all of the selves we Have ever been
That’s what the experts say.
What do they know? They carry their memories on microchips--hidden and convenient, password-protected.
“Take a picture,” they say. But a picture is not always worth a thousand words. My stuff is talking to me!
Be ruthless? Ruthless people don’t accumulate enormous vaults of sentiment and attachment. They can let go of that shirt that carries the scent of a beloved child or toss to the curb the worn chair where a father sat to read the newspaper each night for fifty years. Ruthless people have no need to downsize. They live their entire lives downsized—people, things, memories mean nothing to the ruthless.
I cannot identify with ruthlessness. I travel among the merciful. That old stuff calls out to me in the voices of people I have loved. I am a listener by nature and by trade. I just can’t cut off those voices mid-sentence. Telling me to be ruthless about my treasures is like telling a preacher to stop believing.
Full reveal: it doesn’t even have to be my own stuff! When I go to a flea market or antique store, I always see something that I remember from long ago, perhaps in my grandmother’s house or in my first grade classroom. I see photographs of people I never knew, and yet I have the feeling that if I stand there long enough, the people pictured will begin to speak to me and tell me their story. Somehow, I will find out that, hey, we’re related!
Our old furnishings know things about us. That chip in the glass, the sag in the armchair, the scratch on the dining room table--our stuff remembers how it all happened. I feel a friendship with the pieces as though they might remember me, too. Do they feel a comfort in an old familiar touch? Can they share an objective view of who I was, of the former selves I have been and, perhaps forgotten?
Our stuff matters not so much for its material value, but because we fear that if we let it all go, our memories and our history will vanish into the back of rental truck never to be found again. We fear that we will remove the ties that bind us to our people and our places, the ones that make us who we are.
But a time may come when the sheer volume of stuff threatens to overtake our space, or it is time to move. Maybe the care needed by our things exceeds our energy level and our time. And so it happens that we must say goodbye, or risk that someone will later say goodbye to all of it for us, perhaps someone ruthless.
So, do not be ruthless. Be merciful—to yourself and to your stuff. Be courageous. Be generous. Let your treasures live along with the stories inside them. Find someone to tell the stories to, give away the items or re-purpose the parts. It’s good for the earth and good for the soul. Even out of sight, those items will carry us into the future. There are more of the merciful out there, people who will admire our old treasures, long to own them, and patiently wait for the pieces to tell them our stories.