Today our skies are filled with wildfire smoke, again. I have lost count of how many fires we have had, in just the last month and a half. The historically wet winter we had, has encouraged lots of cheat grass growth, which has now turned into dried out tinder.
Several times, since I’ve lived in this canyon, I’ve faced the need to evacuate. I will tell you that when you have but five or ten minutes to leave your home, your choices on what to take with you, are slim. My first bug out included my two dogs, a bag of dog food, and my dad’s scrapbook. I wasn’t married at the time, so it was just me and the dogs. I didn’t pack any clothes, mind you, nor food for me; my immediate thought was of the animals. Truthfully, lugging around a 50 pound bag of dog food was a bit ridiculous. But, it made sense at the time. By the time I got everything loaded in the car, my house was full of smoke and I could barely see to go down the road.
A dear friend of mine lived closer to the fire and he couldn’t even get to his home. There was a ring of flames around it. He had no choice on what items to save. If his place had gone, there would have been nothing left. Fortunately, the firefighters were awesome. They saved his home and stopped the fire before it came much closer to us.
But, having had to pack up three different times to evacuate, albeit scary, has had a calming impact on my view on sentimental items.
At first, I was terrified at the thought of losing my treasures. Like a lot of people, I thought my reminders of lost loved ones, were living in their treasures. But every time I needed to pack up, my thoughts went to the basics. After a while I began to realize I wasn’t even thinking about the sentimental stuff. I didn’t think about the antique rocking horse, or the picture filled trunks. I didn’t load my car with the old dishes, vintage jewelry, and the bowling trophies. It didn’t even cross my mind.
Did this mean my sentimental items were no longer special, or that I didn’t care about my family? No, not at all. It just meant that when push came to shove, my priorities were focused in the now.
When I went through my six month declutter / purge/ tidying festival, like most of us, I let go of a lot of my sentimental belongings. Some things just made no sense to keep.
Bad pictures or multiple pictures of the same shot. My sister was the queen of photo taking. She took pictures of everything, everyday. This was before the digital cameras and i-phones. So, she would take multiple pictures of the same thing just in case the 1st one, or the 2nd one, or even the 3rd one, didn’t turn out. Then she would have several copies printed, so she could share them. I love my nephew, but 4 pictures of him standing in front of the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana, is 3 too many. Besides, the first picture was usually the best one. By the time Betty had taken the 4th one, any good humor on Chris’ face about the adventure, had faded. I kept a lot of the pictures, just not the multiples and repeats. That purge alone emptied out a trunk and a half.
Things that bring up bad memories or belongings of relatives you really don’t like. My trunks were full of things that didn’t evoke happy times. Every time I looked at them, I felt sad, or unworthy, or embarrassed. Then, I would be sad or angry for the rest of the day. It was a weird sort of self torture. Why did I keep them? I think I had convinced myself that it was my duty to keep them. I was the last of the immediate family, the legacy-keeper. That’s all well and good, if you love being a legacy-keeper. I didn’t. It didn’t suit me and I rebelled. The same is also true about things that belonged to a relative of mine that was not a kind person. Again, I felt required to keep them, despite the misery they evoked. I was so happy when I let them go!
Things that are not your style. There were quite a few of those: Mom’s clothing that was out of date, or the wrong size, wrong color, wrong everything; Italian mini statuettes that were pretty, but held no interest for me; Broken pieces of jewelry that would cost tons to repair; antique clocks that didn’t work. Nothing was really wrong with them, but they felt “heavy” to me, and they weighed me down mentally. So those went too.
Furniture We had a lot of that too. An 8 foot long credenza in a 45 foot double wide mobile home, doesn’t work, unless you live alone. But even then, what would you fill it with? I loved my two antique steamer trunks, so I kept those. But so much of the furniture just would not fit in my small home. It was just too darn big.
That was the easy stuff, for the most part, anyway. Other things were more subjective and more difficult.
Letters and personal papers. When I went through them, there really weren’t a lot of things that were important to me. Someone else’s daily life was interesting, but probably not valuable to most people. I took the time to read and appreciate them, but, I only kept a few things. These weren’t too hard.
Family documents. I did keep a few historical papers, but I really didn’t need Mom’s divorce papers, or mortgage documents on a home she sold 40 years ago, or the bill for the exterminator.
Cherished mementoes of people and trips. This was tougher. I kept quite a bit at first. I made a few memory boxes and tucked things away in the trunk, because I wasn’t sure what else to do with them. I felt they were important, but didn’t really know why.
