What we keep, what we toss

Stripping files is fun. The shredder hums continuously, making satisfactory chomping sounds. Bags fill up, not too heavy to carry up the stairs and out the door.

Packing books is not hard. Use small boxes, so they don’t get too heavy. Go through them first to get rid of the ones that can make someone else happier than you. Flip through the pages for photos, notes, etc.

Moving boxes

Moving boxes

Then there is the hard stuff. The boxes that contain the torn and worn teddy bear from when I was three years old. The pencil box I tried to make when I was five. An ashtray from 35 years ago, when I thought smoking was cool, but the things that went around smoking–the lighter, the cigarette case, the ashtrays were the fun part. Keep? Why? Throw out? ARRRGH.

So I sat there and looked at the stuff. I haven’t seen it in years. It pushed all the soft buttons of memory and sentiment. Although I don’t really remember the teddy bear, there are photos of me holding it. I do remember the dog who chewed off the ear. Why would I keep this? After a while, it came to me–because I like the person I was when I had the teddy bear. That little girl had possibility. If I put the bear in the landfill, then the little girl’s hopes and dreams weren’t valid, or didn’t materialize. But a lot of her dreams did materialize, and in more interesting and diverse ways than she could ever have imagined. The bear isn’t the dream. Or the possibility. It’s just a torn-up bear with a moth circling out of it.

And the little girl grew up and gave up smoking. I think of living in a house without boxes of old dreams haunting me from the garage, a house where dreams can be lived as is, without guilt. I save the box of my mom’s letters and decide not to save the bear, the ashtray and the black-light posters. A few mementos are enough to last a lifetime.

–Quinn McDonald is moving from Virginia to Arizona. She is a writer and a certified creativity coach. See her work at QuinnCreative.com

4 thoughts on “What we keep, what we toss

  1. You threw away Teddy?!! EEK! (laughing) In our family there was only one teddy: he started with my oldest brother, went to the older brother and then to me. The one who loved teddy was my older brother and he now has him. I got Golly; hand-knit by my mother for one of us and used, again, by all of us, but loved by ME. What gets funny is that my older brother has been looking for years for the blanket which went with Teddy. I thought I discovered it when I refolded an family quilt, but after sending it to him, I find that it is not the blanket he remembers.

    One of the decluttering tips AARP mentioned for people who are downsizing and clearing out is to take photos of the the stuff. Get rid of the stuff; keep the photos! In your case, you already have the important photo of you with teddy; the simple sight of the photo will remind you of all those memories related to him.

    Hope you gave him one last kiss before relegating him to the landfill.

    —-> Well, I did keep my son’s tattered baby blanket. I think that Teddy may have not been the big force in my life. I remember a doll I had, a ballerina doll. She’s long gone, but if she had surfaced, it may have been different. Teddy had been slightly too well loved by a dog we had. It’s all an amazing trip down memory lane. -Q

  2. When we were leaving DC a couple years ago, I found it very freeing to say to myself: Is it really worth paying movers to move THAT???

    That said, a staggering amount of junk did make the move. But I’m pleased I was able to pitch as much as I did.

    These days, I find the whole declutter-my-life issue clouded by environmental guilt. I can decide to get rid of stuff, but then I stumble quite badly on whether to put junk in the trash (I’m done! I’m done!) or try to keep it from a landfill and recycle it on Craig’s List or Freecycle. The latter usually means stuff stays piled in various corners–though it is staying out of the landfill that way.

    Perfectionism v. freedom, I imagine.

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