“Remember the dumbbells?”
This phrase gets thrown around by me quite often in the middle of arguments over stuff in our house. Mostly when I can’t find something and I accuse my beloved of throwing it away. I mean, there is always a decent chance that is the truth.
Many moves ago, in the throes of last minute “just get it done” packing, my husband threw away my five pound dumbbells. Since my working out routine at the time was what we can consider somewhere between extremely irregular and nonexistent, it was probably a year before I even noticed they were missing. The advice we always hear about when to let something go is: if you don’t use it within a year, lose it.
Enter my totally irrational, overly emotional, somewhat subconscious, over the top reaction.
I kinda lost it when my husband admitted to having thrown them away. My voice may have been raised and there might have been tears. The reason I gave for being so upset was that he had thrown them away. Not donated, but into the actual trash. While it does bother me that they contributed to the global trash problem, the real root of my tantrum was the fact that he did it without my knowledge.
So, I might have issues about stuff.
When the dumbbell incident occurred, I did not own this truth. I may have recognized the overreaction, but I felt righteous about the issue. It was wrong of him to get rid of something we obviously needed. Even now, I give him a hard time about the dumbbells. When gyms shut down and we (and half the world it seems) decided to get some equipment to work out at home only to find zero inventory, I may have uttered the words: “See, if you hadn’t thrown away my dumbbells we would have them right now and wouldn’t be working out with cans.”
Now we can joke about it.
I have done loads of reflection and self-examination to get to this point. I thought long and hard about what makes me feel anxious and upset when we purge belongings. What makes me so different from my husband? He is the one who is always looking to fill a bag to donate. He looks forward to getting rid of toys, of kitchen stuff, of the overwhelming piles of schoolwork and scribbles done by our kids. I needed to dig deep to realize the truth about myself and the way I react to the stuff. Why is letting go of anything, including some dumbbells, an ordeal for me?
My behaviors are grief.
I lost my mom when I was fifteen. It was a sudden illness and none of us were prepared for it. We didn’t have time for goodbyes, for bequeathing belongings with stories of their importance. When I was eighteen, I had to say goodbye to the only house I had ever lived in. Except I was away at school, and so couldn’t really think clearly about what I wanted to save for myself. I didn’t get to say goodbye to the stuff that held memories. I believe this was the moment that changed how I see this “stuff.”
Over the years, I have compiled a list of things I wish I had asked to keep. Some things I have been able to find a suitable replacement to hold my memories. After years of searching antique shops, I have my own Bluebird of Happiness, just like the one I remember on her nightstand. My biggest regret is that I didn’t save the extensive vinyl collection my mom played for me growing up. Sure, one day I may collect the same records I remember so that I can play them for my kids, but in my heart, I know it would have meant more to hold the same vinyl my mom had touched.
Finding the middle ground.
All of this has led to me having anxiety around the subjective nature of what is important. What would remind my children of me if something were to happen? What things will hold their childhood memories? It isn’t always easy, but we have found a middle ground between my urge to fill our basement and garage with ALL the memories, and my husband’s minimalist nature. Together, my husband and I look at things before they get loaded up to give me the approval and closure I have come to understand I need. While I don’t thank the things that no longer bring us joy, I do give myself a chance to say goodbye. My husband gives me grace about the two storage bags of baby blankets and clothes I have kept.
Give your “stuff” a space.
In our garage, we have a set of Rubbermaid storage tubs with vinyl initials for each of us. We call them the memory bins. This is where I stash special school art or writing. We have newspapers from the day each child was born and first shoes, and other memories. It is something special we pull out occasionally and enjoy going through together.
The biggest thing these bins represent is a space for the stuff. There is a finite space which appeases my husband with the knowledge that we won’t be overrun by the stuff. And having an established space where our memories live safe from the donation pile or water damage helps this mama’s fragile, forever grieving heart. So, I say make a space for your memories and find peace in cultivating them with your family.