J.R.R. Tolkien as a philologist invented a lot of words. Mathom is an object you don’t need but can’t bear to get rid of. It’s a word I desperately need but often forget. Good mathoms take up little space: ticket stubs, certificates for inconsequential achievements, expired ID cards and so on. Slightly less convenient are cables for devices that haven’t been powered up in several years and unlabeled floppy disks. (Ask me how I know of such things.) The worst are items that can’t be conveniently stored and rust away in the elements. I’m thinking of a bicycle frame that we want to give away, but haven’t gotten around to finding a charity that will accept it.

For some time we’ve talked about digitizing mathom by taking high-resolution photos and tossing the physical object. This hasn’t happened, but I’m sure we’ll have the time soon enough. I recently read an article about a postcard that was sent from a soldier serving in Italy in December, 1944 to his wife. The card had a drawing and the back identified the artist as "Funny Face Shop"on Via Nazionale in Rome. Turns out this was a venture by the young Federico Fellini who later brought honor on Italian filmmaking as a director. Reading this sort of story makes destroying mathom, even after it’s been photographed, much harder.

The absolute best mathom is the sort you can give away to someone who can use it. For instance, Tim Keller gave away a framed map of Middle Earth with a note:

I have a small collection of maps that I intend to frame when I have a bit of wall space. Maps were once incredibly valuable, but now have been replaced by our phones. The only real use of a paper map these days is to transport you to a different place and time. Since I can’t travel back in time to Mexico City circa 2001, I suppose I’ll hold onto that map so that I can remember my summer there from time to time.