Why is it easier to get rid of the big stuff than the small stuff?
When I moved out of my old apartment and placed things into storage, I had to get rid of a lot of stuff. A LOT of stuff. In many ways it was cathartic, going through piles of outright junk and unceremoniously tossing it in the recycling bin or the trash. While I do own a few nice things, collectibles and such, which I did keep, the Parentage were wonderful as a second pair of eyes to say “just get rid of it” to everything else.
One of the things I discovered along the way is that it’s a lot easier to get rid of the big stuff than the little stuff, and I have no idea why.
Some of the biggest stuff was the easiest to get rid of. The 10 year old bed on which the springs were starting to go? Off to charity. The unwieldy computer desk that, while I made it work, really wasn’t that well designed? Ditto. The 90-lb tube television that I held on to mostly because I was too cheap to replace (and am still too cheap to replace, being TV-less even now)? Charity again.
And so it went over a period of a couple of weeks, between the time I started packing and the actual departure on the road trip. Papers, knickknacks, assorted dishes, old clothes, books… so much of it bagged up and off to the Salvation Army or into the rubbish bin. The bigger the object was, such as furniture and appliances (or the dreaded “doo-dads” of spare electronics and such that I kept around because “you never know when I might need it/fix it/sell it”), the more likely it was to be tossed. I was on a tear, trying to save space in my storage unit, and eager to de-clutter my life.
It continues, though though at a decidedly slower pace, since I’ve gotten back. Boxes of stuff I hadn’t seen from my childhood, slowly gone through and tossed away. You may even remember my post a few months back about my old Transformers toys; they ultimately went to one of my readers. His son is playing with them, and knowing that they’ve gotten a second use in another kid’s hands, even for a short amount of time, is pretty awesome.
This afternoon, exhausted, frustrated, flummoxed, and ultimately feeling overwhelmed and depressed by the job search, I pried myself away from the computer and opened another box.
It was a small box. Tiny. Half a cubic-foot, at best. What was inside was nothing but papers.
Paper. My nemesis. My Achilles-heel. The one thing I always tend to be a pack rat about.
Inside the box, neatly organized, were stacks of correspondence. Old cards. Postcards. Letters. Photographs.
Some of them were from family, some from friends. Some were from friends who have disappeared from my life, eliciting more than a few “where are they now?” thoughts.
Christmas letters from my Aunt and Uncle. Graduation announcements. Letters containing details of a family member who moved back east. A birth announcement from my cousin for his newborn son, who’s now 16, which made me feel very, very old.
There were postcards from my parents’ travels. A letter from my Great Aunt donating money to my college fund. A get well card from my grandparents from when I broke my arm at around 10 years old. Letters from high school classmates that we exchanged before after we went to colleges in separate towns.
Old birthday cards stretching across the decades were in the box, some from years when I was too young to remember anything. One of them was from the late 70′s, with a glowering Stormtrooper on the front (I was a geek at an early age). The inside was signed by someone named Wendi. Who she was or where she might be now, I have no idea.
(The only wisp of memory is a very vague one, possibly of a girl with red hair from around 1st grade. I dunno. Maybe all of us Charlie Browns have our Little Red-Haired girl somewhere in our pasts?)
One plastic bag held a couple of photos from my Senior Ball in high school, which I’ll always remember because the girl I went with refused to dance with me, but would later, from the college in the Pacific Northwest she went to, call me to talk excitedly about the dance she attended and danced with someone else at. (Surprisingly, looking at the pictures of my younger self didn’t make me feel old as I suspected it might. I didn’t find myself pining for youth looking at them. Just the opposite, in fact: I’m better looking as a mature man now that I was as the scrawny, dorky kid I was then. I have an actual beard now, which helps too. I guess there’s something to be said for not topping out, Al Bundy style, back in high school…)
As I touched each item, I realized that I never made any conscious effort to keep them all. It just sort of happened. More often as not when I got something in the mail, I’d enjoy reading it and absorb whatever well-wishes were contained therein, then end up placing it in a small pile on the bookcase. As I moved around, I just moved the pile, never really taking the time to go through it. Certainly not doing so before leaving on my travels. It didn’t take up much room in the storage facility, after all.
Now I have the time. I’m still just as clueless as to what to do.
Some are easy to toss. Friends and acquaintances who’ve gone out of my life, that I have little expectation (or, in some cases, desire) to see again. Random Christmas cards from my old workplace. A Valentines-Day card from The Ex went directly to the recycle bin, possibly breaking the sound barrier in doing so.
That’s the easy stuff.
What about the hard stuff? What about the postcards from The Parentage, detailing the travels they’ve taken that, honestly, I have a hard time remembering. After all, we remember our own travels the best, don’t we? But it’s nice to be reminded of where they went, with the little messages on the back detailing what they did in those far-off places.
Or the birthday card from my best childhood friend, the one who raced around the backyard with me flying our X-Wings and Tie-Fighters on long, hot summer days? The one who I lost touch with when his military family was moved back east?
Or worse, what about the old birthday cards from my Grandmother? The ones where she wishes me the best and writing how much she loves me? I have a whole series of those cards… enough that I can actually see her handwriting degrade as the years went by, which is both sad and endearing. Sad because of the ravages of age (the ones chasing us all) become evident over time. Endearing because it’s clear how much effort she made to send a birthday wish to her grandson, writing less cursive and more each character separately as time went by.
On a purely practical level, there’s probably no reason to keep them. I rarely look at these things in fits of nostalgia. Heck, look at how long many of them sat on a bookshelf, gathering dust?
On the purely emotional level though, it’s tough. Running my fingers over handwriting of someone that is gone now, and who will never write me a “happy birthday” message again? Even having not looked at the cards in years, it pulls. What about the birthday cards from The Parentage? It seems silly to keep an inch-thick stack of cards… but if I toss them now, will I regret it in 20 or 30 years?
Practicality vs. nostalgia? Which should win?