We recently returned from a glorious beach vacation in Mexico, and upon our arrival back home, I found myself inexplicably possessed with the desire to Marie Kondo the shit out of the house. I decided I would systematically de-clutter all the rooms in our home, one at a time. When I felt overwhelmed I would repeat, “One room at a time,” the way I once attempted to internalize the message “One day at a time,” that my mom had taped to my wall when I was in 8th grade and had just moved to a new state. I was excited to tap into the joy that all my “keeper items” would inevitably bring.
I started with my purse. Because, you know, it’s room-like and desperately needed a purging. That was Day One. No big deal. Then I moved onto my own bedroom. It was exhilarating; I was having such a good time I threw in our bathroom for kicks. I tossed years-old makeup, hairbrushes, crumpled up notes from my kids I had previously felt too guilty to discard . . . I organized my vanity, my night table, my dressers. On my freshly tidied night table, I placed a coaster that belonged to my grandmother who recently passed away, and when I went to bed that night, I felt more peaceful than I had in a long time.
To my great surprise, my entire family decided to get on board with the de-cluttering project. Tackling my six-year-old’s room was an undertaking that lasted an entire weekend and involved all four family members pitching in. I hate to use the term “hoarder” to apply to a child her age, but . . . if the 14th unicorn headband fits . . .
I was shocked at how easily she and I both tossed old toys into the donation bucket—we were unstoppable! And I felt nothing but sweet relief! Until I held up a plastic Ariel figurine and she gave me the thumbs down, indicating her permission that I toss it into the discard bucket. Out of nowhere I felt a wave of grief come over me and I fled across the hall where my husband was walking out of our bedroom. “Hug me,” I begged him, and he obliged, silently sensing the source of my angst.
I cried into his shoulder. “It’s just going so fast,” was the only thing I could say to describe my grief over the irrelevance of a toy that my 12-year-old had once adored when she was in kindergarten.
I miss this kid!
It was a glaring contrast to the “Let’s make room for new things!” mantra I’d been cheerfully chirping to my kids over and over as we handed full bins of crap to my husband. Out with the old! My ambivalence about this endeavor made even my own head spin.
Part of operation CLEAR SHIT OUT included redoing the beloved photo wall in our kitchen, which is eclectically speckled with some of my all-time favorite family photos. Yet even I in my rigid nostalgia was ready to phase some of them out and make room for some new memories. My husband and I were hanging photos in the kitchen and I asked, “Does everyone have such a hard time letting go of the past?” “No,” my husband replied, not unkindly. “You should write about it.” “I haven’t written anything in months,” I bawled, self-loathing piling onto my parade of bereavement.
But it did make me wonder—how many other parents have such a difficult time letting go of these years? I don’t particularly recall my own mother lamenting our growth, sobbing over tiny clothes and looking wistfully at other people’s babies. Maybe she did and there would be no reason I would recall it, but I think it’s equally likely she wasn’t that devastated over it. I know plenty of people who transition with ease and even a fair dose of delight and relief as their children become older, more manageable, less needy.
Sometimes when I see a toddler in full throes of, well, being a toddler, my body responds with this visceral NO. When I am in that space, it is very easy for me to be in touch with all the things that are beautiful about this stage of raising my girls (sleep! The sleep! Easier vacations, less of a hassle going to the pool, the zoo, the grocery store, anywhere, restaurants are fun, and oh! The sleep! The sleep!). But yet I still get choked up watching videos of my children as toddlers, wondering if I savored the moments thoroughly enough. I have been reduced to one of those blithering women perseverating on how fast it all goes. But, God, how it does.
So I do this business of being all present and appreciating the right now with my kids and yet I am desperate to preserve my memories of their little-ness. See my proclivity toward photographic over-documentation and lack of modern art but yet no shortage of family photos adorning the walls, for example. After we repainted the wall and were preparing to re-hang photos, I found myself wondering which ones we could hang elsewhere (or just retire) and which ones would be forever relics in the museum of Our Story. Because some of them will be on that sacred wall forever. I am constantly trying to find the healthy line between remembrance and obsession, honoring and hanging on.
And that’s the crux of my de-cluttering struggle; while it’s a no-brainer that we keep the tea set my deceased aunt gave my oldest daughter when she was a baby, it’s less clear whether the mangled Barbie dolls deserve such sentimentality. (And you can just back off about my own six Cabbage Patch Dolls whose first and middle names I can still recall and who will remain in my basement forever. Incidentally, I was quite displeased by the condition of Abigail Violet when she migrated into my packrat daughter’s closet.)
I remain perpetually torn between my opposing—yet still firm and genuine—beliefs that we need to clear away some of the old to make room for the new (sure, Christmas presents, but less literally and more woo-woo, we need to clear away that old energy to make energetic space for new beautiful adventures) and that my role in this world is to remember and preserve and document, and thus, my memories are simply everything to me.
My oldest daughter recently remarked about a looming milestone/transition she isn’t particularly excited about. She just didn’t want it to happen. “Whether you want it or not, it’s coming,” I told her. “You can embrace it or rail against it, but it’s going to happen, and if you resist or decide you’re going to hate it, the only one who is going to suffer is you.”
I mean, I’m brilliant at telling other people how they need to go with the flow and embrace what is, and all that other crap. And I know, I know so many other good things are yet to come. After all, that’s why I left some space at the end of the memory wall. I can’t wait to see what fills it in next, and in another decade, which old photos will still remain.