I listened to an interview on NPR last week with Joan Didion on her book, "Blue Nights," on the death of her daughter. (Here's a link to another interview, I couldn't find the NPR interview.) I felt terribly sad listening to her flat, mournful voice as she spoke and read from her book. Something she said impacted me deeply. She was going through her apartment looking at all the drawers and closets full of things she had saved over the lifetime of this daughter. As she pulled out pictures, school uniforms, objects, she thought about how these things were intended to remind her of those special moments. But what they really reminded her of was her failure to appreciate the moment as those things were happening.
This is in my mind right now as I get down to the last phase of clearing out in my house. If you've followed my blog at all, you're probably thinking, "Is that woman still clearing out after all these years?!" Well, there was a lot of stuff! And now with the basement project underway, I'm basically down to what remains in boxes, closets, and drawers. Almost all falling under the broad category of memorabilia. Tons of photographs, slides, videos. Report cards, drawings, essays. Souvenirs. My late-ex's old CD collection and one more foot locker full of his papers and letters.
I have looked at this task so many times unable to think how to begin to keep or throw out. But now I think I understand. I need to keep a few very special things that have specific joyful memories for me and for my children. Anything that holds a negative thought must go--anything that holds a feeling of failure to appreciate the moment, anything that just makes me sad. I must pare it down because I will pass these things along to my children when I die and they are already accumulating stuff of their own just like this. No need to bog them down with a lifetime of mostly meaningless items.
That's not to say the task will be easy. Far from it. But as I've learned from the clearing out I've accomplished so far, once gone, you never miss it. You really don't.
So as the remodel in the basement proceeds, I still have my work cut out for me. And I intend to finish it once and for all in the coming months.