For many people, summer is a time for new beginnings. Those with young children often change residences during the summer months so that everyone is situated for the new school year. For some, this is an exciting transition, but for others, it can be a challenge to venture down memory lane and get rid of items that no longer serve them.

Perhaps that’s one of the upsides of moving—it forces us to make a clean sweep of our homes and discard what we don’t need. For those with families, deciding what to keep and what to give away might be a group decision; however, when it comes to personal, sentimental items, it’s often a decision that must be made on an individual basis.

Statistically, I’ve moved as much as most Americans during the course of my life—about once every ten years, but I’ve never really had a problem deciding what to keep and what to give away. My mother taught me that if I hadn’t worn or used something in a year, then chances are I didn’t need it. This works fine for items that aren’t meaningful; however, I have a more difficult time releasing family heirlooms and things that evoke poignant memories.

When thinking about moving, I can’t help but ponder my most recent one. Twelve years ago, my family took the leap and moved across the country from Florida to California. The movers packed up our entire lives into a 53-foot tractor trailer. While they loaded the truck, I found myself shuffling boxes in the house from one place to another, deciding what to keep. I felt that ridding myself of some of these items would be the best solution to eliminating the clutter in my life. The problem was that discarding things such as my wedding gown, my daughter’s first doll, the kids’ drawings from kindergarten, the high chair where all three children had swallowed their first spoonfuls of Pablum, my father’s watch collection, and my grandmother’s perfumes—made me feel that my past was being eradicated.

Did I think that hoarding these keepsakes in my attic protected me from my future self or gave me a certain security about my past? What was the purpose of all the memorabilia in my life? I wasn’t sure if I should keep all of it or just discard the items in those boxes that had been stored away for more than thirty years now.

I plopped myself onto the only chair left at my kitchen table and pondered the importance of “stuff.” After a few moments, I decided to conduct an experiment. I got up and walked into the living room, where the boxes were piled in a stack that almost reached the ceiling. I separated the boxes that had been brought down from the attic and, one by one, carried them to the grassy spot near the street where our garbage would be picked up momentarily. I knew one thing for sure: the journals I’d begun writing at the age of ten were not a part of this collection. I would keep those forever, even if my kids never bothered to read them.

After putting the boxes on the grass, I began to walk away but then stopped and turned around one last time to look at them. With great resolve, I took a slow pivot and walked back to the house. But before I’d even pulled open the front door, I sprinted back to the street, where I was greeted by the trash collector, who’d just leaped off the back of the truck next to my boxes and other items.

 “Stop, stop!” I yelled to him. “You’re tossing away my past. How could you do that?”

He pulled his sunglasses down to the tip of his nose and placed his hands on his hips. “Lady, you’re not gonna take this stuff with you to the grave. Just let ’em go. What purpose do they serve?”

I smiled and walked over to the walker where my firstborn had learned to take her baby steps. I caressed the bar where her tiny hands once lay.

“Sorry, sir, I just can’t. I can’t. Without these memories coating the attic of my mind, I might die. You see, at my age, I find myself living for my memories. What’s the crime in that?”

He hesitated and then glanced back at me. “Lady, one thing I’ve learned in this job, which you probably think is made for dummies, is that letting go ends up being your only means of survival. The more you hold on, the less you’re able to survive. You must live each day as if it were your last. If you try doing this, you’ll embark on a whole new perspective and life journey. Trust me. I might seem like just a dumb garbage man, but I know. Now you go ahead and have a fine day.”

“You, too, sir,” I replied, shaking my head and walking back down the driveway to my front door, and into the house where all the boxes—but not my memories—had disappeared forever.

What to Dispose of or Give Away When Moving

  •  Unused coffee mugs
  • Clothes you haven’t worn in a few years
  • Old CDs and records
  • Chemicals and old paint that has dried up
  • Decorative pillows that are soiled
  • Expired canned food and medications
  • Unused children’s toys
  • Old electronics

 

There are many other things that you’ll realize you can dispose of. You’ll just have to make that very personal decision for yourself.

 

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