me vs uncluttering

Keepsakes are passé.

These days it’s all about minimizing, down-sizing, learning how to live with one skirt and three tops, crisply curated libraries – and nearly every home-organization article will tell you, cheerfully and patronizingly: “we know, it’s nice to hang on to old love letters and your summer-fling guitar strings, but let’s face it – there’s no room for that crap in an organized home. Let it go.”

I’m packing up my room again this week, getting ready to take myself, my cat, and my life to a yet-unknown new home, crunched for time and with no plans in sight as per usual.

Every time I move, I downsize. I hate moving – who doesn’t? But I have to do it, on average, every four months – so I try to make it easier every time by chucking out as much stuff as I can handle.

This time I’ve been ruthless. I’ve allocated one box to books and papers, and one small suitcase to “bathroom stuff and keepsakes” – and whatever doesn’t fit, goes.

Usually, I throw away clothes, but I seem to have run out of clothes to throw away. Which is too bad. Clothes are easy. I usually buy ‘em super cheap, so there’s no pain involved in chucking old jackets, shoes, and jeans.

But keepsakes are tough.

There’s something unsettling about purposefully throwing away something that is meaningful. It’s almost destabilizing, as if I’m picking away at the foundation of the life I’ve built up thus far in the course of my existence. 

It’s dealing with the horror of choices. How on earth am I supposed to decide if a neck pillow in the shape of a dog that used to be my mom’s is more or less meaningful than a marathon “medal”? Is a beautiful photo of a long-lost friend I may never see again more significant than a birthday card signed by all of my coworkers just a few weeks ago? 

The answer is that they’re all meaningful. These things all prove to me that I’ve been loved, I’ve been thought about, I’ve felt close to people and I’ve felt proud of myself. I suppose I shouldn’t need reminders of these things, but I do. Having them in my life is the (admittedly shaky) foundation that keeps me going when I’m depressed and hopeless. As individual pieces they may sometimes be practically insignificant, but chipping away at them affects the whole picture and I start to become disoriented.

And yet I feel guilty when I think about my parents who, after having built a life with two children in a remote Russian city, packed up everything that would fit in less than a month, and gave away or threw away the rest. Then moved to a different continent – forever. 

I don’t have that kind of steely resistance. I hope that it comes with finding someone who becomes your home, your turtle shell – so that as long as they are with you, you can let go of everything and still be on solid footing. Or perhaps it was more like escaping a house fire – you could either go down with all your memories or move on, choose life, choose to have a future.

Anyway, I’m not in the position to wax poetic about my parents’ immigration process when all I’m doing is packing up a few square meters of crap into some boxes. I’m just saying maybe there’s some merit to keeping the love letters and guitar strings if they’re keeping you sane and not harming anybody. Yes/No? Who’s with me in the non-minimalist camp?


About Varia

Traveler, writer.
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