Moving back into my apartment after renovations, I’ve been unpacking things packed for a year or two. I packed some of those things fourteen years ago when I moved here and it seems I packed some of those things before then. I’ve tried to come up with definitive conclusions on dealing with old things that connect with memories, but haven’t. I’m getting rid of stuff, but it’s harder than I expected, so I have just some thoughts on the process of getting rid of stuff…
What are these memories for? If something I saved is my only access to some memory, then what do I lose if I lose it? I’m not going to miss it.
I have a bunch of old letters and notes from people. Getting rid of books brings freedom. What do these names and old phone numbers do? The people they connect to aren’t parts of my life any more. I doubt many of us would recognize each other if we passed on the street. They help me remember a time of my life, but remembering old times keeps me from living in the present. I don’t see one way as better or worse than the other.
Rereading old notes makes me feel good briefly at remembering the good times (I don’t remember the bad times as well), but doesn’t lead me to get in touch with them. Even if I did, time with them would only displace time with others. So why do I feel so troubled in letting go of them?
Emails today with the same weight as some of these letters I’ve saved I would delete without a second thought. Yet these old letters and postcards I’ve saved so long are harder to get rid of, partly because they are physical. I guess getting myself stuck with them got me to stop saving things so much in the first place.
Before a few generations ago we couldn’t save memories like this at all. People then did just fine.
Once a while ago I decided to purge stuff I didn’t need. I threw away my four medals from finishing the New York City Marathon. I thought, “What did the medals signify? The value of running was in the running, not the medals.” Then after I got rid of them I regretted it, reinforcing the lesson that the only way to know your boundaries is to cross them. I had thrown away too much. Now years later I was looking at my one Philadelphia Marathon medal and realizing I don’t need it either. My boundaries seem to have expanded since then (see tomorrow’s post about expanding boundaries).
I guess my main lesson is to avoid acquiring stuff in the first place. It’s either useless or hard to get rid of later. Part of the reason I tell people the best gifts to get me, if you feel compelled, are wine, beer, or scotch. I eat the evidence.
In my grandparents’ time, photographs were rare—a family took a few total in a generation. When I was young kids could take pictures, but only about thirty-six at a time and had to wait to finish the roll and pay to process it before seeing them. You tried to make each one count. Now you might take thirty-six in a few seconds. So why am I saving all these old pictures. I’m sure I’ll just scan them, save them to disk and then not worry about losing them, though I’ll probably never look at them again, or maybe only a couple times. And then looking at them I won’t be doing something active in the present.
What do you lose in losing access to old memories? You don’t lose ability to enjoy life, only access to those memories. You don’t lose the memories either, just the access to them. So what if the only access to some memory disappears? What use is that memory?
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