The ink was barely dry on my son’s graduation diploma when we signed the papers on our condo in the city. It was always our plan to ditch the “big house” in the suburbs and downsize our life once the kids moved out, but going from nearly 4000 square feet to less than 1350 proved to be quite the challenge.
When you raise four children, you accumulate a lot of stuff. And when, one by one, they leave the nest, much of that “stuff” gets left behind. Sure, they pack up the important stuff: their laptops, iPhones, some clothes and a bar of soap, but when they move out, the house becomes a (free) storage unit – a place to hold old yearbooks and Boy Scout badges not-yet-sewn-on. Photos of old girlfriends and souvenirs from class trips. Expired Epi-pens. Art projects. Report cards. Yu-Gi-Oh cards. Broken iPods and flip phones. One million pieces of Lego. And every Disney movie ever made — in VHS.
Once the “for sale” sign was planted firmly in the ground, I knew I had to start digging through the stuff. What I didn’t realize, as I went through dresser drawers and boxes hidden under beds throughout the house, is how difficult the process would be. When you’re raising kids, you’re always on. Running here and there. Wiping noses and kissing boo-boos. Taking care of broken bones and broken hearts. In the busyness of it all, who has time to catalog all the stuff you accumulate? To decide what goes and what stays? When your kid brings home a huge clay penguin he made in art class, you know you’re going to keep it forever. And that Mother’s Day note that says (in large crayon letters) “Mom, you are the bestest mother in the world” — you’re not throwing that baby out.
Sifting through those precious memories was the hardest part of this move. Seeing those faces staring back at me from the bottom of a shoebox and reading stories written by tiny hands sent me reeling back in time. I was unprepared for the wave of emotion that came with revisiting those years. An hour into it I was drowning in a puddle of tears. And I’m not talking about getting misty-eyed here. I’m talking full blown, snotty, sobbing into the bedspread kind of tears. It was not pretty. How could I possibly toss away any of these memories!?
During the days that followed I tried to remember what a friend told me not so long ago when she was downsizing,” You can have the memory without having the stuff.” And she was right. The reality was that we just weren’t going to be able to hang onto all of it–nor did we need to. I had to shift the way I looked at the “things” we have accumulated over the years. Instead of looking at the baby sweater I had knit my youngest child as something I needed to keep, I remembered how sweet he looked in it, and then thought about how it would keep another mother’s baby warm this winter. The more I rummaged, the more grateful I started to feel for having so many great memories. I laughed out loud at a crazy poem written by one kid and cringed at a photo of another kid-o-mine wearing a very unstylish clown-like outfit.This was our life–then.
And this is our life — now.
My kids enjoy reminiscing about their childhood. They bring up things I’d long forgotten — but they don’t need a physical belonging in their hand to bring them right back to that moment in time. They grew up, they moved out, and they took with them only what they needed to move on to the next phase of their life.
And now, I am doing the same.