I've been in a black hole of clearing out the garage this past month. I am not finished; in fact, I have a long way to go. A lot of the stuff belonged to, or was accumulated by, my late husband. I'm having to think about a lot of these things. Is there anything I should keep? If not, how do I get rid of it? Some of it I wonder, what is this, anyway?
I'm not much of an accumulator, and I'm not sentimental about objects-- most souvenirs seem pointless to me. I have one small box of stuff from my childhood, and another small box of cards and drawings that my kids made over the years. Very little evidence from my first marriage has survived (a couple of photos, a couple of books, that's it). I have a scrapbook/journal I kept when I lived for a year in Italy when I was in my 20s. But the journal gives me the shivers and it's going to go. I don't want my kids reading all my youthful whining when I'm gone. I can't even assume they'd want to read it.
My late husband (who was husband #2), however, kept everything. I found an entire box of letters from his first wife. I found papers and grade reports from when he was in high school. I found stacks of photos taken in every classroom he ever taught in. And many boxes of his teaching materials, LPs, shirts from the 1980s, scraps of things that were taken apart, marginally useful tools. (I'm trying not to be pissed off that once again, he left the housekeeping to me.)
I recalled this essay/"sermon" written a few years back by Bruce Sterling:
The hours you waste stumbling over your piled debris, picking, washing, storing, re-storing, those are hours and spaces that you will never get back in a mortal lifetime. Basically, you have to curate these goods: heat them, cool them, protect them from humidity and vermin. Every moment you devote to them is lost to your children, your friends, your society, yourself.The flip side of this is: what do you keep? He goes on to describe a more forward-thinking, practical approach to material things:
The items that you use incessantly, the items you employ every day, the normal, boring goods that don't seem luxurious or romantic: these are the critical ones. They are truly central. The everyday object is the monarch of all objects. It's in your time most, it's in your space most... the things that you use every day should be the best-designed things you can get... Anything placed next to your skin for long periods is of high priority.I'm trying to keep all this in mind as I re-imagine how I want to live-- in another year or so, my son will follow his sister off to college, and my life will be radically different. Which is ok; things change, whether we want them to or not. I just want to give a lot of thought as to what I take with me and why.
You can read the entire Bruce Sterling essay here. Photo of Novy Dvur Monastery via Minimalissimo.