I have talked a lot about the things that we keep that we don’t need, but what is really difficult to deal with is the stuff that we don’t need, but we want to keep because it has sentimental value.  Things we keep  because they remind us of happy times, or people who are no longer with us, or because they have some importance in the history of our families.  I know people who never throw out theatre or concert tickets, or birthday and Christmas cards. These people I find somewhat overly sentimental, but then there are (slightly scary) people who keep body parts.  I am not talking about your children’s first milk tooth or lock of hair, but their appendix or tonsils or other such things.  What is that all about?  Silence of the lambs anyone?  Needless to say, I found boxes of our teeth and hair amongst my parents’ stuff, and was suitably freaked out.  They are no longer in our possession. Although I am the ‘cold and heartless’ one in our family, I am not immune or unsympathetic to the amount of attachment one can get to inanimate objects. After all, I carry a note in my wallet that Nan left me after we had spent a particularly difficult Christmas in her nursing home.  It isn’t even signed, but it was for me from her, and it is precious.  On the other hand,  I also feel that it is important to realise that these things are in fact just that: things.  They are not the porcelain reincarnation of your grandmother, and your grandfather’s spirit isn’t alive and well and communicating with you via the blotter on your desk. They are things that belonged to them, and now belong to you and are yours to do with as you please, regardless of what you feel said person would have wanted you to do with them.  And I guess if what you want to do with them is keep them close to you, or even keep them in storage because you can’t bear to part with them, then that is your choice, but when you start throwing your stuff away to accommodate somebody else’s then perhaps it’s time for a rethink.  Keepsakes can be a burden as well as a gift, and it is unfortunate that throwing or giving keepsakes away is seen as churlish, ungrateful and disrespectful.  What we are essentially doing by keeping them is enabling people to never assume responsibility for throwing out their own belongings.  Remember, a lot of the keepsakes you have from your parents, came from their parents, and those came from the parents of their parents etc etc.  We have reached the Ming dynasty and I only have a two bedroom apartment.

The main advantage to keeping otherwise useless items with sentimental value, I experienced the other day. I opened a trunk that has been sitting at the foot of my bed for years. It contains linens and tablecloths and those knitted doily things that people put on tables to rest things on like giant coasters for lamps.  This stuff is not stuff I use (case in point: I hadn’t opened it for years) but I hold onto it a) because I like having a trunk at the foot of my bed and this one is particularly beautiful, and b) because I have never been given permission to do anything with the contents.  This isn’t the point.  The point is that when I opened it, it smelled of my grandmother’s home and I was transported back there immediately as if the years had never passed (she died twenty years ago).  It was an emotional experience and without seeming too mushy (and ruining my granite reputation) it was a moment of connection with someone who was extremely important to me.  And then I started thinking about other things that I hold onto for those reasons.  Like the hideous blanket that I was about to throw out four years ago until I found out that my grandmothers knitted it together. Or the exercise books from school that my parents kept all these years. Artwork from my nephews and nieces.  I also find it difficult to throw out anything that belonged to Nan.  I figure she kept it all these years, and so to just get rid of it would be rude. Be that as it may, since I am the person who is in favour of and constantly going on about not holding on to unnecessary stuff, I have tried to be pretty ruthless with all of my things. The blanket,  exercise books and three fingered glove I made in sewing class when I was six are gone, although the note is still in my wallet.

Today D told me that there were some scarves she was planning to give away.  She showed me three (which were the only three she has decided not to keep out of a collection of 40 or 50).  She asked me if I wanted them.  I told her that I didn’t, but pointed out that one of the scarves was one that she had been so anxious to get that I ended it up wrestling it off the mannequin in the shop to the dismay of the shop assistants.  She looked at it again and said that it really went with the outfit she was wearing.  Next thing you know, it is no longer on the ‘to go’ pile.  When I laughed she said – “well now you reminded me how much I wanted it, I don’t want to give it away!”.  That is entirely my own fault I guess.  Note to self – just smile and nod.  Do not speak.

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