Every time we move — whether from one art studio to another or one house to another — my husband and I dispense with a dizzying array of possessions. There are the usual things like books we've read (or not) and no longer wish to carry around, and kitchen cookery I never hauled out of the drawer (here's looking at you, layer cake pans and nesting Corningware in five convenient sizes). And let's not even talk about all the clothes that have cycled in and out of our closets — my husband's collection of identical blue- and white-striped long-sleeved shirts and navy ski caps, and my carefully curated anthology of skinny jeans and black V-neck T-shirts. Suffice it to say, we do our part to keep the economy strong and thrift store culture alive.
But with this latest move, a new cleaning-out challenge arose. For the first time in our lives we asked ourselves the question: What should we do with our memorabilia? For my husband this means a few photo albums full of relatives and ex-girlfriends, and newspaper clippings marking past accomplishments and milestones. For me this means boxes of diaries dating back to age 12, storage bins full of letters to and from friends (I often Xeroxed the letters I wrote, so as to have a record of my inquiries and "insightful comments"), a massive number of photographs (many with their corresponding negatives), carefully organized graduate school notes and the 2-foot-high tower of paper that is 10 years' worth of revisions of my book, "The Body Tourist."
Most people, as I understand it, use their children as receptacles for important memorabilia. Those children, in turn, use eBay. I know this because my husband was a used and rare internet book dealer for a few years before he became an artist and spoke often (and with surprise and sadness) about the number of lovingly inscribed books he came across in an average week, tucked inside of which were heartfelt notes to and from loved ones. Undoubtedly the writers of those letters thought their words would be cherished forever, or at least not haplessly or accidentally traded on the internet equivalent of a thrift store. But there they were. And not just handwritten notes. There were also wedding invitations. Death announcements. Baby pictures.
What are we — who don't have children — to do with our most cherished items? Should we put them in vaults for safekeeping, until a relative down the line, with no more connection to us than name, hauls the whole mess out and throws it away? Burn the potentially embarrassing stuff (I know someone who did this) and leave the rest to fate? Wait and make a decision the next time we move?
Which of this stuff is actually worth keeping? I do occasionally go through the photographs (but never their negatives). Occasionally I take out the old letters and review my past "insights," but mainly I find my letters an embarrassing testament to oversharing. And do I need to keep the thousands of pages of book revisions, now that the book has been published? Will I ever restudy the outdated grad school notes written in a painstaking, upright print I no longer even recognize as my own? Marie Kondo, who wrote "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up," has the answers to these questions and more, but I don't want to know what they are.
Because I suspect her answer is no — as in no, I will not revisit most of what I have stored in the oversized Tupperwares in my closet. And yet I am not quite ready to let it all go. Collectively, this evidence of my past reinforces the boundaries of my memory; without it, I am afraid I would feel untethered to my present.
I suspect there will come a time when I will feel differently — when, by necessity or change of heart (or because I broke down and read Kondo's book), the contents of my Tupperwares and I will come to an understanding. Perhaps then I will cease to feel that their existence is essential to mine or that their residency in my closet is the only proof I have of my past residency in the world.
Until then, most of it will stay where it is. And I will continue to believe, erroneously and without shame, that it is all necessary, precious and eternal.
Dana Shavin is a national award-winning humor columnist. See more at Danashavin.com and follow her on Facebook at Dana Shavin Writes.