Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Stuff does not equal memories

Welcome to the December 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Childhood Memories

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have talked about memories of growing up — their own or the ones they’re helping their children create. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

wedding couple ornament on tree — Christmas 2011It's Christmas, when we break out the boxes and bins we store for this one month only out of twelve, and when we add additional things to the piles we already have.

When I was a child, and through my early adult years, I believed in archiving my life. I couldn't part with anything, because it was like throwing away a memory. Those ticket stubs for a movie — perhaps I'd like to remember what date I'd seen that flick, and that would trigger a suggestion of what friends saw it with me. That brochure from a museum — it would fill in the gaps about the family vacation we took and perhaps bring to mind that funny thing my brother had said in the car afterwards.

Only, the older I got, the more I realized it doesn't work that way, at least not reliably. I see the ticket stubs and think, "That was kind of a dumb movie. I can't believe I saw it in the theater." I look at the brochure and can't remember what vacation we were on, and am not sure why I saved something so dull in the first place.

Even reading back through the copious journals I kept growing up, I have flashes of "Yes! I remember! How lovely" that pop up in between loooong stretches of "Seriously? You wrote down every week how much you didn't want to go to piano lessons?" and "Oh, yeah. I do remember that awful day now. I wish I didn't."

FlyLady helped me out on this one, as well as the TV show Clean Sweep and my own dear, non-pack-rat, non-sentimental husband: I don't need the things to have the memories.

Yes, I might forget some details, but what bubbles to the top is usually what's worth saving. I don't need to know what I ate for breakfast every day on a vacation — just a general impression that I tried sushi for the first time. I don't need to know what grade I got on every math test my sophomore year of high school — I can just remember the fun the other nerds and I had in Math Club. (Yes, that was a thing.)

Not saving everything means I can let some things go. This has been a hard one for me to come to terms with, because I guess in my mind I was helping my great-great-grandchildren write my biography by saving it all, the good and the bad (nothing like a healthy dose of megalomania with your clutter, right?). But as FlyLady told me, never save anything that doesn't make you smile. Because, really: What's the point? Why should I delve into a stack of letters that make me weepy (unless it's a good weepy) or save photos of someone who makes me feel very angry? Why pass on that to my great-great-grandchildren?

What does this mean for my children and my parenting? What, indeed.

It's always hard at this time of year to fight the acquisition of more more more. My mother-in-law is currently visiting, and she was helping me trim the tree. I misidentified a hedgehog ornament as being from my mom when it was really from her (oops!) and thereby exposed a salient truth about my connection to gifts: They don't mean all that much to me. (I think it's a love language thing, right? I generally fail miserably at being demonstrably appreciative enough to satisfy givers, and often fail to give anything in return. I suck at gifts.) My mother-in-law likely also noticed that several other ornament gifts she'd given were not in the box (oops, again! Thank you, eBay, for allowing us to sell our collectibles to someone who wanted them!). She also sighed and mentioned again that Sam told her we don't need more ornaments on our as-always petite trees. (This is true. But the lady likes to shop for ornaments. Hallmark was invented for her.)

Grandma also bore gifts for the kidlets: five interactive and recordable storybooks and two interactive plush animals from Hallmark (I wasn't joking, yo). Mikko and Alrik love them, so I give her props for that. Mikko had been begging for just that animal after seeing a commercial for it (sigh), and it's not the sort of thing we'd ever in a million years think to buy for him, so it's nice that an outside Santa satisfied that itch.

But: As we were tidying up after Grandma and Natalie left for the night, I was left once again wondering where these things go. In our small space (but, really, in any space), where do we put these new books and new animals, and any other new clothes and toys on their way? Are we obligated to save these books forever, since some of them have Grandma's voice recorded on them (probably, right?)? Would Mikko let us let them go even if we wanted to? We get so many "special" gifts like this from Grandma — customized pillows, wooden knickknacks with our kids' names on them, embroidered clothing or blankets and the like — do we have to save them all? I ask myself the same question about handmade gifts, and waver on the answers there as well: my guilt vs. Sam's practicality. (I'm so glad he's around to be on the side of light!)

I'm wanting to show my children that we talk about and to our family members even when we don't see something they gave us. That Mikko won't forget me, ever, even if he regifts every single thing I've ever given him. (Sam would cheer him on.)

I don't know yet how to manage this. We try, in fits and starts, but I worry that (a) either Mikko is genetically programmed by his pack-rat relatives (including his mother) to hoard or (b) he's five years old. Or both. When he was younger, we could decide for him what could go and spirit it away in the dark of night and into opaque trash bags that would then get dropped at the thrift store. ("No, these aren't body parts, and, no, we don't need a receipt.")

But now he's old enough to notice, and ask, and choose, and he chooses, every single time, to hang on. He talks, I swear, about passing his toys on to his children. I suppose as with most parenting, it's a gradual process, and a personality thing, and he has to come to the realizations that have dawned on me in adulthood in his own sweet and perfect time (or, as with my in-laws, never … sigh). And I can guide, but now and ultimately I must accept who he is.

