A sentimental accumulator of experiences

I began losing my desire to accumulate the “stuff” of life when I moved to South Carolina. It was the third interstate move in ten years and I realized I had been hauling stuff from place-to-place with the idea I might someday need it, or want it, and not have it available. I was wrong.

Many of those boxes began their journey in West Virginia in 1995 and traveled to Florida, then to Illinois, and finally to South Carolina still unopened. It was in South Carolina that I found the courage to open the boxes, verify the contents marked on the outside, and then toss, shred, or donate what I found.

Most of the boxes held old business papers and outdated clothing. Three boxes served as the home to a complete Merlin® Phone system I once thought would have some future use. There was a box of glass, too, which might have been dishes somewhere along its travels.  There was nothing of sentimental value in those boxes. It was just stuff.

I am sentimental, though. In fact, my children often wager on how quickly a movie scene or a home video will bring that misty look to my eyes. They know me well. They know I treasure memories and not collections of trinkets or other physical things that serve no purpose other than to collect dust.

This is not to say that I don’t treasure some physical things. Old pictures—snapshots from my life—hold value for me because they connect me with my history visually, and I am a visual person. The same goes for family movies filmed on my dad’s old 8mm camera, or those videos holding captured moments of my kids in their childhood.

There are several other things I find meaningful, too, including, a few written recollections from my mom’s childhood, which she made time to write at my request before she died. Then there’s the antique secretary desk now sitting in my den, which once sat inside my maternal grandparent’s bedroom, to the left of the door, and was the place my grandfather once sat to pay his bills.

I’m quite fond of my maternal grandfather’s pocket watch, his pocketknife, and the Jaeger-LeCoultre Atmos Clock he received in recognition of 25-years of service to Union Carbide Corporation. I also have my paternal grandfather’s Assistant Sergeant at Arms medals from the 1956 and 1964 Republican National Conventions, and that 8mm camera used to capture some of my childhood on film. Of course, there’s a rock here, a pressed flower there, and a few drawings from my children, too.

These things are small in number, but the memories they hold for me are quite large. While these things are important to me, I probably don’t need to hang on to them either. They’re just physical triggers for my memories. I would have a hard time parting with them, nonetheless.

Most everything else I possess, assuming it serves little or no functional purpose in my life, I no longer need. I’ve made up my mind to be more aggressive in purging these last remaining and unnecessary things I’m still hauling from place to place.

I will start by donating most of the many long-since read and some severely outdated books that line my bookshelves. I’ll move on to the clothes I’ll never wear again, the CD’s that have outlived their usefulness, and those few trinkets passed along to me whose meaning and importance died with their original owners. I’ll keep going until I get through all of the useless possessions, and then I’ll end, or at least I’ll try to end, by letting go of any remaining emotional baggage I have carried with me through the years. It’s time to let go of all of these things. It’s time to simplify the remainder of my life.

Parkinson’s Law says, “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” I believe the corollary to the Law, “Stuff expands to fill the space you have available,” is also true. If you don’t believe me, look in your closet, your attic, or your basement and ask yourself just how much stuff you have stored there you still need.

I’ve taken a hard look at all my stuff, and I’ve come to this conclusion: I would rather new life experiences and memories become the “stuff” that expands to fill the time I have left on this earth. The accumulation of these experiences and the memories they create are the only “things” worth keeping or passing on.

About the author

David Harkins

It’s A Process features the personal essays, fiction, and poetry of David Harkins, who endeavors to make sense of the chaos around him through the thoughtful telling of stories in what he hopes to be an engaging and sometimes humorous manner. Don’t count too much on the latter, though.

Except where noted, the photos used on this site are © David L. Harkins.

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