40 Years of Memories Decluttered

On Memorial Day, my mom invited us over for dinner. She had gone all out – NY strip steaks smothered in sauteed Vidalia onions, baked potatoes, and a giant salad made with fresh organic veggies. I should have known then that something was up.

After dinner, she asked if I would help her with a small chore. “Sure,” I said, not knowing that this small chore would take the better part of the next 3 hours and the following Sunday morning. Mom was on a mission last week to knock out her Spring cleaning, which usually only involves cleaning windows and washing curtains. This year, though, she decided it would be a great time to declutter the attic.

Thank goodness my mom is not a hoarder! Everything in her attic can easily be accessed while standing on the ladder and consists mainly of canning jars, Christmas decor, a few boxes of her personal memories, and as I soon learned, EVERYTHING that I left behind when I moved out 26 years ago!

Together we went through 8 boxes of stuff – some hers, some mine – to rediscover a life long forgotten. In her boxes, we found homework assignments from nursing school, years of Christmas cards from former patients, and even her prom corsage from 1966. In my boxes, we found Valentines from my kindergarten classmates, paper dolls I played with when I was 9 years old, graded papers, awards, folded notes passed by friends in high school, and my senior brag book. It was indeed a day for memories.

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Yesterday, I finished going through the bag of items I had brought home for “further inspection”. Among those things I found letters from my best friend, Tena. We met in 7th grade and remained friends for nearly 2 decades thereafter. Our friendship dissolved in 2006, when I moved to Colorado to “find myself”. Tena never quite came to terms with the me that I found. Sadly, she passed away 3 years ago this week. We never had the opportunity to reconcile but in reading the hopes and dreams she had for herself in those old letters and thinking about the short life she lived, I know she was happy, and that is all that matters.

In total, I decluttered 280 memory box items. The few things that I kept included a Bible my grandmother gave me, postcards from my family when I was away at summer camp, a few birthday cards and letters (also from my grandma), and my Girl Scout sash.

Is it hard to declutter things so personal? You bet! It was nearly 4 years after I declared myself a minimalist that I tackled my first memory box – a box that I’d be toting around from state to state for nearly 3 decades. The biggest difference from that decluttering to this one was that I didn’t feel the same sense of attachment to the items inside. I suppose it may be that I reconciled the difference between memories and mementos on the first go-round. Or perhaps it was just that I really had forgotten a lot of what was contained in the boxes my mom kept. It was almost like looking into time capsule of things collected from 1978 – 1991 and then trying to remember why they were so important to me at that time. In most cases, I did not remember.

It was nice to reminisce with my mom and fun to share the memories with Angie, but in the end, I knew I didn’t need to keep most of the items any longer. Some day, I plan to digitize the cards and letters and let those go as well.

On a side note: In my senior brag book, there’s a page called “Where you see yourself in 10 years” with a question about job aspirations and salary. Though it has now been 26 years since graduation, I’m pleased to say that my predictions for myself were pretty spot-on. I do indeed have my own office and I am earning between $28,000 and $50,000. Of course, that was in 1991 dollars (today’s equivalent would be between $50,000 and $89,000). Okay, so maybe I didn’t quite live up to my own expectations LOL. Good thing minimalism doesn’t require a lot of money! 

Mindfulness Amid the Chaos (May Recap)

May just may have been our best month yet – despite the fact that it was also a very crazy month. Let me explain…

When we declared “happiness” to be our pursuit for the year, our main objective was to regain control of our time and get back to doing the things that we enjoyed most in life. Sounds easy but sadly, even when you own your own time, you don’t always get to use it the way you want. This is especially true when certain members of your family act like complete idiots. Those particular family members, if they read this blog, would be highly offended by that statement but since they don’t, I feel really comfortable telling you this. Almost every day I find myself picking up the phone and uttering the words, “they did what??; which is usually answered with something unbelievable like, “left the baby at home alone”, “got fired”, “got arrested”, or, as was the case this month, “got evicted.”

In an environment where one family member (and her boyfriend) can wreak so much havoc, how can we possibly claim to have had a good month? I’ll tell you…it’s all about mindfulness and adaptability. Mindfulness gives you pause. It allows you to take a mental time-out when new information comes in and process that at your own speed. We don’t have to react to every (or any, for that matter) little thing that someone else does with his or her life. While it may be disconcerting and while we may wish they would choose differently, the choice is theirs not ours. The only thing we can control in these situations, is our reaction to them so this month we chose to offer them loving concern instead of our usual “I can’t believe you did this” outrage followed by “let us help you fix it”. And believe it or not, we found peace among the chaos. Enough peace that we were able to take back some of our time and use it for ourselves.

We picked strawberries.

We took Mom camping.

We fed the ducks (quite a few times).

We walked and hiked –   59.2 miles to be exact – and picnicked.

We gardened.

We letterboxed (a lot, including one special trip to Bowling Green, KY)

We had a few fun days with the little one.

And we started planning our fall vacation – 2 weeks in Canada!

We also did a good bit of decluttering (which I’ll talk about later), landed a freelance contract to write 3 grants before August, and stayed on track with our financial goals, even adding another investment to our portfolio. So yes, I think we had a pretty good month.

But back to the elephant on the page…

I’m the kind of person who likes to give others the benefit of the doubt and throughout this blog you’ll see places where I talk about my niece and her boyfriend as young and inexperienced and just trying to figure things out. I love them both very much but since being given a house by his parents in February, they have become someone I don’t recognize. Instead of seeing the house as a hand up, they saw it as a handout and immediately began skipping work; sticking their hands out for more and more. When no one would give them money, they stole things they thought they just had to have (like hair dye!). Even more than that, they nearly destroyed the beautiful little house, D.C.’s parents had taken the time to buy and furnish just for them. A few weekends ago, D.C.’s parents and I had a meeting and determined (with heavy heart) that it was in all of our best interests to let them fail. Sadly, D.C.’s parents are putting the house up for sale. If you’ve ever been in a situation that called for tough love, then you know how hard this is.

You may be wondering why in a blog about minimalism and happiness we would even mention family dysfunction at all. Because this is life. We all have crazy, mixed-up situations that draw us away from our personal journeys. How we choose to deal with them is often the defining point of that journey. Do we let other people’s problems slow or derail our own hopes and dreams? Often the answer is yes, though almost always – and especially in this case – it should be no.