The best I can do is make the memories bigger and better than the things. I can tell stories — from my childhood, from his, from our parents'. I can point out ways he is like his grandparents, apart from pointing to the things they've given him. I can show him the pictures of them smiling at him and loving on him from when he was a newborn baby, before he even knew their names. I can show that it's not the stuff that connects us; it's the relationships. And I can make our relationship bigger than stuff.

boy adding ornament on tree — Christmas 2011

What's your take on mementoes? What have you saved that you could never, ever part with? What have you given up that you thought you couldn't let go?

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

  • Childhood Memories of Peace, Support, Joy, and Love — Amber at Heart Wanderings wants to make sure the majority of the memories that her children have as a part of their family are ones that are positive and help support the amazing people that they are now and will become as adults.
  • Hand Made Baby Books — Destany at They Are All of Me talks about why baby books are important to her for preserving memories of her childrens first years, and shows how she made one by hand for each child.
  • Can your childhood memories help you keep your cool?Here's To A Boring Year uses memories of being a child to keep her on the path to peaceful parenting.
  • Inter-Generational Memories {Carnival of Natural Parenting} — Meegs at A New Day talks about her own childhood memories, and what she hopes her daughter will remember in the future.
  • Snapshots — ANonyMous at Radical Ramblings reflects on the ways our childhood memories appear to us, and hopes her own daughter's childhood will be one she remembers as being happy and fulfilled.
  • What makes the perfect parent? — In a guest post on Natural Parents Network, Mrs Green from Little Green Blog reflects on camp follow and camp no-follow...
  • In My Own Handwriting — Laura from Pug in the Kitchen talks about her journals and the hope that they will be able to keep her stories alive even if she isn't able to.
  • Candlelight, fairylight, firelight — Lucy at Dreaming Aloud re-discovers the ingredients for bringing magic to life, especially at Christmas.
  • Making Memories (or) How We Celebrate Christmas — Rosemary at Rosmarinus Officinalis talks about creating new memories at Christmas, and the joy their adventures bring to her whole family.
  • The Importance of Recording Feelings and Emotions and Not Just the Experience — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama shares why she puts pen to paper every day to record more than just her experiences as a mother and her daughter's experiences as a child. Jennifer looks at the importance of capturing feelings and emotions that accompany the experience.
  • Dredged up — Kenna at Million Tiny Things has been forced to recount childhood memories at bedtime, due to the failure of her middle-aged imagination. She resists, of course.
  • Crafting Memories — Handmade is what makes the holidays special for Christy at Eco Journey In the Burbs, and she wants to create the same connection with her daughters that she remembers with her mother and grandmother.
  • My Childhood Memories; beacons of light in the darkness Stone Age Parent shares the impact of her childhood memories on her life as a parent today, listing some of her many rich childhood memories and how they now act as beacons of light helping her in the complex, often confusing world of child-rearing.
  • 10 Ways I Preserve Memories for My Children — From video interviews to time capsules, Dionna at Code Name: Mama wants to make sure her children have many different ways to cherish their childhood memories. Dionna's carnival post features ten of the ways she preserves memories; check out her Pinterest board for more ideas.
  • Memories of my mother — Luschka at Diary of a First Child remembers her mother and the fondest moments of her childhood, especially poignant as she sits by her mother's sickbed writing.
  • Creating Happy Childhood Memories through Family Traditions — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now tells why family traditions are so important to her and her family and shares how she’s worked to create traditions for her children.
  • Traditional Christmas Tree — Jaye Anne at Wide Awake, Half Asleep remembers the great times spent with her family driving for the Christmas Tree and the lessons learned.
  • Wet Socks and Presents — Kat at MomeeeZen writes about her favorite Christmas childhood memory and why it's so special. And she hopes one day her kids will also have a feel-good memory of their own to look back on.
  • Stuff does not equal memories — Lauren at Hobo Mama learns that letting go does not mean failing to remember.
  • A Child's Loss- Will They Remember Dad? — Erica at ChildOrganics writes about their family's loss of their husband and father. She trys to find answers to the question: Will they remember their Dad?
  • Childhood Memories - Hers and Mine — Jorje of Momma Jorje wished for her daughter the same passions and experiences she loved as a child, but learns the hard way to accept whatever passions strike in her child.
  • Holiday Non-TraditionsErika Gebhardt enjoys her family's tradition of not having traditions for the holidays.


Jaye Anne Healing said...

OH the clutter! We were all thinking it... thanks for saying it! even those "sentimental" things really do pile up after awhile and then we have to figure out how we can keep it (my answer is hanging everything on the walls). This year I am asking for practical things. Seeds. Kitchen supplies that I didn't get at my nonexistent wedding. books on my amazon wishlist. Actually, the best thing my mom could give me is the go-ahead to use her 1/4 acre to plant a garden this year. Thanks for relieving me of keeping ALL of this stuff!

Little Green said...

absolutely LOVE this post. I live with a hoarder and like you believed I should keep everything. But now I feel so sad and depressed that I'm drowning in all this *stuff*. I'm gradually becoming a minimalist and the one question that helps me when I'm holding that item in my hand I can't let go of is "does this item represent who I am now, or who I was in the past?" and it makes me realise just how much I'm living in the past.
Good on you mama; this is such inspirational words and salve to my souls need for space and order
in my life.

