On preservation.

In preparing for this move, I've had to make lots of decisions lately. Obviously there are huge (ginormous!) decisions about where to live and what car we should buy and all that jazz. But I'm talking more about the infinitesimal decisions about our stuff. Objects. Belongings. And what, exactly, is worth carting across the country.

A while back I designated a small drawer in Noah's dresser where I shoved all of the holiday cards he received, baby cards, baptism notes, you name it. He gets a daily sheet from daycare that lists out some things he did that day and when there's a particularly salacious one (i.e. TODAY NOAH BIT SOMEONE), I shove that in the drawer too. And now with this impending move, it has come time to scrapbook this stuff or get rid of it.

This morning while he played in the living room, I stood at the kitchen counter with it all in front of me. What was the goal? To keep every single piece of communication? To represent an array of the people in his life who send him notes? To document his first 12 months? 24 months?

I admit, I felt a little daunted. I mean, what does one even do with the umbilical cord stub that is currently in a ziplock baggie? (THROW IT OUT. I know.)

I've been reading lots of books on Feng Shui lately, about how objects should bring energy to a space and not deplete it. Is there a framed photo that reminds you (sadly) of your grandma every time you look at it? Get rid of it! Instead choose an object that reminds you of her positively (maybe her old perfume bottle, perhaps) and throw out the rest. The books I'm reading make a lot of sense about the way clutter builds and slows down our ability to move freely in our homes. When you keep something out of guilt, you have a bad feeling every time you walk past it - which could be many times a day. That means you're re-feeling the bad over and over. You better believe that has an impact on your mental state!

I think about what the world will be like when Noah is old enough to care about his baby book. He will have access to thousands of digital photos of himself. He will never have enough time to read all of the Instagram and Facebook and blog entries that his parents wrote about him... and so, when he is faced with that volume of information, I can only assume one thing: some of the whole will be enough. Even glancing through some photos will reveal how young his parents were when he was small. A few notes from grandparents and aunts and uncles will reinforce what he knows to be true (that he is very loved). But 99% of the objects and memorabilia in his life are not worth physically preserving.

I know this can be true because we preserve events and love and people and presences silently, in ourselves, anyway. It's mental DNA. I call my uncle when I don't know how to fix my toilet - not because he sent me Thanksgiving cards every year, but because the relationship that was built via those frequent communications allows me to feel comfortable picking up the phone. It's the energy underneath the objects that count, not the objects themselves.

When I was a sophomore in college, I went to Ireland with a literature class. Several months after returning home, I heard that one of the girls on the trip had recently gone through a really tough time - her parents' house had caught fire and burned down. Nothing was left, no photos or baby blankets, no wedding candlesticks or souvenirs from Ireland. Several of us printed photos from the trip and pulled something from our own Ireland souvenir stash to give to her. She was very grateful.

Dealing with the stuff I own is easier when I remember this story. It could all go up in flames, every single object that we own. And yet we will still be who we are.

I'll hold onto what serves us about Noah's first few years - the love, the memories - and keep a few key things, enough to fill a baby book perhaps. But the rest is going. As my Feng Shui books say - moving out what you don't need makes space for new, great things to come in. I can definitely get behind that.


Sarahmia said...

I can definitely empathise with the urge to declutter, to slimline and to organise. When we moved from a one bedroom flat to a four bedroom house last year I was amazed at the amount of thing I threw away.

Now we have so many more rooms, which need filling with more things and it's becoming a weird cycle of buying, becoming indifferent to those items and then eventually being happy to get rid.

I want to be a minimalist, but I am also deeply nostalgic, and I don't quite know how to marry the two, yet.

EricaRW said...

Have you read 'Happier at Home' (Gretchen Rubin)? One of the chapters is about stuff and managing stuff, it's got great advice on how to decide what to keep/chuck. GL w/ packing and the big move!

Abby said...

Are you reading Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui? That's one of my favorites!

Jen said...

@Sarah- Yeah, I get that... tiny apartments are a blessing and a curse for that reason...

@Erica- Yes! I have read that but I don't own a copy.. hm... maybe I should check out the used bookstore down the street. Good call!