As I wrote in my last post, I’m making room for my present life by letting go of much of the past. It’s a slow process, because handling each of items I’ve surrounded myself with, from clothes to books to mementos, means I’m also dealing with the emotions attached to them.
My focus is driven by a few ideas that have stuck with me.
What We Leave Behind
As you get older, more people you know and more people they know, die. Estates have to be processed, possessions sorted and distributed. For years, I’ve heard about the nightmare that the process becomes – from bickering siblings to overwhelming hoarding and undue burdens passed to the next generation.
My husband and I are the products of working class families. There are no heirlooms or antiques that have been trundled along from generation to generation. So everything we’d leave behind would be something with which our daughter would have to deal. I like my kid and I’d prefer her resentment of me to end sometime before the grave and not be something that would linger for years after – unlike that voice in her head that sounds remarkably like me.
Sometimes that divvying up of a loved one’s possessions helps to process grief, but more often than not, it ends up in a storage garage someplace to be dealt with by a reality TV show or a relative who didn’t much care for you when you were alive and has even less feeling for your stuff.
There are things that I do want to leave her. A journal I started writing soon after she was born – all about her development milestones and lessons that I might have missed passing along to her in daily life. Pictures – digitized, sorted, clearly labelled and easily transported (via USB stick or DVD). My wedding ring – the band that I had to stop wearing after I got pregnant – a symbol of the love her parents shared, but of so little monetary value as to put all this wedding hyperbole into perspective.
These are, coincidentally, the same things I’d grab in case of a fire. Maybe. If the family and cats are out already.
Burning Bridges, Shredding Ties, Letting Go
I’ve been slowly sorting through photographs. Scanning, labeling and saving them takes a lot of time. There are services that do this. They’re often pricey and my guess is that you’d give them all your pictures, since it is so convenient. I’ve decided to take the harder route, because it’s my thing. I figure that if I have to look at and decide if I’m going to spend 5 minutes scanning them, I am likely to eliminate more.
Easiest to eliminate are scenery photos. There are always better quality pictures on the internet. A pedestrian camera, combined with my weak photography skills meant that many are fuzzy. Now when I travel, I tend to buy postcards. Those are usually professional photos if I need to remind myself where I’ve been.
Old flames. I have some couple pictures from the past, hesitating to let them go for the sake of my memory. There’s one with the very first person I was engaged to. We were young and so damned perky. But I freaked over too many hints from him, involving hordes of children and white picket fences. I wasn’t ready. But our romance was sweet and we both have our own families now. Those photos make me smile, so I’ll scan them in.
There are pictures from a serious relationship where the dude was a drunk and abusive and I hadn’t quite cottoned on to the fact that I might have daddy issues. Most of the pictures are of us at bars, parties and beer fests. Might have been a hint. I don’t get a good feeling from those pictures. He wasn’t as attractive as I remembered and each picture has a story. Oh, that was the night he punched a wall and broke his hand. Look here, on a beach in the Mediterranean, where he refused to speak to me for half the trip because of a jealous rage. Why would I give five more minutes of my life, scanning in my shit history? Shredded.
In some ways, it feels like I’m sanitizing my past, but I’ve already learned the lessons. I don’t need a reminder that I made bad choices. It just feels like bad juju to hold onto that stuff, even in digital form. I’m not good at forgiving myself for mistakes, so it feels ritualistic – all that shredding and destroying of things that remind me.
Joy, or a Facsimile Thereof
The book that helped kick off this decluttering bender was Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. She’s a little extreme for me. Since I’m someone who prefers deadpan delivery over hyperbole, the word “joy” seems over the top. Still, if I translated into my language “muted pleasure” or “benign contentment”, it’s a concept that works. We should derive pleasure out of the things we possess. Not surface satisfaction, but a real acknowledgement that we want this particular thing in our lives and if it’s not exactly pleasure, then it must serve a current, useful purpose.
The environment in my study is now a little uncomfortable. Everywhere there are books I like, things I’m currently working on and items that bring me aesthetic pleasure. The psychological weight of stuff – the bad memories, the shoulds, these things no longer deliver a mental flick every time I turn around. There is space physically and mentally, that I did not have before. I am loathe to refill it and am determined to keep reminding myself I have everything I need. Maybe the joy is en route and I just need to sit in this awkward room and listen for its arrival. Now that I’ve got the space.