Boxes of Stuff and Letting Go

When did we accumulate all this stuff?

I have repeatedly asked myself that question over the past month as I packed up my stuff to move from a fairly large house to a not-so-large apartment.  Movers got what I thought was most of my share of the marital property but I’ve been back five times to get more stuff.  Last Saturday I even had help from a friend with a van, yet there is at least one more car load of my stuff back at the house.  Now I am surrounded by mounds of boxes and dusty items from the recent past and the distant past.  I hate the clutter but somehow feel at home in it.

Objects we collect and keep over time can serve as reminders of various parts of our lives.  When viewed as a whole, they tell our life story.  Why do we keep so much and how do we learn this behavior?

My ‘stuff’ education most certainly results from being the son of organized packrats.  Mom kept the silliest things but each had a story.  She lived her whole life in southern Louisiana but travelled all across the US, Mexico and Canada, kept written journals, hundreds of photographs and numerous small physical reminders of her adventures.  All of the pictures were destroyed in the Hurricane Katrina floods but some of her journals survived, as did some golden maple leaves she picked up off the ground on a bus tour of Canada one year and a few souvenir shot glasses from various towns.

The 'chest' pictured here is among the many items I have moved into my new apartment.  It was a souvenir from an early family trip to Pensacola, Florida and contains stuff from the trip and that part of my life … Mardi Gras doubloons, a sugar packet from a restaurant we stopped at during that trip, a Coke bottle top from the days when soda came in bottles with tops that needed a bottle opener.

Dad kept tools and magazine articles.  He had tools of every size, shape and usage.  He probably never read a book, other than trade school text books, but he constantly read magazines related to his work and hobbies and routinely cut out articles of interest to him. 

Now I have my own tools and many of his. Also among the Items I moved are magazines and clipped articles from various cities I’ve live in and information relating to my own hobbies and interests.

On one hand this stuff means a lot to me.  On the other hand it is time to let go of the clutter.

When I moved into my last house ten years ago, I promised myself I would not move unnecessary stuff ever again.  Yet here I am a decade later surrounded by dusty boxes containing the same stuff.  Some of these boxes are still unopened from the last move, some from the one that occurred seven years before that.  Part of ‘new me’ is tempted to throw these boxes into the dumpster unopened.  Why keep it?  Another side of me demands I at least look through things one more time. 

As we move forward in our lives it is important to discard parts of the past that hold us back.  It is also important to learn from and celebrate parts of our past.  I have and will discard a lot of what I moved here; it is definitely time to let those things go.  But I will also keep some stuff.  That silly little ‘treasure chest’ in the picture instantly brings back a vivid mental picture of the first time I walked on a beach.  It is a chapter in my life story.