I like to keep momentos.
When I was in high school I kept a scrapbook of pretty much everything that happened. I even remember taping in my bus tickets! After I bought a camera (110mm film – anyone remember that?) I also took photos of my friends, just doing ordinary things like walking around the school yard, & sitting chatting in groups. Perhaps I had a subconscious sense that these moments were precious and transient. Perhaps someone had outright told me that? I just remember that I wanted to capture those moments and keep them forever. I also kept all of my school books, which were sometimes handy to refer to in future years. (I really would not have managed Year 11 German without my Year 10 notes!)
I liked to be organised and orderly.
My school had required it. It was how I managed my workload and got good grades. It was how I managed my social life, and my personal habits. Mobile phones had not yet been invented, but my diary and address book were indispensable!
When I was older, my penchant for saving everything led to buying a filing cabinet and suspension files. Today I have 3 filing cabinets, and all my records, back to my first tax return when I was 18. (That was a long time ago.) This is despite living at numerous different addresses in 4 cities (3 States).
I haven’t really ascribed to the “clutter-free is better” philosophy. I have previously found that getting rid of something just because you haven’t used it for a while is sometimes a mistake. (I’d thrown out favourite clothes and even a medical certificate!)
My own philosophy is that you should keep only the things that you actually like and want.
There may be things that you have to “make do” with for a while, until you are able to get what you really want, but once you have what you want, getting rid of the “make do” provides benefits in itself.
I have lived in my current residence for over 12 years. I came here because my husband wanted to. Arriving here was an enormous rush accompanied by multiple traumas that I won’t discuss today. I arrived with a husband, a toddler and a baby, from interstate, with only about half my belongings. We moved in on the Sunday, without even having the electricity & gas connected, and I started a new job on the Monday.
Yes, there is lots more to that story.
During the following years, my husband caused a remarkable number of difficulties, including randomly stuffing items into plastic bags and storing them in the garage. On later investigation, some of these collections included clean clothes, dirty clothes, plastic wrappers, random papers, one earring from a pair, toys, some hairclips etc. This explains, to some extent, why I was often looking for items that seemed to have mysteriously vanished.
After about 18 months of living here, my husband went overseas for 2 years. After only a few weeks, I told him I didn’t want him back. During those 2 years, though, he randomly came back and stayed in my house while studying at University. It seems that he had arranged this as part of his job overseas, and I was still a ridiculous pushover where he was concerned. After the 2 years, I foolishly reconciled with him. It lasted 6 weeks, before he resumed his nastiness. We separated again, and divorced. I don’t know where he is now, but am glad it is some great distance away.
Yes, there is lots more to that story, too.
What I want to talk about today, though, is the here and now:
Unearthing the past
Today I’ve been going through some of the boxes and bags of random items which have accumulated in my garage. I have been doing this very gradually for several years. The most exhausting part of it is dealing with the emotional impact of the memories that are triggered by each photo, each letter and card, each object. Everything has some meaning. The physical sorting of items is monotonous, but the emotional sorting is far more exhausting.
Among the many items that I sorted today were: a patronising, bitchy “love letter” from my ex-husband, a pile of ‘Order of Service’s (programme) from my wedding, and the Order of Service from a younger friend of mine’s wedding – she is also divorced, but has remarried, and had a baby just this week.
Reading these reinforces several things to me:
- Things change. Circumstances change, feelings change. People seem to change, but they don’t really: they just show you who they were all along.
- Time really does heal. While the memories are still there, the intensity of the feeling has dissipated, and my interpretation of the events has changed. I think I am more circumspect.
- Complimentary to point 2 above, time also provides more information and a new perspective on events. Knowing what I know now, I can read the letter from my ex-husband and see it far more clearly than the original confusion created by his contradictory statements and actions.
The main thing that I have gained from today is the deeply felt recognition that doing this is really hard.
I have berated myself for years for not getting all this rubbish sorted. I have wondered what on earth was wrong with me, because I have been a “head-on” kind of person most of my life.
“Feel the fear and do it anyway” had been a mantra I’d picked up in high school, along with: “The anticipation is worse than the event”, and “Just Do It!”
With the distance that I now have, I realise how incredibly intense my emotional reactions were before. It all MATTERED so much. Even today, when I can comfortably throw out a portion of material, knowing that I won’t regret it later, I feel deeply tired after only an hour and a half. Tired in my muscles and bones, as though I’d spent a day working outdoors. No wonder it has taken me so long to clear away the debris of my life. I have forgiven myself for taking so long, and that, in itself is a healing.
I am grateful that I recently cleared some larger items from the house: giving away things that I no longer need nor want. Having those things out of the way has created space, both physical and emotional. This buoys my flagging spirits: I know that the end is worth achieving.
My sorting and clearing is restoring order to my life. Doing so is restoring peace to my spirit.
It’s not the only thing that has nourished my soul, but it is a part of the journey.