All endings are but new beginnings disguised.
I almost don’t dare go back to see my childhood home now that it’s no longer the same. It’s like seeing a loved one in a hospital bed. You don’t want to remember them looking hollow and emptied of life, for it is the final, lingering impression that often clouds the many others in the mind’s snapshot gallery.
A heaviness weighs on the “things” left behind. They long to be released. This apartment ensconced our yesterdays like an ice cube, frozen in time and space, untouched yet faithfully preserving everything in it. As it defrosts, the objects thaw and many of its contents melt away.
In its wake, the life review that we experienced as a family has been healing and necessary, as memories ebb and flow past. But it is coming to a close. As if there is no more to be done. We stop looking at the keepsakes and set them down. The water trickles through our fingers. A puddle on the ground.
The finality feels painful yet liberating all at once.
Because I’ve been witnessing something remarkable too. While my mom and step-father dismantled my home piece by piece, something else transformed simultaneously.
The puddle turned into a stream with much of the furniture sprouting sails and finding harbor in each of my family member’s houses, as well as my own.
I recently sent a text to my parents as the pieces nestled into their new surroundings. Here’s what I wrote:
Thank you for sending me the furniture. Now my house feels like a home.
This is so true that I can’t even believe it myself. They don’t merely fit—they belong. It’s as though the apartment has been resuscitated. A thread of continuity keeps us tied together, bonding us like an umbilical cord that is severed physically but never energetically. The waters of renewal burst forth and deliver new life.
But that’s not all. I also learned a few things along the way.
Don’t wait until after you’re gone to give away your precious objects.
The biggest gift you can give your children is to hand them these things yourself. I’m grateful for every moment of reminiscing that I had with my mom and my sisters. As much as we felt the loss, we also celebrated our rich memories. The true gift was being able to do it together, then to say thank you as each of us showed our mom how seamlessly her gifts fit into their new homes. Quite simply: priceless.
Ditch the albums and store photos online.
Today, this is an option. When I was growing up in the Dark Ages, the internet was not even a blip on the radar screen. So I’ve got a pile of albums with my childhood neatly tucked away inside them. Now I don’t know where to put them! Megabites and memories store just as easily and take up less space.
There’s no need to save your kid’s artwork. Really.
Unless you’ve got a Renoir on your hands, you can dump the latest school project with a clear conscience while your little one isn’t looking. (There’s no need to offend them in the process.) Most won’t remember making it. If your child does not care about these initial artistic endeavors after five minutes, you can bet they won’t care after five years. Though my sister and I had fun going through piles of our museum-shunned masterpieces, after a few hours, even that became tedious. Only a handful escaped the waste bin.
Stop buying souvenirs now.
All those Disney and road trip souvenirs that look extremely enticing in the shops turn into mini-nightmares when cleaning up a room. Leave them where they belong: on the shelves in the store, not in your home. Ever.
Don’t give engraved gifts.
They’re a resale dead end. Do your friends a favor and don’t personalize, label, mark, or in any way adulterate a perfectly nice silver spoon, towel, or frame. A kind note with gift receipt makes the ideal personalization. Your divorced friends will continue to thank you.
The more possessions, the more worry.
This saying from Ethics of the Fathers says it all. Who needs so much stuff? Live simply. Downsize. You’ll have less to worry about. Trust me.
Never value “things” more than people.
Nothing, and I mean nothing, is worth fighting over. If someone wants something, let them have it. It is only a thing. Hurt feelings and broken relationships can last lifetimes. The only treasure is a heart of goodness and kindness. And that you take with you. The rest gets left behind.
[Part I of Packing Up a Life is here.]