Protecting memories, letting go, and growing up

We’ve been talking about decluttering these days, and several folks have commented that they’re in the midst of decluttering projects as they help their parents take care of their living space.

I’m reminded of the time after my dad died, when the time came for my siblings and me to consolidate and streamline my mom’s home. How to negotiate what stays and what goes?  My siblings and I alternated between understanding and frustration with Mom’s deep attachment to her things.  The real issue, I think, was not that she loved the stuff, but the memories and hopes that it held for her…and us, too.

Have you ever returned to a site from your youth, and marveled at how everything seemed to have shrunk in size?  This was my experience during a visit to my old grade school— I saw tiny desks and toilets, low ceilings and sinks, and short hallways in space that once loomed so large.  It was the same thing in my parents’ home.  As an adult, when I came to visit, or drop off grandkids or groceries, it felt smaller somehow.  The 15-step staircase, counted every time I raced to my room as a kid, was easily climbed.  The bedroom space I shared with my sister, delineated by masking tape, seemed a tiny holding in our turf war.  Furniture, door frames, and light fixtures—they were all smaller than my childhood recollections.

One day during the move I found myself alone at the house.  This was my opportunity to say goodbye.  I walked through every room, letting random memories came to mind. Returning upstairs, I saw the hall chandelier and noted how easily I could reach up and touch it.  Before my eyes, the fixture seemed to shift in size and come into its true proportions—somewhere between my childhood perception and my adult assessment.  The light was no longer too big or too small, but just right.

Organization expert Peter Walsh says there are two kinds of clutter:  that which binds us to the past through emotional attachments, and that which clogs our future path, the “I might need this one day” stuff.  In excess, both rob us of now.  As I gazed at the chandelier, the gift of this painful transition came clear: to honor and release the past, and be open to the future’s possibilities.  Live in the present moment, and clear away what distracts from it.

Having “been there, done that” I send my encouragement out to all my friends who are helping their parents in transition, or maybe you’re moving your own home. I ask that grace enter your heart to help you release the past, and be open to the future’s possibilities.

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