Things that reminded me of past accomplishments. I had some honorable mention ribbons for some baked goods I made for the county fair. It was a nice memory, but my baking has improved since then. I had bowling trophies from my youth and a “300” bowling pin that my dad earned 40 years ago. I used to love bowling, but since I tweaked my knee, I don’t play anymore.
Childhood things. Toys, baby clothes, treasure boxes, and pictures I drew when I was little that mom kept; they were good to go through because they helped me see how I became the person I am today. A few of those I kept.
The items that made it past the sentimental cut, for the most part fit into what I called my “memory trunk.” That was their KonMari “home,” so to speak, except for a few things that were too large to fit inside. I didn’t even give just dumping all of those in the trunk, it a second thought. I just fit what I could inside.
And there they stayed.
After my third evacuation packing prep, I realized that I didn’t even think about these sentimental things, until much later, when everything had calmed down and we were unpacking.
So how important to me were these sentimental things, really?
I decided to find out.
I wasn’t going to get rid of things for the sake of empty space. I really wanted to know why I was keeping things I didn’t even think about. But before I even dug into the trunk, I gave this a lot of thought and did some planning. I decided to do a mini KonMari Festival, just for my sentimental stuff.
Then I asked: Does it spark joy? Now that I had my vision plan, it made my joy sparking criteria and decision making, a whole lot more specific. I opened the trunk and asked myself the following: Is there a way to use this item? Will it or does it add value to my life in the “now?” Does it have any other lessons to teach me? Do I just love it just because? Do I love it enough to actually give it a home and not just stick in a trunk to be forgotten? Does it make me smile? Only when I was satisfied with the answers, did I move it to the keep, trash, or donate piles.
I gave each item I kept, a home. Truthfully, this was the hardest part, for me, about keeping a sentimental item. I had to really change my habits here. Standard procedure in my mind was to tuck sentimental things safely in the trunk. Now, I had to find a place, a special place, just for this item to live and flourish.
I had to use the item. If it was decorative, that was easy. It’s job was to make me smile. There was a limit though to how many just pretty things I could logically keep. My house is small, so there is only so much available space. If it was a dish, I had to use it, maybe as a fruit bowl, or a catch all for keys, but it had to have a purpose. If it was a paper or document, I had to actually need the item. Pictures were all scanned and copied to a few flash drives. But I also loaded them on my computer so they would randomly pop up daily. I have seen these pictures more in the last year and a half, then I have during the rest of my lifetime. I often use some of them in my blog. They make me smile and bring back wonderful memories.
When the time was right, I needed to let it go. Every possession is a tool of some sort. And as we grow, some tools are just no longer needed anymore. When a tool breaks, we replace it. We let it go.
Being able to actively manage my sentimentals has been life changing. My biggest takeaway is that my memories of special times in my life are so much more vivid now. I didn’t need a letter, or a keepsake to hold the memory. As I used these lovely, sentimental things, the memories stood on their own. After a while, the object’s purpose in my life evolved, and I happily let them go.
One last thing that I’ll mention: Even our memories are just tools in our lives. Even memories have a purpose and life span. We learn from our experiences, good or bad. These experiences teach us how to move forward. If it’s a good experience, then we try and do similar things, to have more pleasant experiences. If they are bad experiences, then we try really hard to figure out why they were negative so as not to repeat them.
It’s the same with memories. They guide us through our life journey. The impactful ones, good or bad, we remember. But after awhile they serve their purpose too, and it’s okay to let them go.
Bad memories weigh us down. That is obvious. But sometimes we hang on to them as punishment to remind ourselves that we are either unworthy of joy, or deserving of ongoing, never ending, dread. Neither is true. We make mistakes. We have bad experiences. It’s a byproduct of life. And it’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s just a teaching moment.
But good memories can wear us down too. Memories, no matter how joyous, if they prevent us from living in the now, aren’t that good anymore. They’ve lost their luster. Life is meant to be a journey. Either you learn new things and grow, or you stagnate and wither. If you are living for past memories, then you are missing the life that’s here.
So now, as I think about the fires in my neighborhood, I know it going to be ok. If something happens, and we lose it all, it’s okay. It’s not great, but it’s still manageable. We’ll get the animals and each other, out, and then figure out our next move.
The joy of my memories, my past, and hopes for the future, will be right there with me, with us.