Ten days ago, a truck pulled up to Esteban’s and my rented home and disgorged a pile of boxes into the garage. Boxes full of books, boots, clothes, VHS tapes … boxes full of memories, and the possessions we’ve amassed together over the past 27 years.
But as I stood in front of the pile last weekend, I had an epiphany: “I don’t want it back,” I said to Esteban.
Like most true epiphanies, mine was a big surprise. I’ve been an avid collector of things since childhood, beginning with a cigar box full of dead bugs I gathered while my family was living in Peru. I was outraged when my parents first threw away my desiccated bees and beetles, but now I understand. (Well, sort of.)
Then I moved on to collecting letters from my grandma in Mexico City and my paternal grandparents in the South. I still have those ribbon-bound stacks of letters — somewhere among the stacks of boxes in my garage.
Soon I was saving not only the letters, but also the stamps that purchased their conveyance. This marked the beginning of a brief — but torrid — love affair with philately.
I learned a lot by collecting stamps, actually. For instance: Did you know that Yemen was once a world leader in winter sports? It’s true. And I have the stamps to prove it!
I also have fond memories of going to the stamp swaps in Peru. I’d save up my allowance — and then beg my parents for a bit extra — in anticipation of these events. I’m sure I got swindled a few times (I was only eight or nine) but I still managed to amass an impressive stable of dead presidents.
In high school I collected fossils. And in college, I began collecting stemware and china — in preparation, I think, for a bunch of fancy parties that never happened.
After graduation I began my Earth Mother Phase. I have no idea how many birds and furry critters I repaired and released back into the wild. But I still have a few vestiges of my years as a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.
Box by box, these possessions are emerging. But box by box, I’m discovering that it’s not the possessions I treasure; it’s the memories they invoke.
It may sound silly, but it’s been a gift to be involuntarily separated from my possessions. It’s forced me to examine my relationship with all the stuff I’ve accumulated. And it’s shown me how little I need to be happy — that, in fact, I’m actually happier with only the essentials.
That’s why I’ve been shedding stuff like mad over the past few days: clothes I never wear, books I’ve never read, fancy dishes and stemware I’ll never use. I didn’t miss them for two months, so clearly I didn’t need them.
I’ve also decided to carefully photograph most of my collections and donate those, too. Who knows? Maybe one of my feathers will inspire a young visitor at the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary to become a naturalist.
As for the letters from my grandparents … well, those I’ll keep. Because now I understand that our loved ones and our treasured memories are the only stuff that really matters.