The Life-Changing Art of Letting Go: A Midlife Reckoning with my Stuff

This essay was originally published on Zibby Owens’ We Found Time.

I once took a class in the art of memoir where the assignment was to write about an object and its meaning. I bristled at the prompt. Objects are only objects, I told myself, and imbuing them with meaning was materialistic and shallow. It was akin to idolatry, which is against my religion, by the way. Besides, I was a mom trying to keep up with the stream of macaroni art, woodshop creations, and paper-maché coming through the door.

Eschewing sentimentality, I had been known to sweep entire table tops of clutter into garbage bags. Oh sure, I’d hang my children’s masterpieces on the refrigerator for the requisite number of weeks, but they’d eventually get sent to the circular file…wink wink.

In hindsight, I’ve realized that curation is a luxury for late middle-age, when the kids are out of the house and the mind is quiet. In my thirties and forties I’d vacillate between two extremes, either going on a rampage of throwing things away or pasting mementos from obvious milestones into albums. Now in my fifties, I fear I memorialized the wrong things and tossed the right ones. What I wouldn’t give for more samples of my kids’ poetry or handwriting. I wish I had recorded the peal of their laughter, their voices in the backseat of the car, the knock-knock jokes, the potty humor.

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