Old stuff

I have a lot of stuff. I have always thought, “I wish I had less stuff,” while simultaneously accumulating more things. I don’t really know why I have always had such a hard time letting go of things, but I always have.

Because of some recent unpleasantness, Carlos and I have had occasion to open and sort almost every box that I have had left over from all the times I’ve moved as an adult, starting in 1999. From the time that I left my tiny home town to go to college, I have moved 19 times. Nineteen!

Among the many boxes that we sorted were photos I took in middle school, memorabilia from high school, textbooks from my time at Reed. I didn’t have very many things left in Patagonia when I left Portland for Yakima, and the things that I accumulated in the time I spent there before going to Olympia were few and had mostly already been purged. But still, my straggler boxes and Carlos’s together filled a 10×4 storage unit to bursting.

I don’t know why I have kept so many things, and why so many of the things that I have kept are such junk. I think that I have held on to so many things as a way to hold on to my past, to make some part of my story permanent.

I am not permanent. Permanence is not real.

I am afraid of change, and I am afraid that in changing, I will completely lose touch with where and who I have been in the past. I have held on to detritus with a belief that it is somehow magical, that those sophomore text books hold within them some secret essence of what mattered to me about that experience.

As I went through those boxes, though, I realized that all the things that I had been dragging around were not the magical totems of my life experiences that I had hoped they would be. They were just things. Now I wonder why I thought that they would hold that kind of power — I have never been a sentimental person, or an especially nostalgic one. As much as I have been prone to getting stuck, I am not much of one for looking backwards. In fact, the lack of desire to look backwards is probably part of how I ended up with so many boxes full of silly crap to begin with.

I can’t tell you that going through all those boxes was easy. I cried a little before we started, and spent a lot of the time cursing my many failings. But like the events that precipitated the Great Box Purge of 2013, there was liberation in the pain. I no longer feel like I have to hold on to parts of my past that weren’t really great the first time around. I had an opportunity to give all those tchochkes a moment of closure, and set them free. I did it with my core team, working together to build a new foundation out of the things that we each brought to our marriage (ok, Rockford didn’t actually help that much, but there was a surprising amount of second- and third-hand baby stuff in all those boxes).

I don’t know whether I’ll be better about my gravitational collection of junk in the future; because we are living so intentionally minimally, I think that I will have to be. I have written before about trying to occupy my physical space as a reflection of the way I want to be mentally and spiritually. I hope that this exercise in letting go can be the foundation for a better path in my future.

6 thoughts on “Old stuff”

  1. Interesting reflections Rose. Add 45 years of not letting go of things
    and it can really add up. That being said I am a little concerned that for the last 10 years or so all I have are digital photos. No physical albums. I keep thinking I will try and do something different but nothing so far. You three have chosen to live minimally and I feel that we can all learn something about that from you guys.

    1. Oh, Birger, I have the same worry about photos! For a long time I wasn’t really concerned, but now that we have Rock, I don’t want to lose these early memories. I don’t really know what to do about it, though. This seems like a job for Carlos…

  2. It sounds like, at least with some of the items, you retained them until you were ready to address the painful experiences they represented. Once the feelings were addressed, the items no longer had the same power and could be disposed of. Letting go of things… memories, feelings, pain… is a process. New things came into your life and you could let go of the old. Four feet by ten is not an excessive amount of space to hold 60 plus years of meaning and experience. Over the years you will cull it even more, while adding new things to it. I treasure items from parents, grandparents and even a great, great grandmother. They anchor me and help me identify who I am and how I belong, how I am connected.

  3. I must admit that Empowering Life’s annual rummage sale as well as yearly silent auction have done a lot to pare down my accumulation. But moves are the best motivator.

  4. Good for you Rose for figuring out some of this now. I struggle terribly with keeping EVERYTHING. This summer I regretted giving a duplicate pair of white slacks to the church bazaar as MY pair now has a stain. And I miss a dress I parted with last summer. I have filled Bill’s side of the dresser and closet but can’t purge anything. Will I live long enough to acquire your fortitude???

  5. Some individuals are happiest with lots of stuff around them. Some like a sparse environment. There are periods when we accumulate, and periods when we divest. It can all be healthy. Traveling taught me to pare down to what I’m willing to haul around. Traveling in a camper van is no doubt an exercise in minimalism… how to have everything you need and little more… part of the fun of the journey.

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