When I was a teenager, I used to collect receipts. Only receipts relating to purchases I had personally made, I didn’t collect other people’s receipts, that would be weird.

Like most collections, it started accidentally. On my bedside table, I had a little blue pot into which I’d drop my change at the end of the day. The bin was on the other side of the room, and as I was already in an “emptying my pockets” frame of mind, it made sense to remove the various receipts I’d accumulated during the day which had been stuffed into the back pockets of my jeans and put them under the little blue pot.

This pile of receipts gradually started to grow, until I realised it was the beginning of a collection. At that point, I began to formalise the process. Whereas before, I’d sometimes say to the shop assistant that I didn’t want a receipt, now I would always take them (I didn’t ever specifically ask for receipts when they had not been offered). And of course, I never threw away a receipt on leaving the shop. Receipts I received during the day were no longer stuffed into my back pocket. They were neatly folded. Later even this wouldn’t be acceptable to me, and I’d try to keep them flat (usually storing them in a book until I got home).

The collection was moved from underneath the blue pot into a special drawer of its own, and it quickly grew. As it developed, I began to devise different systems for arranging the receipts. Depending on my mood, I would arrange them chronologically (oldest first, or most recent first); alphabetically according to the shop name; by value of purchase (cheapest first, or most expensive first); by size.

A few years after my collection started, I read Species Of Spaces by Georges Perec. It is my favourite book of all time, and I have since read it at least a dozen times. There is a section where he talks about therapy, and his fear that he would forget the details of the past week and run out of things to talk about:

With this panic about losing track of myself there went a fury for preserving and for classifying. I kept everything: letters with their envelopes, cinema checkouts, airline tickets, bills, cheque stubs, handouts, receipts, catalogues, notices of meetings, weekly papers, dried-up felt pens, empty cigarette lighters, even gas and electricity receipts for a flat I hadn’t lived in for more than six years; and sometimes I spent a whole day sorting and sorting, imagining a classification that would fill every year, month and day of my life.

I no longer have my receipt collection, when I went to university, my mum threw them all away (when I asked her why she’d done so, she replied that she felt allowing me to continue the collection was like “enabling an addict”. However, whenever I buy something, even now, I’m always tempted to keep the receipt.

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