My fiance and I are in the process of packing up our apartment to move across the country. I haven’t moved homes since I was 24 years old and living with my parents. That was 11 years ago and I have accumulated an absurd amount of things in the meanwhile. Parsing through it all has meant trying to figure out why I held on to any of this stuff, to begin with.
When my fiance moved in two years ago we quickly merged stuff, got rid of stuff, and bought more stuff together. As time passed I began to feel stifled in our cozy apartment. I wondered daily what we could get rid of. There was no way we needed everything in it. I wanted fewer things, more space. Not a larger footprint necessarily, just distance between items.
And then we decided to move.
With no concrete move out date or move in date we just started packing. I pulled everything out of my closet I hadn’t worn in a year. I thought of Marie Kondo and her question “Does it spark joy?” I went to the top shelf of the kitchen cabinets and threw out all of the foodstuffs we had banished there.
There is no joy on the top shelf of a kitchen cabinet.
Glasses stolen from bars were no longer souvenirs from a night of shenanigans, but a landscape fixture whose origin we had forgotten. Once meaningful trinkets became junk. When confronted with actually having to pay to move these items, whatever value they once had plummeted.
Items got donated, trashed, or packed up to take with us. We used boxes we got from the liquor store. It was very appropriate for our life in New York was being packaged into alcohol boxes, something most of our budget had gone to.
I wandered from room to room, avoiding decisions, looking for items I could trash without consideration. But the more we boxed the harder it became. Especially with all the photos.
Sorting through them felt impossible. I had boxes and boxes of albums. I couldn’t imagine just throwing out the tangible proof of my youth. As though without photos those years would have ceased to be.
The same went for the words I saved. Years of letters sent back and forth to friends I no longer hear from batched together in envelopes and plastic bags. Printouts of emails from almost 20 years ago. Notes that, at one time or another, helped me realize who I was.
The homogenized way we cram our words into emails and texts lack so much of the nuance of those letters. The one somebody wrote on an airplane barf bag (unused), stamped and sent to me. The torn out pages of a notebook with watermarks from a spill at the party where they were written. The printed out low-resolution pictures pasted into a collage.
The colors of ink and pen. The flourishes of handwriting. Signatures written in cursive. All of it tactile and specific. Associated much more clearly with a place, a time, and a moment. I know I hold on to all of this because I am afraid to forget.
Even now, rereading them in this time of great stress and obscurity has warmed my heart.
And then I came to the bundle from my college girlfriend. I had saved every note, letter, and card. After we broke up they went into a box in the closet and then to this apartment where they sat in a drawer. Every time I thought about getting rid of them I would reconsider, unwilling to throw them out blindly but never quite ready to relive those beautiful sentiments from a person who had meant so much to me.
I know there is no “correct” amount of time to hang on to any of it. Selfishly it reminds me I was somebody worth writing to, somebody worthy of love, somebody special. And it is easy to forget we are those things.
Meanwhile, we continued to put our life into boxes.
It amazes me how much we acquired. Our life has become very specifically quantified as we pack. The questions we ask each other all have the same objective:
Do you want this? Do you need this? Are we keeping this?
There is also a fair amount of guilt. How could I have lived for so long with all of these things I had absolutely no need for? What else am I holding on to simply because I have space? How much have I held on to because I fear forgetting?
For the past week getting dressed has meant choosing between a fraction of the clothes I normally have. Opening my closet door is this strange relief. I can see every shirt and pant individually. They exist in space, not crammed together. It provides a new calm. I didn’t think I was stressed before, and yet, there is now a kind of breathability I did not notice was missing.
It is a great metaphor.
I wonder how things will be different in our new home with more rooms and more closets to fill. How do we avoid buying to fill space? I never again want to spend so much time with my fiance asking each other, “Do you want this?”
Hopefully, it’s in our home, we will already know.
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