The Sentimental *Return* of the Receipt

Updated: Sep 16, 2020

Before I left home to go back to college for Thanksgiving break, I opened the smaller compartment of my wallet and took out all of the receipts I had accumulated over the past month. Each one was carefully folded into thirds, fourths, fifths, and so on depending on the size of my purchase and how many surveys the company wanted me to take in order to get customer feedback. I was in a hurry to get to the airport, so I tossed these little beings onto my desk in a messy pile. They weren’t waiting to be touched again or looked at. They were just there to be.

I came home again a few days ago and saw this pile on my desk. The first thought that came to my mind was, “How could I have been so irresponsible to discard them like that instead of throwing them away in the first place?”. Of course, since this was my thought, it wasn’t *that* elegantly phrased. But nevertheless, these were receipts. These were transaction records that were no longer needed since I couldn’t return the food that had already been consumed or the shirt whose tag I ripped off months ago.

So why hang on to these strips of paper?

I got to work tonight and started unfolding each receipt, looking briefly at one, tossing it into my paper wastebasket, and moving on to the next. But then I came across a receipt that reminded me of the day that I brought my boyfriend food because he was moving items out of his house and didn’t have time to make food or eat.

I was getting lunch with my high school friend over the summer at a Taiwanese cafe right next to our old high school. It was simple, but it carried a lot of memories because we would often go there during lunch hour. I texted my boyfriend asking him if he wanted anything, and he said he was fine but I wanted to show him that I cared about his well-being because he was working so diligently at preparing the house for sale. I ordered some Taiwanese popcorn chicken and garlic fries for him and immediately drove it over to his house. My car stank of garlic, but the happiness on his face made every cent and every garlic molecule worth it.

I look at the receipt now, wondering how emotions can drive people to do little things like that. You don’t go out of your way for anybody.

The next receipt I come across is a hefty receipt from a fancy Chinese restaurant that I took the same guy to two days after we broke up on mutual terms. It was his favorite restaurant, and I knew how much he loved it. We ordered all of his favorite food (plus a few dishes of mine!) and enjoyed our hour of culinary bliss. Soup dumplings, fried noodles, spicy wontons, garlicky string beans, and beef noodle soup. The most beautiful part of our relationship is being able to introduce each other to new things, and I loved introducing him to new food. It brought me so much joy to see him try a new dish and smile in content at the agreeable flavor. That lunch reminded me that I wanted to continue this adventure with him even beyond a romantic relationship.

And that receipt reminded me of that lunch.

I unfolded more receipts and in the process unfolded more memories. I found the receipt of a shirt I bought on a whim because I wore too warm of clothing for my university football game. I found the receipt of a sweatshirt I exchanged because it was too small but I don’t even wear that sweatshirt anymore. I found the receipt of a dinner I had with a friend over the summer who I haven’t seen since. I found the receipt of a brunch I had with another friend who told me about his failed long-term relationship.

Every receipt carries a story with it, and I’m truly a sucker for stories. My own stories, especially. I know that sometimes I try to shy away from them because of the negative energy that may accompany them, but every story was a learning process for me. The receipts of meals that we can’t return are the records of bonding relationships with other people over food. The receipts of gifts are remnants of the time we spent pondering over what people would love and how we can show them that we love them.

I got to the point where I started taking out the receipts I had mindlessly tossed away into the basket. I read each one like a novel. I surfed through my tired mind to try and locate the memory that accompanied those few dollars branded into the thin paper.

I honestly hate dealing with my own emotions, but reading these narrow scrolls made something bubble up inside of me that I tried to identify but couldn’t. Is it nostalgia? Is it happiness? Is it regret? And why does it take a piece of paper, which people throw away carelessly into recycle or trash bins or on the street, to incite these feelings that I normally push down? I started to question the value of receipts.

I know that if I were at, say, Starbucks, I would probably see the person in front of me get their receipt and then toss it into the nearest trash bin in the island while seasoning their latte with cinnamon powder or whatever. Or maybe they would request to not even get their receipt in the first place. I’m definitely guilty of asking for no receipt.

But what if I was going to meet someone important? What if I was going to meet my interviewer for my college? And what if I got into that college and wanted to remember how it all happened (like almost spilling my coffee on my interviewer)?

Your life obviously isn’t going to flash before your eyes when you receive a receipt, but it is a form of retrospection that I believe is important.

My mom collects receipts in an envelope in case she needs to return something in the future. I think I will start collecting receipts in an envelope to remind me of my past. One day I may open up my envelope and look inside, only to be surprised by the collection of receipts. I’ll unfold each receipt like I did today and treat each one like a diary entry. These are moments that don’t want to be forgotten.

You may be reading this and think that I’ve become a hoarder. Maybe I am. My room right now doesn’t necessarily display the fact that I like to be organized yet collect a lot.

I keep things for their sentimental value as many hoarders do. But these are slips of paper that are proof that my emotions did happen and that I was able to create meaningful connections with people. These receipts are messages to myself telling myself to get out there and inspire more people with new food or to reach out to someone you haven’t seen since the date on the receipt.

I’m not asking you to keep every single receipt. I’m simply bringing to attention the fleeting ordinary nature of everyday life. Receipts are the records of our daily activities, and we can’t let the ordinary go to waste.

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