Why do we save the things we save? Is it because we don’t want to let go of a feeling they give us? Do we crave the ability to revisit a certain emotion any time we desire? Do we think that stuff has that much power over us? The answers to these questions are complex.
I’ve always been the kind of person that will save a few things, but for the most part, I subscribe to the old saying, “when in doubt, throw it out.” Clutter is my kryptonite. I once accidentally threw an entire collection of family Christmas ornaments out in a decluttering frenzy, and then didn’t realize they were gone until months later, when we were ready to hang them. (Charlie Brown Christmas tree, anyone?) Would I love to have those ornaments back? Yes. Has the holiday season become any less special to our family without them? No.
I spent this weekend traveling back to my hometown in Ohio with my dad, to clean out a storage unit filled with containers of stuff my parents had moved from house to house over the past five decades. A few boxes were mine. Even fewer belonged to my brother. My mom saved EVERYTHING. As we started to slice open the dust covered boxes, the pages of the calendar flipped back to 1971. There were my baby shoes, and the outfit that I wore when they brought me home from the hospital. Every report card or sports award I’d ever earned was there. Somehow, she had even saved the treasured pearl ring that I got from a boyfriend in college. My favorite was the pouch of love letters that my parents wrote back and forth to each other when my dad was in the Navy, stationed overseas before they were married.
Things I had no idea my mom had saved. We teased her for years about “hoarding” stuff, but in that moment when I opened the toy box that my dad built, and found my stuffed kitty that I thought was buried in a landfill, I was so grateful. For those things did take me back emotionally through the years, to times I shared with my mom. It reminded me of what a generous spirit she had. The love letters gave me a glimpse into the early relationship of my parents, and into a time when people valued commitment to each other in a different way. They will surely make me look at my Dad with a little extra love in my heart now. (If that is even possible.) Who knew he was such a romantic?
To someone else, these things are worthless. To me they are priceless.
I’m back home now, and going forward, I’ll look at the things that my kids bring home with fresh perspective. I’m going to be more discerning about what I save. I know that in 30 years, they aren’t going to want my dozens of boxes of old books. (Anyone in the market for the Southern Living Cookbook collection from the 1980′s? How about Encyclopedias that were pre-Reagan? Step right up!)
No, my kids won’t want boxes of old linens or mismatched silverware. But they might just get a kick out of their first haircut clippings or boxes of baby teeth. In any case, I’m going to provide them that eventual experience of rediscovery.
I’m still not keeping ALL of those stuffed animals they have. Seriously. You have to draw the line somewhere.
I will, however, save the two that I know will turn back time for each of them, years from now. Because I know how that feels.
It feels like home.
And that’s a feeling I’ll gladly save for them.