My parents’ house has always been a repository for things, a sort of free storage space. My brother and I would leave our stuff there during our “in between” stages of life; when we were in college, or traveling, or out of college and living in apartments too small to actually fit things in. Clothes we haven’t worn for years but might later, old furniture, physics notes from high school that could come in handy someday, art prints our exes left us, Polaroids. Stuff. Just stuff you accumulate along the way and never get around to throwing out.
But: my mother recently got this flash of inspiration to do some renovating or vague home-improvement thing and informed me I can’t keep my stuff there anymore. I know she’s serious because she’s already thrown out half of my brother’s things.
Basically, what I can take to New York with me is what I can expect to keep.
Turns out, not much. I don’t expect to live in anything larger than a tool shed and I’m not about to pay for monthly storage space so I can hold onto old history books and speech trophies and a rusty samovar I have a strange attachment to. So, logically, some things have to go.
This sounds easy, but it isn’t. Not for someone like me, anyway, who is somewhat of a memory hoarder and gets all emotional with attaching this vague sad significance to reminders of who I used to be and what I used to do before now. But, now that I have to take a legitimate inventory of the things I’ve accumulated and minimize them accordingly, I have to decide which memories to discard and which to keep.
Do I really need to keep anything, though? Does anyone? I don’t know. More often than not, we don’t actually ever look in the memory box; we just like to know it’s there. We like to reassure ourselves that we have a tangible past, that we’re not just some kind of consciousness without a body, and here it is should we choose to revisit it. These meaningless things are a thousand starting points we can trace our thousands of evolutions to. We don’t need them per se, but they’re nice to have. Comforting. Something like knowing we came from someplace and didn’t just make it all up.
But a part of me does want to start over. Not even look through anything and just get rid of all of it; purge it all and start again. The other part, though, is afraid to do that: I know I’m an out of sight/out of mind person. If I don’t have a reminder of something right there and it’s not weighing particularly heavily on my mind, I tend to blank it out like it never existed. What if I end up forgetting? When it comes to memories, the brain leaks like a sieve, and the ones it keeps it changes. What am I willing to let go of?
Well, for one, those nine pairs of size zero pants I keep saving like they’ll ever fit again. i-Zone pictures (remember that expensive bullshit?) from sixth grade that now look like tiny blanched stamps. A copy of Death of a Salesman I pretended to have read for school and didn’t, and won’t, but I kept it because I remember the way the sun shone through the window during 4th period and cast thick yellow bars along the crumbly pages. Notes and cards from people who aren’t my friends anymore, or weren’t my friends to begin with.
The more stuff I put in the “discard” pile, the easier it becomes. It’s cleansing, a life I ended flashing before my eyes that I can leave in the past where it belongs and start completely over.
And yeah, it can be fun to watch yourself grow up, evolve, become a different person; look back on where you came from and make yourself feel something, anything. But on the other hand, everything you need to remember, everything that truly changed you, is always going to be in your head — we don’t necessarily remember things that change us so much as continually feel their imprints. And in a way, we don’t need things to remind us of who we were because who we are now is enough of a reminder.