I’m in the middle of downsizing. So far, I’ve sold more than three hundred CDs, two hundred print books and dozens of DVDs. I’ve also donated a heaping pile of clothes.
But most of these items didn’t hold any real sentimental value. That’s why I started with them. Thankfully, I still have quite a ways to go before I get to the sentimental items, but eventually I'll be faced with some difficult decisions.
My Dad’s Bible — the one I gave him on July 6, 1998, less than two years before he died — sits next to my workstation at this very moment. I know the date because he wrote the date inside. During the final stretch of his life, Dad was more open spiritually than I have ever seen him and that led to long discussions about the Bible, and eventually it led to me giving him my Bible and encouraging him to start by reading the book of John.
I have a notebook from my ancestors in Ireland that dates back more than one hundred years, a box of VCR tapes from Christmases past, letters from relatives that are decades old, several boxes of personal items from relatives who are no longer with us and old pictures that have been passed down to me — some of which contain images of people I do not know. Nearly everywhere I look, I see pieces of my past and those remnants speak to me.
Yes, I’m a sentimentalist. The stories that are attached to many of my possessions repeat themselves, much like your grandfather who tells the same stories every time you see him, but you are more than happy to hear them one more time because that means he is still with you. But the truth is, I have too many things and they are all trying to speak at once.
A VCR tape from Christmas 1996 reminded me recently that its twentieth anniversary is coming up soon, so I need to make time to watch it.
The American flag from Dad’s funeral reminded me this morning that I still haven’t purchased a permanent glass case for it which would allow me to display it more prominently.
My grandma’s family Bible — one of those huge suckers grandmas used to always have on hand — reminds me often that I need to go through it to find all of her hidden treasures before passing it along to my niece.
And so it goes.
While I never want these voices to go silent, I know that I need more time and space for reflection, prayer and silence. My soul craves all three now more than ever, and it is one of my driving forces for wanting to downsize.
I can only think of three options when it comes to parting with sentimental items.
I could take a picture of the items I’m least attached to and then either toss them or donate them to charity. This is the most difficult option for me, and it gives me the shivers, but I’m going to give it a try on a small scale.
I could pass many of these items along to the next generation in my family. But the problem with passing them along is, I’ll be handing them to a generation who isn’t as attached as I am. I know, that might be a good thing.
I could rely on natural disasters. As ridiculous as that sounds, I got this notion from an excellent essay I read recently titled The Art of Disacquisition by Paula Read.
She recalls a conversation she had with her daughter after her daughter finds her sitting among her sentimental items one day. Her daughter tells her not to tell the story of things because once things are special, you can never get rid of them. But her daughter should have known better.
“The tales of our family things have been told over the course of her childhood,” Read writes, referring to her daughter. “She won’t be able to free herself of the ballast any more than I can dispose of the garish plates or my mother’s Tijuana turquoise. That’s what earthquakes, hurricanes and fires are for, they cleanse the clotted forest of our past lives, clearing away the underbrush of the past to make way for the present, free the air for new shoots of life.”
Okay, so the third option is out of my hands. And I cannot follow through on the first option on any grand scale. That leaves me with option number two, assuming the generation behind me (my nieces and nephews, since I don’t have children) wants some of this stuff.
With that settled, it comes down to giving up control. The stories that are attached to these items are mine, but that doesn’t mean the next generation will care about those stories. Oh, I’ll share the stories anyway, but ultimately, each generation handles sentimental items differently. And, of course, that’s okay.
If you are a sentimentalist who is further along in the downsizing process than I am, I’d love to hear your thoughts. How have you pared down and what was the result?
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Lee Warren is a freelance writer and editor who has written twelve non-fiction books, one novella and hundreds of articles for various newspapers and magazines as well as edited more than 50 books that currently appear in print. He's a fan of NASCAR, baseball, tennis, books, movies and coffee shops.