Thursday, August 27, 2015

What We Keep

Since “almost” retiring 18 months ago, I’ve done a lot of what my mom jokingly called, “squozzing down.”
I’ve packed and given away boxes of hardly used dishware, knick-knacks, and holiday decorations, a book-case worth of books. With minimal hand-wringing, I’ve donated thousands of dollars’ worth of suites and other “work” clothes.  
So, why are the shrunken t-shirt Jim bought me on our first date and my threadbare Margate circa mid-1970 cut-offs still in the drawer? Why do these relics—that no longer fit me—never make the donate-or-toss-it cut?
When my mom died several years ago, my siblings and I went through the ritual disbursing of her stuff. I carefully choose what to keep—the Hummel I bought her when I back-packed through Europe, a chipped vase from my childhood, a mama and baby snowman from her holiday collection, the library desk where I spent hours as a teen talking on the phone. I kept her red polo shirt with blue flowers on the collar—not because I’ll ever wear it—it just looks so much like her. Beyond that short list and some family pictures, there was a lifetime of her stuff I was able to let go.
And yet.
When I came across a tattered envelope with, “Cindy’s Wedding,” scrawled across the front in my mother’s handwriting, I could not bring myself to toss it.  Something about her handwriting as familiar to me as her smile and her voice, just like that red polo, felt too personal to let go.
I can’t explain it. Maybe that’s because there isn’t a rational explanation for what we keep.
What do you think? When you sort through your stuff, do you know why you keep what you keep and why you let other stuff go?


  1. Carol, Your blog always makes me think and makes me feel . I lost many of my loved ones a young age ( twin,mother, grandmother, sister) this has turned me in to a hoarder of anything that reminds me of them. It helps me grieve , even after all these years.You evoke feelings in your readers ; happy, sad, pleasant and unpleasant. Pehaps most of all you inspire us to look within. Thank you

    1. Mimi, I remember the shock and sadness of your sister dying so young.
      And, thank you for your thoughts about my blog. It was exactly what I needed today. I almost didn't post this one because I didn't have an answer. Your comment reminds me, that sometimes, just asking the questions is enough.

    2. Carol, I am a pretty efficient purger of flotsam and jetsam that we accumulate in our lives. About six months ago, I read that best seller "The life-changing magic of tidying up," and followed the author's prescription to get rid of everything that did not bring me joy (well almost). My sock drawer still looks tidy as does my closet. (Haven't gotten to my office or my spice shelf yet.)

      Anyway, I was following her strict rules until we cleaned out my Mom's apartment to move her to assisted living. I could not bear to let a few ceramic nicknacks from my childhood home go to the thrift store. They sit on a shelf in my conservatory, but when I look at them I am back at Brill Street.

      A week after Bernie died, I found myself packing his clothes for the St. Vincent dePaul pickup. Everything went except for his green wool Marine jacket. He would never part with that jacket -- a tiny sized thing that made me wonder just how small he was at age 18. I could not let it go and left it in the closet. Whenever I open that door it's a sole sentry honoring his memory.

      If my house burned down I would not grieve for the loss of these items, but for some reason in the moment, they give me a sense of who I am and where I came from.

      When my next move comes, I don't know if they will make the "keep" list, but for now, they have meaning.


    3. Chris, I think you nailed it that the things we keep have meaning-even if we can't describe exactly what that is. That you know Bernie wouldn't part with that jacket makes it very special to keep.