This week we are going to continue down the path of my mildly morbid thoughts on dying. Except this time – we are going to be dead.
If you’ve followed the blog for any length of time, you’ll be well aware that I have a strong affinity for clearing clutter. Both when it comes to unnecessary physical stuff, and unnecessary mental clutter.
When it comes to physical STUFF, I try to do a sweep of my house twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall/winter. By making it a regular habit, it keeps the whole process manageable, and also alerts me to items that haven’t moved or been used since the last sweep – providing a strong signal that maybe, just maybe, I don’t need said item all that much.
I know some people hate parting with stuff – but I’m weird this way, and generally I absolutely love it. The more I shed from the house, the easier it is to not only keep it clean and orderly, freeing up my mental energy and focus for bigger and better things, but it even makes me feel less weighed down in life.
Every time I do a clutter clear, I crack down a little harder on myself and what I choose to keep. Edging up my threshold for what is essential, and what is simply excess.
I love this habit because it provides regular and memorable examples that then shape how I choose to spend my money moving forward (and underscore the importance of doing so mindfully).
But recently I’ve taken this habit to an all new level. The level at which I imagined that I was dead.
Once you get in the swing of clutter clearing, it’s really not all that hard to rid yourself of the extra kitchen gadget you never use, or the clothes that don’t fit properly. But what is tricky, are items that are sentimental in nature. The ones that have an associated emotion or memory.
Those are much harder to get rid of, but often they are also much more useless in their utility, and purpose.
In fact, we often end up storing these types of items for decades, without getting any real value or use from them whatsoever. And while it may seem harmless to hang onto every object that represents a particular memory, person or experience in your life, the amount of trinkets you store comes at a cost.
If you evaluate the cost per square foot of your home, not only does storage come at a financial price, but it also produces the undesirable effects of a cluttered home and a cluttered mind.
Often it can present itself in the feeling that you need a bigger house than you actually do, or that you need to buy more storage or organizational products to keep a semblance of order. Or the even more costly feeling that your life is disorderly and out of control.
None of these results provide positive impacts for your finances, or your mental clarity.
I have long prided myself that the entirety of my sentimental belongings fit into a single tote bin.
Everything from my childhood, teenage years, adulthood, that I keep purely for sentimental reasons, it’s all in that one box.
But here’s the thing. As much as I have thought I was being minimalistic in my approach………..I never open that box (other than when I’m clearing clutter, and only to wonder if I should keep on keeping it). And yet, up until this last house clean, I always end up putting the lid back onto the bin, and tucking it away for “safe keeping”.
For myself? For my kids? That’s silly – I never open it, they have no interest in it, and likely never will. So exactly who’s benefit was I saving all this stuff for?
To give you an idea, here’s roughly what my “memory box” had in it:
- A decorated shoebox that contained all of the letters from the pen-pal I had when I was 10-14ish;
- Newspaper clippings from various achievements when I was a kid;
- My stuffed bunny rabbit that my mom made me when I was little;
- A journal that I wrote all sorts of childhood musings and entries into;
- A pillow that my Nana had cross stitched for me when I was little;
- Miscellaneous drawings and cards from when I was a kid;
- Figurines that had been hand painted and given to me as gifts;
- Letter’s from my first boyfriend;
- The hockey’s jersey’s from the years I was Captain of my hockey team;
- Hockey photographs and memorabilia from various competitive and international teams I played with; and
- The real bulk of the whole bin – a large collection of hockey trophies and medals piled in, from all my years of playing.
This time I was determined to have a different outcome. No longer was I going to allocate 24″ x 30″ x 18″ of my home space to a box that I was keeping, solely for the sake of keeping. So I came in mentally prepared, or at least I thought I did.
I was going to eliminate the entire box.
I gave myself the leeway to keep anything that wouldn’t need to be put into storage or at the back of a closet, things that I would actually keep out and accessible to look at and bring value to my everyday life.
If there was nothing in there that I wanted to keep accessible – then nothing would stay.
I launched into the clean full of enthusiasm and logic. I was ready for this. I didn’t need this stuff anymore. I didn’t need to keep the item to keep the memory. I wasn’t disrespecting my childhood, I was ridding myself of what was not essential to my life.
Then I started pulling things out – and I was hit with huge waves of guilt and angst.
Once these things were gone – I would never be able to get them back. What would my mother think if she saw me throwing this stuff out? What would other people think if they knew I was throwing away all my memories? Was I a heartless person for wanting to rid myself of all of this?
