A jewelry box with a child’s name bracelet, a few baby teeth, drawings in a 3 by 6 inch notebook done in the 7th grade—why am I keeping these things? I asked myself that question many times when we recently downsized. But I kept everything except the baby teeth. And often I regret the haste in which I divested our bigger footprint of wedding gifts, linens, and furniture. Oh, I wish I had that or why did I give that away?
Amy Goldman Koss in her article When in doubt, throw it out? writes about recently cleaning out her parents home and being relieved that her parents followed that rule. But the question mark at the end of her piece underlines that even after she had disposed of her father’s tools and her parents coats, the image of those coats side by side in a closet somehow haunting her–there was a pang of loss.
We can’t keep everything or we will be hoarders! But maybe there’s a fine line between those of us who keep every edition of the daily paper and those of us who keep old Valentines and college notebooks. (Guilty) Certainly there’s the element of I MIGHT NEED THAT AGAIN. After my teaching career ended, I saved every mimeograph sheet and lesson plan until a flood in our basement ruined them. That was all right, new tech had replaced mimeo anyway. But it also destroyed years of letters my husband and I wrote to one another and precious old books my mother had given me. But you know–you can’t take it with you.
Possibly we save things because something is going on in us on an unconscious level. That’s the only answer I have for saving much of the 1962 series on the human body that appeared in Life Magazine in 1962. I was a sophomore in high school, taking biology with an amazing teacher. She had us researching DNA, the spiral helix and Watson and Crick. We had to travel to the public library in downtown Chicago to do the research. All of it–the research, the intense writing to get an A–might have planted a seed in me that didn’t bloom until I went back to school in my forties to study anatomy and physiology, medicine–become a nurse. But I still have those pages.
To expand on the above idea, we can collect things, hold on to things with various intents in mind.
- Usefulness. When clothing is no longer ready for prime time, I keep some of it for my daily walks or for gardening. There isn’t a tool on this earth that my husband hasn’t examined and thought that it might be good to have. And for many years he was absolutely right–though often a particular tool was used maybe once, twice?? But it was handy.
- Sentiment. Keeping things is similar to assembling a poem or creating a tableau. Every word in the poem and every item that is arranged on the table or every photo hung on the wall or placed in a photo album or stored on a computer carries some meaning. Note: those valentines? Cut them up and make a collage. You’ll have the memories, and also more storage space.
- The great reveal. This concept is more a slippery slope. Amy Goldman Koss doesn’t mention finding anything shocking when she cleaned out her parents’ house. I found a few things of my mother’s very early life–dance cards and a photo of a gentleman I didn’t know. But that’s okay–it was her life and for some reason she wanted to keep a talisman of those times. It certainly wasn’t the reveal in Robert James Waller’s The Bridges of Madison County, when after her death, Francesca reveals her profound love affair in a diary that her adult children find. Great stuff for fiction, but maybe not for everyday life.
This topic of things in our lives is not new to Boomer Highway. I have written about gifts from my grandmother, pictures on the walls of my home that keep alive the precious stages of my life. And I wrote about the angst of downsizing.
And though objects remind us of past experience, it is knowing and holding close our personal history that keeps us grounded. That’s truly what we can pass on to our children and grandchildren. The words and actions of those we love provide us with our best memories–an amazing vacation, a mother to daughter growing-up chat, the day Dad gave the ultimate driving lesson or grandma welcomed her first great-grandchild. These are only a very few of the highlight moments in life. Photos, entries in a diary, or just the pure and simple memory in one’s mind–these are the most meaningful things to keep. After all, they are marks on the timeline of our very lives.