The closet was big but not well-ventilated. My sleeveless shirt clung to my skin. I couldn’t bring myself, however, to step out into the air-conditioned bedroom just yet.
Fifteen minutes earlier, I had opened the closet door with the intention of cleaning out this storage space. This closet contained a “neat mess,” as oxymoronic as that sounds. It was stuffed with boxes stacked atop one another, and odds and ends packed in here and there (a dented lampshade, kids’ art supplies, Christmas decorations).
I had intended to declutter this mess. I brought up three trash bags, just like professional organizers say to do—one for things to keep, one for things to donate and the other for the landfill. I was even filling up the bags at a fairly steady pace.
Every now and then, though, something from one of the boxes would catch my eye—stop me mid-declutter—and take me back.
This picture frame, for example, with this picture in it.
That’s 18-year-old me with my two favorite neighbors of all time, Mr. and Mrs. Evans, on their front porch. I grew up next door to them in Northeastern Pennsylvania. I’m not sure who took this picture, but I took it with me to Richmond, Va., when I went to college there. I remember having it on the bookshelf in my freshman dorm room.
I remember Mr. and Mrs. Evans too, both deceased now. They always made time to talk with my siblings and me. They always bought whatever we were selling for our school fundraisers. They came to my wedding, and the videographer captured a moment of them dancing happily together. For all of these reasons—for the people they were—I hold onto this picture.
Another eye-catching find, a memory trigger: This antique decanter.
Richmond, the summer of 2008. Probably as hot as it is now. Stanton and I stopped by an estate sale with some college friends. (We had been married a few months.) I want to say Jackie and Kevin were with us, but I’m not positive.
We were sitting outside under an expansive white tent, taking in the auction at the front, when all of a sudden Stanton gestured, and then even more suddenly he was the owner of this decanter.
No more estate sales for us, friends. It was a funny moment, though, a fun afternoon with friends, a memento worth taking with us from Richmond to San Antonio.
I read once that when people move from place to place and home to home, they often move the same boxes with them. And some of these boxes remain unopened through all the moves. But the folks to whom these boxes belong know the contents inside, and they know they matter.
They mean something.
They’re worth holding onto.
What are the things that you hold onto?
What are the mementos that you can’t let go of? What are the keepsakes that have outlasted your decluttering attempts and relocations?
Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “This Is Just a Story.” Fun, timely and thought-provoking.