Ah… “shedding.” It seems to me that I’ve been attacking that process for years — though chipping away is probably a more accurate representation of how well (or not so well) I’ve managed. I’ve certainly made progress, but I still wonder why I can’t seem to do more, shed more, streamline more easily.
I am well aware that objects are, to me, emotional markers that house memories. As such, ridding myself of what I no longer need feels like loss, like purposely pouring away a rich, textured, and comforting store of life experience. That concept, at moments, leaves me bereft.
On the other hand, there is tangible lightness in reducing papers and possessions of all sorts — certainly a benefit logistically, should you want or need to relocate. I found that out in a very real way not so long ago when I sold my little home and moved hundreds of miles away. But…
While my shedding dilemma has produced assorted projects (and minor progress) for years, and the “big move” resulted in significant donating, giving away, and a small amount of selling off… I nevertheless know that I didn’t shed enough, I wish to be lighter still, I will likely move again in the next year or two, and I continue to grapple with the conflicting and opposite fantasies of throwing out 80% of my “stuff” and boxing that same 80% in airtight containers, carefully labeled, and stacked in a giant storage closet.
An interesting opinion piece in the New York Times addresses this subject and, possibly, offers a new twist that could ease my resistance to additional divestiture. In other words — trashing things no one but me would want.
Rather than using the term shedding, “The Museum of You Doesn’t Have a Gift Shop” refers to curating. Much as one would selectively organize and display objects or art for an exhibition, curating the bits and pieces of our own history may be more than euphemism; it may enable us — okay, me — to select the photographs, journals, letters, scrapbooks, mementos, old clothes, and other fragments of our past.
In her Times article, psychiatrist Anna Fels writes of a patient seemingly unable to throw anything out:
When asked about this habit, he said, “Hoarding is for those without money. For those with money it’s called collecting.” Then, more seriously, he added, “Aren’t we’re talking about throwing out my life?”
Dr. Fels goes on to ruminate about her own possessions, including journals from childhood, the self she can find in them, the challenges of cleaning out or simply reducing the load of belongings for an aging parent — when moving them out of too large a home, for example — and the mixed feelings involved for so many of us in a cultural mindset of keeping, promoting, and documenting… ourselves.
To an extent, the fact that we increasingly memorialize our experiences through digital means reduces the amount of physical “stuff” we have… theoretically. I say theoretically for obvious reasons; we are a commercial culture, constantly replacing what we shed, encouraged to replace what we shed, buying the latest new thing, and falling for the sale item that pops up on our devices at just the right (vulnerable?) moment.
Much as I acquire relatively little these days, I am hardly an innocent. I am not immune to the one-day sale, the seasonal sale, the monumental mark-down… especially if we’re talking shoes!
Footwear aside, my dilemma is this. Not only do drawings, books, clippings, photographs, postcards, journals, a handful of antique dolls and (an abundance of) shoes sit in cartons stacked in the basement, or accessible in closets and drawers, but when I visit these objects that mark my life, they also mark the lives of those who I was with — often people I loved who are now gone — especially parents and grandparents.
I have become the keeper of family history, of family mementos, of objects that tell the stories of the generations that came before. So I am the guardian of the museum of their lives, in a very small way, which feels important to me — on behalf of my children.
Excuses? Possibly. Sentimentality? No doubt.
Psychologically speaking, one might wonder if hanging on to “stuff” — no, not hoarding — is fundamentally about issues of loss, love, memory, insecurity, or resistance to facing mortality. But maybe it is simpler than that. Maybe it is celebration of wonderful times. And maybe we enjoy our stuff, we are comforted by it, and we are energized by the objects of our “more” that others would have us transform into “less.”
Dr. Fels continues with this bittersweet observation:
When we discard a person’s accumulated possessions, we are throwing out the record of a life.
Maybe yes, maybe no, maybe sort of. Is this all the more reason to curate — selectively retaining in place of lavishly explaining?
I was once very skilled at curating artworks for presentation of an artist’s output. Could I do the same for myself over time? Could I be just ruthless enough to give away what is still good so it is reused, to discard more, and to reduce what remains?
The size 2 clothes I can’t wear — sure. The books? Tougher. My children’s drawings and craft projects? That’s tough, too, though I’ve tossed more than my kids realize.
Photographs? Old letters? Old love letters? I don’t think so. My mother’s boxes of costume jewelry from 50 years ago? These are trinkets that are so her, and for all the challenges in our relationship, I just can’t throw them away.
Perhaps my “Museum of Me” needs a gift shop after all. You know the saying. One (wo)man’s trash is another (wo)man’s treasure…
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