Nostalgia

Sorting through 15-plus years of accumulated stuff in preparation for a move puts one in a nostalgic mood.

Nostalgia (n): A sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.

Oxford Dictionary

I’m amazed at what I’m unearthing, in cabinets or closets I’ve ignored for years. I’m like an archeologist or social anthropologist, reaching to the backs of shelves or opening long-closed boxes, discovering things forgotten and buried that disclose who I once was.

It’s a weird mix of surprise, delight, and wistfulness.

I consider myself as a minimalist when it comes to possessions. I don’t own a lot of clothes, mostly athletic gear for all seasons. I don’t collect knickknacks or tchotchkes. Most of my furnishings are hand-me-downs or found in thrift stores. My home is uncluttered.

But as I cull through my stuff, especially those long-ignored closets, I realize I’ve hung on to way too many things simply because they’re imbued with memories.

Nostalgia can turn us into mini-hoarders.

Each house move prompts the pitching of yet more nostalgic items. I remember, after three moves in quick succession in my late twenties, finally getting rid of all of my thick, heavy law school textbooks. Prosser on Torts comes to mind because I named a kitten I got during my first year of law school Prosser, but I also kept textbooks on contracts, constitutional law, criminal law, my legal dictionary…. Why? At first I liked having them on my mostly-empty bookshelf, reminders of the hard work I’d put in to achieve my degree. But they were heavy and bulky and a pain to pack and move. Finally tossing them before yet another move, I never missed them.

But it has been a while since I’ve made a major move. Most of my moves have been short distance; rent a U-Haul and recruit friends to load and unload. This current one – from Idaho to Vermont – requires the most draconian culling yet. I’m paying dearly to move possessions across the country. Every linear foot in the moving container costs me. Each item I take needs to matter and/or serve a purpose. The logistics make my head hurt and keep me up at night.

It’s a calculus I wish I could avoid – keep, or discard/donate? But decide I must.

The easy part was shredding years of old work files, bills/records, and other documents.

Going through my kitchen cabinets was more challenging. I found numerous pieces of Corning Ware that I received as wedding gifts in 1975. Spice of Life was the popular pattern then. Meatloaf pan? Um, no, no meatloaf in my future. No casseroles, either, so several of those pieces go into the pile for donation to the local animal shelter’s thrift store. Same for the cheese grater, muffin tins, cutting boards, glassware and extra dishes. But I’ll pack the bread maker, a Christmas gift from the mid-2000s, even though I’ve never used it, because someday I might. Same for the crock pot. I’ll take one of two frying pans because every couple of years I get in the mood for some eggs sunny-side-up.

In a lower kitchen cabinet I discovered all those cheap glass flower vases I’ve kept (and moved), just in case I want to cut flowers in my garden and bring them inside. But that never happened. Originally they contained flower arrangements that were gifts from an old boyfriend on anniversaries and other memorable occasions. They still have the ribbons tied around them. Nostalgia is their only value.

Donated.

In one of my spare closets, rarely opened, full of dust and dog hair, I found a box full of medals, trophies and plaques from skiing and running races going back to my junior high school days.

I admit, finding two downhill ski racing trophies from 8th and 9th grades brought a smile to my face. They’re missing the ski poles they originally came with, but are otherwise in good condition.

Downhill ski racing trophies 1971 and 1972.
First trophies I ever earned, in 1971 and 1972, which is probably why I’ve kept them this long.

But now? Photos will have to do for sparking memories of those fun days on the slopes.

Most of the plaques and trophies in the box were from the ’80s and ’90s. That box has been hauled multiple times over the years. No more! The contents went to the transfer station today. (Okay, I admit, I kept a few medals from key events to add to others, along with some ribbons, used to create a small display hanging from the neck of a wine bottle that was an award for a race run at a winery in 1984, one the most creative and best awards I ever received. The medals are small. And I can only cull so much.)

Wine bottle holding race ribbons and medals.
Wine bottle award from a 1984 10K race, now used to hold racing ribbons and medals.

There are many sentimental items I’m unwilling to part with, such as the paintings gifted my father by one of the Japanese airline pilots he trained in the 1970s, or those made by relatives and friends, some evoking Idaho scenes. And books. So many books, pared down from previous moves to those I often reread or am likely to read again, so I’m keeping them. They make me happy.

My new house – in order to become my home – needs these reminders of my life so far, these touches of nostalgia that remind me where I’ve been and who has been with me on the journey.

I’m still working my way through the clutter, culling, donating and packing, but I feel as though I’ve tossed or donated most of the extraneous things. I worried I would feel sad, getting rid of items containing so many memories, but I find myself feeling…liberated. The memories are still there; the objects were meant only to spark them. And if those memories fade away, unreachable because there’s no tangible thing to hold onto to bring them to the surface?

That’s life. I’m making room for what’s ahead.

I’m lucky to have so many “things” evoking fond memories. Deciding what to keep, what to toss, is definitely a first world problem.

Now, it’s on to new people and places and creating new memories.

12 thoughts on “Nostalgia”

  1. It is sometimes ridiculous what we hang on to. That “thing” is not (insert any name). For years (20) I kept a workout set that I used only briefly. It finally went two years ago. It is freeing once that stuff is gone. The keepers are perfect and all else is extraneous. I’m cheering you on.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. You closed with the perfect quote Rebecca. It is difficult to get rid of those things that spark memories, but you are right, it is emancipating. I too have a hard time getting rid of some things, but now I just take a picture and save that for the memories.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I adopted minimalism after a few moves and I never looked back. But you’ve hit on a very important dynamic to the purge. In order to stem the melancholic effect, I did find that donating my things provided me with a positive take . . to know others will give it the next life. I liked that.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. As the old saying goes, “Nostalgia is a seductive liar.” We’ve had to deal with winnowing possessions to the absolute minimum on a number of occasions when we made moves to and from Hawaii. As you note, shipping costs bring a harsh reality into the equation about the value of “things.” After so many moves we are also minimalists and if something new comes into the house we expect something old to go out. (NB: This doesn’t apply to husbands and dogs.)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you. My sentimental and practical sides war with each other daily, it seems, as I continue sorting, packing, donating, tossing. I’m embarrassed I accumulated and held onto so much stuff! This is good exercise and reminder to pare it down to the truly meaningful and necessary.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I can feel you on this one. A year ago when we transitioned to full-time RV life we had to get rid of a lot of stuff I didn’t even realize we had accumulated. I probably spent just as much time looking at and reading old sentimental things that I had stored, as I did pulling them out of the attic. It was a constant struggle between deciding what got donated, what got sold, what got put in our small storage unit, and what qualified to take up the precious little space we have in the RV. I did accidently donate a first edition copy of Steven King’s The Gunslinger which had some original text that was replaced years later. Oops!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I can only imagine the struggle, deciding what went with you in the RV and what got stashed in the storage unit! I’m amazed at how much stuff I’m boxing, despite donating and tossing so much. Okay, it’s mostly books and my home office, but still!

      Liked by 2 people

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