Two weeks before I set out on the next 6 week instalment of my brave travels, I try to decide what to keep. Out of the accumulation of a lifetime, out of the contents of a 3000 square foot house, what will come with me into the future? What is precious enough to put in a storage locker for 6 months, and then move into my new place, wherever and whatever that may be?
I started the process almost a year ago. Not knowing what the future held, I embarked on Swedish Death Cleaning (it’s a thing) as both a therapy and to loosen the weight of possessions that held me where I was. I had, in almost two decades without moving, accumulated so much. Sand pails still in the basement, when my youngest child is 22. Leather pants that I last wore in the 80s. Notes from classes I couldn’t remember taking, and from classes I barely remembered teaching. So many things saved because I might make something from them, might need them at some point.
And as I cleared out the material, I processed the emotional. In the summer, when the process was already underway, my mother died, and I needed to sort through her memorabilia. Photographs of her when she was young, with people I didn’t know, probably also dead now. Photographs of relatives in coffins, flower arrangements, gardens and cars. Birthday cards saved for 70 years. Postcards and recipes and jokes clipped from the newspaper. It solidified my resolve to lighten my own load.
I cried a lot in the first months. So many memories were attached to the physical items. But I decided that if the memories were good, they were still there, even without the physical reminders. And if they were sad, then not having the reminders allow me to not be taken by surprise. So I will keep the cheap sofa and chair, bought recently, and leave behind the custom made ones where I spent so much time sitting with my husband, talking and dreaming.
I keep only one red tool box with the basics. I will not need the table saw that I bought myself as a birthday present when I was redoing the flooring in our Squamish house, nor the specialty clamps for gluing corners when repairing furniture. I will not need the hand saws, or the electrical parts. I will not have a house again. And that is OK.
I have never been into kitchen gadgets even though I love to cook, but there was much there that I let go. Getting rid of the 12 individual pizza pans, the 30 champagne glasses, the table cloths and plates and other outdoor accessories meant saying goodbye to the huge parties I loved to host. I cried, but the tears made them slip away more easily. That part of my life is over.
The bookshelves have been a challenge that I have tackled slowly, repeatedly, taking out a box or two at a time. I realize that I have reference books that I have never referred to, souvenir books that I have not looked at since I bought them, 10 or 20 or 30 years ago. I have books that I have never read yet have kept for years, thinking I might or should read them. When I put them in the garage sale boxes, I feel lightened by the reduced obligations. And the books I keep: ones I loved that I may read again; ones where I look forward, not obligated, to reading. I did not get rid of a single language learning book. I am excited about refreshing and expanding my Finnish, French, Spanish. I think I will tackle Japanese again. Polyglot. Even if it is not realistically attainable, I love that word.
And then there are the photographs. I put the albums into boxes, and do not open the boxes already in the basement, full of loose photos. Some memories are too intense. I do not have the strength to tackle this. I am doing enough; this will wait.
Well, except for the photographs I brought to the beach on what would have been my 29th wedding anniversary. Looking at and burning those made me stronger.
Although I easily got rid of 3/4 of my clothes, for a long time I did not consider purging my hats, and even though the outfits that many of them went with were long gone, I held on to them. I used to be the kind of person who wore hats. Now, I accept that that is no longer who I am. The functional stay, the sunhats and the ballcaps to wear in my convertible, but I put the rest of them aside. Except, of course, for the fabulous one with the green feathers that I will wear at an English wedding this month. And the black pillbox with the veil, because you can’t be logical all the time.
As I sort, I am surprised by a magical resurgence of rocks. There have been none of them in my living space for many years. I had a box of them that I used when I went into my children’s classrooms when they were young, on career days, wearing my field vest and talking about the underground puzzles a geologist solves. Yet others have appeared, from unexpected places, and they now grace the bookshelves, filling spaces left by purged books.
They remind me that I have not always been just wife, mother, teacher.
And I will be happy to see them on my shelf, when I return from my brave travels.