A few weeks ago I wrote about my family’s struggle to decide whether or not we are going to sell our house and find a new, better home or simply improve the house we currently have. We really have made no steps toward a final decision but I did decide, since I’m home from work for the summer, that the least I could do was begin to clean out. We have lived here for over ten years and there are five bodies taking up space in here. We’ve accumulated a whole mess of stuff and I was sure that I was not going to want to pack all of that stuff if and when we decide to move (or renovate which would also necessitate moving some of that stuff around or out).
I started in the basement (oh my God) and then I moved into our master bedroom. Our master bedroom includes a secondary staircase that is lined with bookshelves filled with books, folders, binders, and paper. I also went through the closet and all of our drawers. I’ve taken four trips to our town’s dump with my SUV filled to the brim with garbage. I’ve donated 8 large garbage bags of clothes and I’ve brought so many other garbage bags to the curb for pickup, I’ve lost count.
Over the last few weeks my husband has been going to work and doing his normal chores and tasks around the house and yard. He’s gone to the dump with me prior to leaving for work since much of what I needed loaded and then unloaded was heavy. He’s made a comment here or there about how great it is that I’m “getting something done”. He hasn’t really paid attention, however, to what has been leaving the house.
This weekend, however, he needed to take a trip to the basement for some sort of tool and I found him down there staring at the mostly empty space. He then said, “you know, I feel like you threw away all of my memories”. I initially laughed and told him, “well you weren’t going to be the one packing those dust covered memories” but then I started thinking about it and wondering if I HAD actually thrown away memories.
I threw away our college notebooks, papers, and textbooks all the while shaking my head in disbelief that we had packed, unpacked, and repacked these items several times since moving in together. My husband and I attended college in the late 90s. NONE of the information in those notebooks, papers, and textbooks is valid. Was it fun to see my maiden name written on everything? Yes. Did I laugh my ass off when I looked through my husband’s mostly empty notebooks? Oh yeah and I also wondered (again) how he managed to pass his classes (which he always did) without taking notes past the first week of each semester. Did I need to keep this stuff, however? NO! College is when my husband and I finally got serious about our relationship. We fell in love in college, fought like crazy, fell back in love, and became adults all while making some questionable decisions, eating garbage food, and, oh yeah, earning degrees. We will never forget that time in our lives. We don’t need an old psychology or economics paper written in 1997 to keep those memories alive. Those musty boxes were not my memories.
I threw away old materials from my first job out of graduate school. I had worked in an elementary school for six years before moving to my current position in a high school. For reasons that I cannot remember, I packed up old notes, lesson planners, and actual work produced by my old students and deposited those boxes into my basement. I did the math in my head and I figured every one of those elementary-aged students graduated from high school years ago. Why is this stuff taking up space in my house? I looked at old names and wondered what each and every one of them was doing with their lives. I worried over a few names and smiled fondly over others. I kept the hand-written thank you notes that had accompanied end-of-year gifts and I saved a few of my old planners just for the fun of it. The rest was tossed. My first job out of graduate school was terrifying, educational, and so much fun. I had so much energy and excitement for my new career and I worked so hard every day. I’ll always remember those first few years of teaching and I will always be attempting to regain that pure excitement for my work as I trudge into year sixteen of my career. I won’t need old data sheets and lesson plans to do that, however. So they went.
I threw away the last of the baby gear. Old blankets, a broken baby gate, toys with half of the pieces missing, chewed up picture books, and an old, food encrusted car seat—gone. We are done having babies and I am completely at peace with that decision. Looking through old baby gear definitely still gives me a little pang in my uterus, however, so it’s time for it all to go. I also threw away the last of the maternity clothes as well as the clothes that I will never, EVER, fit into again. Did I throw away a single picture of my children as babies? Absolutely not. Those old pictures and videos are priceless and prime evidence to use for later blackmail. Those memories stayed and I’ll pack and re-pack those as often as necessary. As for the rest of it, those aren’t memories. It’s just old, sticky stuff.
Finally, I threw away my children’s artwork. I know, I know, I’m awful. I should have made it all into scrapbooks or taken pictures of it and made some sort of photo album. I’m sure Pinterest if filled with ideas for preserving every single freaking piece of paper your child has touched with a crayon or a paintbrush. I just can’t do it anymore. I have three kids and the oldest is almost fourteen. Do you have any idea how much artwork I have?? It’s on the kitchen table, the refrigerator, and in drawers in my end tables. It’s filling up book shelves and old boxes. There’s some on the top of the microwave and I found some in my closet in my bedroom. It’s in the kids’ rooms in folders and in piles on their closet shelves. It’s everywhere. And it had to go. I saved a few from each year and I saved any hand-made Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and birthday cards. The rest? GONE. I had to smuggle that all out in black garbage bags just in case one of them saw me tossing a masterpiece they worked on and tossed aside nine years ago. I don’t need an old drawing of a flower or of a house to remember my daughters’ childhoods. I remember just by looking at them. I’m very sentimental in nature (shocking, I know, considering all of the throwing out of the “memories”) and often I’ll be overwhelmed by memories of my kids as I watch one of them expertly ride her bike, or competently type an essay on her laptop, or score a goal on the soccer field. Those memories live in my head and will always be brought to the surface simply by looking into their smiling faces. Old art work, report cards, and math tests have nothing to do with the memories I have of my children and they need to go.
As I walk around my house these days I delight at the empty spaces I’m creating and I love seeing less clutter. I’m not done cleaning out but I’ve made a huge dent. I know I tossed some things that I may one day want to see again. I know one of my kids is going to realize that I tossed something they prized at one point in their lives. My husband may one day ask where his old baseball cards are (I’M KIDDING, I didn’t dare throw those away). I also know that I’m not overly concerned. I may have thrown away tangible things but I’ll never throw away our memories. Our old memories live on in our minds and in our hearts (and in the few things I did decide to keep). We need the room to make new ones either in this old house or in a new one.
*UPDATE: Sunday I peered into our back shed and made a comment to my husband that much of the crap in there could go and he yelled frantically to the girls, “KIDS! Get out here and play with this stuff. Mom wants to throw away your memories!!” Thanks Sweetie.