAEL: Okay, Sal. I'm definitely ready to throw this out.
SALLY: No! Send it to me. I want it. Then I can throw it out.
MICHAEL: Hmmm... That doesn't seem like the best start to our project. But, okay. I'll take a photo of it for the website. And I'll send it to you tomorrow via US mail. I just hope we'll inspire others to do better.
In fact, here's a little experiment for the folks at home. Listeners! Later today, reach into a drawer or box, dig out something you've saved, and tell someone a story about it. Then take a photo of it, go to our website, and share your story with us. It all happens at: throwitoutpodcast.com
SALLY: We should look through for the best ones – stories, that is -- and invite those people on the podcast. Then we'll get them to answer the same question that's bothering you: Can you throw it out?
MICHAEL: I knew you'd get the hang of this project.
SALLY: Before it wears off, I think we've reached the end for today.
MICHAEL: Almost. Now that we've explained ourselves into the ground, we need a cliffhanger.
SALLY: Suspense makes sense.
MICHAEL: We implore all listeners to return for our first real episode – to hear about the possession I most treasure and least want to throw out. It's the tape recording of my 1985 interview with Joni Mitchell – after I cornered her at a nightclub and made her dance with me.
SALLY: I know that trick. You tried it on me at the junior prom.
MICHAEL: Joni has good taste. She appreciated it. Sally -- should these memories be saved or thrown out?
SALLY: Throw them out!
MICHAEL: We'll see about that – in our next episode of...
SALLY: I Couldn't Throw It Out.
- - - - - - - - - - -
MICHAEL: Many thanks to everyone who gave us guidance and encouragement to create our podcast, including the world's greatest artist Cindy Ruskin, the world's greatest advisor Ed Hernstadt, our brilliant audio consultant Willie Mandeville, our #1 encourager Nancy Straus, our original encouragers Catherine Whelan, EJ Fox, and Kevin and Frances Waters our graphic designers Riley Welsh and Tayeb Cherfouh, and our friend of a lifetime, The Very Famous Nancy. Plus, special thanks to Harmon Leon, who convinced me to start telling tales in public and I haven't shut up since. If you're in New York City, be sure to check out his East Village storytelling show called Tale. And, last of all, thank you to all our friends who are inspiring and wonderful. That means YOU.
SALLY: I have something to add.
MICHAEL: Cool! Add away!
SALLY: I want to invite, implore and cajole everyone to get the latest updates about our podcast by following us on Twitter and Instagram at throwitoutpod. Plus, you can hear every episode, get tons of background info, and tell us about your own treasures at our website: throwitoutpodcast.com
MICHAEL: And if you're feeling overly generous, don't squelch that feeling. You can REALLY help us by searching for I Couldn't Throw It Out on Apple podcasts, and giving us a five-star rating.
SALLY: Let's wrap things up with our rockin' theme song, performed by Boots Kamp and Don Rauf, leader of our favorite rock band, Life in a Blender.
MICHAEL: You'll find links to their greatest hits on our website. Trust me. These songs are so catchy. You've gotta hear them. Ask my sister Lyn. She'll confirm it. In the meantime, you can dance around the room and sing along – at least that's what Sally and I plan to do. Right, Sal?
SALLY: Right, Mike!
MICHAEL: Okay, start dancin'!
Out here in Nancy's – her big garage
This isn't a mi- This isn't a mirage
Decades of stories, memories stacked
There is a redolence of some irrelevant facts.
But I couldn't throw it out
I have to scream and shout
It all seems so unjust
But still I know I must
Before I turn to dust
I've got to throw it out
Before I turn to dust
I've got to throw it out
Well, I couldn't throw it out
I couldn't throw it out
I'll sort through my possessions
In these painful sessions
I guess this is what it's about
The poems, cards and papers
The moldy musty vapors
I just gotta sort it out.
Well I couldn't throw it out
I couldn't throw it out
I couldn't throw it out
I couldn't throw it out