For instance, I was one of many friends who helped our pal Aileen box up her personal belongings and sort through 9 years of accumulated items before movers arrived at her door last week. She shed a whole lot of stuff, and yet there was an amazing amount that remained to be moved.
Of course, as anyone who has lived in the same location for extended periods of time knows, it’s easy to acquire a lot of things. And harder to get rid of it, or pare it down, than you’d guess.
I even sat with Aileen during the closing on her house. Attorneys guided a pair of new homebuyers as they signed papers. Of course, Aileen signed her share, too. She sold her Ipswich home in order to start the next adventure in her life: graduate school in San Francisco.
Now, in many ways, she’s liberated! She’s moving across the country with a much lighter load, and starting over in every way imaginable. New place to live, new vocation, new community …
That’s both exhilarating and incredibly stressful. I’ve witnessed her courage as she endures the struggle to balance all the tensions and anxieties with the jubilation and anticipation of this new change in her life.
Meanwhile, Chris and I are trying to empty out three rooms in our house. To a great extent, much of what’s been present in those rooms must exit the house: donated, recycled or discarded. Some of it, unfortunately, will be packed and stored … and I have to ask myself, honestly, if I’ll ever open those boxes again and make use of what I find inside.
Although time passes, and what seemed important enough to save – a while ago — becomes distant enough to set free. This has happened a lot recently as I assess the things I discover in closets and drawers as I have cleared out rooms. I have emptied pockets and bags, old purses and random containers. Plenty of it is easy to set aside: it’s old, out of date, irrelevant, doesn’t fit, or simply hasn’t been used in a long time. I can justify putting those items into a donation category.
Sometimes, I come across the girls hidden treasures in funny places. They turn up as I sort.
And once upon a time, I would have clung to those little caches, as clues to how they each thought when they were little … stashes of plastic animals or foreign coins, toy cell phones and pretend lip gloss, real thermometers and worn decks of cards.
Sometimes we held onto things for years, as Sarah and then Jessie entered in-between phases, and occasionally (rarely) wanted to revisit their own old treasures and childhood playmates. I kept favorite games and stuffed animals long after they’d been handled and played with. Only once they’ve been left behind for months and years, did I dare to put them into the hands of another child.
Of course, many of Jessie’s stashes turn up, and there’s no one here to play with them anymore. I’ve even kept them, and brought them out when other kids visit, just in case they’re still worth playing … but different ages, genders and interests … most of those well-loved or hardly-used games and toys have outgrown their purpose in our house.
And so, I am setting free much of my girls’ childhood. It’s not easy, as you can imagine. Many artifacts hold our memories of playing alongside them. And though I have talked about the weight of holding onto such objects, and the futility of endowing them with more emotional energy, it is an exercise in commitment and determination to put them into the “must go” pile.
Below are just some of the items that I continue to find and sort into “let go” piles. I’m really not holding onto very much. It has taken years to be able to say that, and believe it to be true, and yet I will find safe corners to keep some of it anyway.
- Purses (Jessie and Sarah both had countless bags full of lip balm, Kleenex, coins and other belongings).
- Kits full of “medical play” gear (Jessie worked through many scenarios by being the doctor, and having one of us roleplay as the parent of an injured stuffed animal or babydoll who became a mischievous pediatric character that behaved naughtily enough to make her laugh hysterically).
- Game boards (hours of Monopoly at the dinner table).
- Books (Harry Potter or Among the Hidden series by Margaret Peterson Haddix for Sarah as a younger reader and the Biscuit series or the Ghosthunters series by Cornelia Funke for Jessie).
- DVDs (Disney, Disney, Disney).
- Dress up clothes (princesses, mermaids, and lots of animal character accouterments, too).
- Floppy animals (Webkinz, Beanie Babies and many others).
Many of these remembrances of their childhood are being donated, again, as curbside contributions for the Epilepsy Foundation and Big Brother Big Sister. I can bundle them up, if I believe they will have another use, and another life, somewhere else.
Some of the memories, and the mementos, will stay with us a while longer.