This weekend I cleaned. And I don’t mean cleaned…I CLEANED. I’m talking scrubbing on my hands and knees, dusting the picture frames sort of cleaning. 12 hours of inhaling Mr. Clean all to clean the things most people wouldn't even notice.
This process led me to tackle a seemingly mundane job…cleaning under our family room couch. I moved the couch away from the wall and pulled back the cushions. Under it was a mini-landfill… binkies H gave up a few months ago (so THAT’s where they went), pages from a coloring book J colored in, L’s frog rattle, a sparkly ring, matchbox cars, and of course the classic C’s (coins, crumbs, and Cheetos) that are found in everyone’s couch. I grabbed a large garbage bag and threw everything away. I didn’t even look at half the stuff…I just tossed it.
This is a change for me. A few years ago, I would have combed through this as carefully as a person in search of a priceless treasure at a garage sale. I would have scanned everything to make sure it wasn’t a priceless memento that I needed to save.
Historically, I am a notorious pack-rat. This started when I was young and my Mom gave me my first hope chest. I used to save everything, a candy bar wrapper given to me by my first crush, an old emptied bottle of wine celebrating my 21st birthday, dried flowers given to me on Valentine’s day, a ticket stub from the first movie Todd ever took me to, an old pressed popcorn bag from a special date, and piles and piles of birthday cards, notes passed in study halls, and letters (you know that ancient art before e-mails and Facebook?). I saved it all.
My pack-rat-ness is traced to my mother (see the Mom gets blamed for everything). You have heard me mention my mother, she is my best friend and the greatest mother a girl could ever ask for…but she is admittedly a horrible historian. My oldest brother had two amazing baby books filled with locks of hair, first teeth, etc. My second brother had one amazing baby book filled with mementos. By the time 1978 rolled around and I entered the picture…no baby book. She really never saved anything, and hardly ever had a camera at events. Now I can’t say that I blame my Mom, I mean come on she had three kids each a year apart, but I think this absence of records from my youth sort of started me out to save everything.
My worst pack rat days were high school and college. I tried to remember every relationship, every friend, every good time. I saved EVERYTHING.
So you can only imagine what happened when I got pregnant the first time. I saved the box from the pregnancy test, my appointment cards from the OB. I saved it all. Journals on how I was feeling to (yes its true) a cheeseburger wrapper to remember my cheeseburger cravings. And when J was born I saved everything too…those standard striped hospital blankets, Todd’s hat he wore in the delivery room, hospital bracelets, newspapers, a cut out from her first solid food…etc.
But a strange thing has started to happen to me over the years, something I certainly did not expect. I’m NOT that big of a packrat anymore. Sure I saved things from H and L's pregnancies and births, but nothing even remotely to the level of Cheeseburger wrappers and appointment cards. Just like my Mom before me, I am saving less and less over the years.
Once I noticed this change I had to wonder why this was happening. I saved pretty much every item received in college and lawschool, saved countless mementos from people I never see or hear from anymore. I never threw anything away. Yet now living with the 4 most important people in my life I am not saving nearly the same amount of stuff??
So am I turning into my Mom? Maybe. But you know what I’m okay with that. I’ve figured out why my Mom didn’t save everything. She didn’t need to.
See, in my packrat days I think I was saving things because I knew the good times would be over soon and I wanted to hang onto my past and remember those good times. Those years were full of constant changes and so hanging on to good times helped me get through the lows in my life. I liked living in the past. The past, unlike the present, was constant, not changing every second. I saved things from relationships because people came in and out of my life so quickly in my teens and 20's. But, now, I don't need to or want to live in my past. Everyday with my children and husband is greater than the day before. I’m really not afraid to let go of the past now because the future is amazing. Sure I miss the days when my children were babies, but I love that they talk to me, kiss me goodnight, and play with me. Sure I miss those dating years with my husband, but we are so much closer now than we were back then. It keeps getting better all the time. So why look back when every day is something new and exciting?
So maybe when we are truly happy, truly at peace with our lives, we don’t have that insatiable need to keep every little thing. Those memories are so good in our lives, so profound, an object is not needed to summon the memories. When we are truly happy, we don’t spend our time thinking of the past…we look forward to what’s to come. So, the way I see it, we can clutter our houses with countless mementos or we can save the space and actually live our wonderful lives.
So go forward and clean under your couches everyone…and if you have a three year old like I do who for some reason thinks a couch cushion is a garbage can…bring a large bag and rubber gloves!