I am a reformed hoarder. I was the child of sentimental and intentional, but beloved hoarders who incidentally were children of the Depression. My parents hung on to things for different reasons. Some of the reasons were that they wanted to save money and preserve resources. And save money, they did and they left a respectable estate from their meager salaries. Since the economy has recently taken a downturn, I have been searching my memory for their money-saving ideas. Some of the ideas I remembered were that my mom saved gently used aluminum foil, froze and canned fruits and vegetables, dried our clothes on the clothesline and patched our clothes. My father patched his shoes and in our basement, there was a part to fix almost anything, including appliances and cars. It wasn’t until computers pretty much completely took over the operation of a vehicle that my dad gave up his mechanical quest. They also saved up for big ticket items and didn’t buy them on credit.
My mother was also an amateur archivist, devouring history and making it at the same time. When she was in high school, she was editor of her school newspaper and received the privilege of interviewing Eleanor Roosevelt. Her desire to be an investigative journalist, (since there was no internet), lead the accumulation of lots of newspapers and magazines for her research. We spent many hours in the public library, but I didn’t mind because I had been bitten by the reading bug when I was small.
When we sold my childhood home and moved my mom in with us because of a long distance relocation, cleaning out was a massive undertaking. Even though we made a great effort, there was still so much to downsize. Interestingly, my mom had such a reputation for saving important articles that the local library came with a van and took everything she had. She had sixty years of writing letters to my godmother in Wales, exchanging details on each side of the pond of how World War II was going in their respective place. She also had a big collection of letters from my uncle, who was posted in the Pacific Theater. The African proverb that says that “when an old man dies, a library burns to the ground”, is very true. I just wish that I had interviewed my own family more about our personal history, as well as my husband’s family, and in particular, my in-law’s next door neighbor, who experienced the Welsh Revival in the early 1900’s, firsthand. Everyone has a story and is an actor in history. I would have loved to heard theirs.
It took me longer to clean out my childhood home as my mom had taught me to revere the past and learn its lessons. I confess to my sentimentality, as I went through what she had saved, some items with interesting stories. My husband and I recently went to a yard sale and I saw that the sellers were trying to dispose of the same things we had at home: old china, books and linens.
Recently, I have had the bug to clean out. I am paring down to what I still really use. I want to make it easy for my children one day when I am gone. In Sweden, this is called dӧstädning (“death –standing”) or “Swedish Death Cleaning” which is decluttering to lessen the burden on your loved ones. At first, I thought I had taught them to revere the past, but soon I came to realize that this generation has become so “in the moment” that they have lost all sense of time and its value or what it means to other people. We are all on the same timeline now and the rich lessons of the past of which the present and the future are devoid have been lost.
Once I made my peace with the fact that my history may now not have relevance or context with the generation of today, I threw the items away and it felt good. It felt cleansing and simplifying. I have not only done this with items, but also with relationships that have expired. I have less of life in front of me and more behind me. Even though I savor the past and what and who made me, I have more room in my life for my future and the plans I have for it.