Holding on is a poignant response to a changing life. We hold onto all kinds of things. Spiral notebooks from college. Multitudes of sea shells. Totebags full of craft projects abandoned in the middle of the journey. The lens cap from your second to last camera, that went missing. Great looking shoes that have been uncomfortable since the moment they came home. We keep them because we have hope.
We hold onto stuff because we hope to hold onto the moment when these things joined us. It need not have been a landmark moment, to qualify. Little objects remind us of who we used to be, before we made the various life decisions that brought us to our present. At the time, our current life was too far down the path to imagine. The trouble with hoarders, I think, is that they have a hard time trusting themselves to save the right souvenirs, so to be cautious they save it all, and the specialness gets lost. The irony, of course, is that there are no wrong souvenirs of our own journey. If later they surprise or distress us, they speak to us of our growth.
Saving odd little personal treasures is a gift to the future. By that reasoning, then, what are the hoarded grudges and resentments we carry around for years? It is possible to torture ourselves indefinitely with the hurtful comments of an elderly uncle when we were little, or the used-to-be best forever friend, or a partner on a truly bad day. It might not be a bad idea to hold onto a distilled bit of wisdom about what we would say now, to comfort that wounded self, from an older version that has her back.
It is hard to let ourselves release the painful memory of breaking somebody’s special coffee mug, as if doing so indicated disrespect. The hardest person to forgive, after all, is our self. It is hard to release the vivid memory of betrayal, of a broken heart; without forgetting, we can take our resentment and turn it into art, or into passion for mending the world. Letting go of disturbing memories never means deleting them, but rather moving them from the present moment, into archival care. Inner housekeeping can be a gentle process, turning seemingly random stuff into history.
Lurking in the wierdness of the stuff in your top bureau drawer may be a buried clue about how you have survived so far, with your sense of humor intact. Go look.