After all, what if one day my kids wanted to read every single letter I had received from a 12 year old person they didn’t know? Or they wanted to prominently display my dozens of plastic hockey trophies, plaques and medals that demonstrated their mom only sort of made it in the sport?
My sarcastic inner dialogue pushed me to start stuffing letters into a recycling bag.
But then I paused for a couple moments, wondering if I should read them one more time. To see what me and my pen-pals 12 year old selves had been chatting about, or what my 6 year old self had doodled into my journal.
So I read a bit – had a good laugh, and then realized I had no interest in reading them all, it would take hours! Same with the journal.
So why did I feel this overwhelming urge to keep this stuff? Why did I feel slightly nauseated about throwing it all away?
The hardest things were those that had been given to me by my Nana, who passed away nearly 15 years ago. She had played a major role in my life growing up, and many of my childhood memories included her.
Then I asked myself the pivotal question – the one that stemmed from last week’s post and changed the entire way I was looking at the process.
What if I was dead?
What if this was Mike, or my kids having to go through all this stuff? What if it was them having to decide what they were going to keep, and store? What if it was them feeling the angst and guilt about throwing away their dead wifes/mothers sentimental childhood belongings. The ones she had kept for all these years and therefore must have treasured dearly?
By keeping it, I had certainly been avoiding my own dissonance at throwing it away, but at the cost of putting the responsibility onto my husband or children down the road? Was I just ensuring that my children were someday going to inherit an obligation to continue storing all this crap? Stuff I didn’t really treasure, but just felt like I “should” keep, for some reason I couldn’t even put my finger on?
Even when I was dead, what would they want a collection of metal and plastic hockey trophies for, or a pink cross stitched pillow that smelled an awful lot like it had been stored in a 24″ x 30″ x 18″ tote bin for the past 20 years?
Armed with that logic, I snapped a couple photo’s of some of my favourite comical, 6 year old journal entries, and a newspaper clipping or two. I grabbed the bunny my mom had made me, and an inspirational card my Nana had given me shortly before she passed away when I was going through some tough experiences, then I tossed every other thing into the recycling/trash bags and walked them down to our bins.
It was a Thursday.
The bins wouldn’t be collected until Monday.
For the remainder of the week, every time I put something into the recycling, I stared at the large pile of “memories”, questioning if I would one day deeply regret doing this.
Then Monday morning arrived. I awoke with a brief pang of urgency that I should run down and take everything out of the trash.
As I lay in bed making strong arguments for both sides of the debate, I heard the unmistakeable beeping of the garbage truck backing into our cul-de-sac. The beeping that usually results in my two year old running towards me frantically yelling “gabage twuck!” until I take him out to the front porch to wave.
Today – they were early. I was annoyed – I thought I still had a window of opportunity to rescue these items. But as I heard the truck pulling away, my annoyance was replaced with relief – they were gone. It was done. No more mental debate.
I haven’t thought about it since. I certainly haven’t missed any of it.
So what is it about our society that makes us feel like we need to hold on to stuff?
That’s so engrained in our culture that it can pose a major stumbling block to even the most obvious logic?
I don’t actually know – but I do know that I needed to take ownership of making the decision to get rid of that stuff, and the follow-through to actually do it. And most importantly – to not place that burden on the people I love the most.
I suspect they’ll have enough on their plates when I die, whenever that may be, without having to agonize over what they should or shouldn’t keep, or worry about whether or not they are disrespecting my memory by throwing it all away.
In case you are wondering, my childhood bunny is now in my bedroom (although I think my toddler is going to steal it soon), and the card my Nana gave me sits on my bedside table as my go to bookmark (so I can read it regularly). It says this:
“The Oak Tree”
A mighty wind blew night and day. It stole the Oak tree’s leaves away.
Then snapped its boughs and pulled its bark. Until the oak was tired and stark.
But still the oak tree held its ground. While other trees fell all around.
The weary wind gave up and spoke. “How can you still be standing, Oak?”
The oak tree said, “I know that you, can break each branch of mine in two.
Carry every leaf away, shake my limbs and make me sway.
But I have roots stretched in the earth, growing stronger since my birth.
You’ll never touch them, for you see, they are the deepest parts of me.
Until today, I wasn’t sure, of just how much I could endure.
But now I’ve found, with thanks to you, I’m stronger than I ever knew.