Warm wishes
Rae aka Mrs Green @littlegreenblog.com

Rosemary said...

I hear you! I'm sentimental & love holding onto memories - but also have a tiny cottage. With no storage space. And my parent's house is FILLED with *stuff* from my childhood that my mother keeps trying to pass onto me and I keep refusing. Every time I think of saving something for Hadassah, I think of my mother's basement. Makes the decision to keep/toss a bit easier. ;)

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

I'm angsty about what to keep and what to toss, too. My mom was a packrat and kept *everything* - but it was not preserved nicely. So my boxes of childhood toys are also receptacles for mouse droppings (ew ew ew).
I'm trying to find a nice middle ground. In fact, last week when we were purging toys, I even let go of two stuffed dolls I made for Kieran. And it wasn't hard!
I'll probably keep more than I should (well, as long as I have space to do so), and let them decide what to pitch later. It was always therapeutic for me ;)

MomeeeZen said...

I can relate. it's hard to choose what to keep and what to let go. I like to find a good middle ground. For example, when we moved this past summer, instead of keeping a lot of my kid's artwork, I selected a few pieces and then took pictures of the rest. But at some point, they are going to have more of a say, or want to help choose what to keep and what to toss, and I can imagine it will be hard!

Meegs said...

I've been trying to purge more and more. Its hard to let go sometimes, but I think we are all happier when we aren't drowning in "things" and have more room for experiences.

Erika said...

I love you! I'm the same way with gifts! I toss everything that's not nailed to the ground. And my kids want to keep random crap. But the memories are bigger than the stuff. I don't have a lot of stuff, but I do have a lot of memories. Erika @ erikagebhardt.com

Erica @ ChildOrganics said...

This post is very timely to my situation. I am very slowly going through my husband's things since he passed, I really struggle as to what things to keep and which things to get rid of. IT'S SO HARD! I keep reminding myself to focus on keeping the memories we shared and not focus on the things, 'cause no matter how many of his T-shirts I keep, he isn't coming back. *sigh*
I love the FlyLady too!!
Great post, thanks!

Momma Jorje said...

When we moved into the travel trailer, I went hard core with the minimizing. I had a box of kitchen stuff that I just kind of looked through some stuff and then sent the entire box to donation.

Turned out that my big, awesome coffee mug with Starry Night (my all time favorite painting) on it... an anniversary present from Elmo, hardly 6 months old... was one of the items included. I honestly think we'll remember that mistake for longer than we would have remembered that he had given it to me! However, there was also a small coffee mug with Strawberry Shortcake... a mug that I got to use whenever I stayed at my grandmother's house. I kick myself for losing both of these items... but was just reminding myself today that while I can't share that mug with my own babies, I can still tell them the story of those memories. They never got the chance to meet her.

Lindsay said...

I struggle with this too! I have tons of lovely things from when I was a little girl-I was sort of the porcelain doll/keepsake teaset type of girl, and took very good care of all my stuff (while also playing with it...gently), so we have the makings of a great doll museum boxed up in our basement right now. It's so hard to decide what to keep and what to get rid of, especially when you have the space to keep it all! I keep working on figuring out the right balance though...

Anonymous said...

I find it very hard to let go of things. I still have a box of stuffed toys from my own childhood.

And also, Monkey's Oma is an artist and makes him a million pictures, mosaics, lampshades etc... And he's only 16 months old! And his Grandma is a quilter/knitter/sewer. And I'm crafty too. So he has been given a LOT of handmade things... When is it OK to get rid of a handmade gift? Such a tough question!!

Laura said...

I'm sorry, but this post just made me laugh and laugh. Gifts don't mean much to me, so I am constantly purging the house. For me, it's the TIME spent than anything else, but alas... I married a packrat from a family of compulsive shopping hoarders. My mother and her mother and her sister and probably every other female relative on that side of the family hoarded everything they could... oh the stories I could tell about moving into my grandmother's home! I purge and weed and cleanse. Wish me luck... my 3 year old talks of keeping things until he's a superhero... which may just be a very long time. :)

desfenton said...

I am terrible at hanging onto "memorabilia." Mostly because I'm disorganized, but partly due to an incident that happened with my grandmother when I was 17. Three years earlier I had bought her a dime store clown figurine for Christmas. No idea why, but I saw it and thought of her. She put it on her shelf above her tv set and I knew she must have loved it because it was right front and center and she had to look at it multiple times a day. One day, I mentioned it to her and being hard of hearing, she thought I was asking her where she got it.
"That ugly thing? I don't know who gave that to me."
The poor dear was so worried about hurting someones feelings (someone she couldn't remember who) that she kept that hideously painted clown on her shelf for years, even though she she hated it.
If it's not special to you, I say find it a new home. :)

Christy said...

Very true! I think that I'm quite willing to let go of most things because I grew up in a home where everything, and I mean everything, was injected with sentimental memories. I remember my mother sobbing because my brother sold a dresser that her grandmother passed down. Never mind that it was old, cheaply made and mostly falling apart. Then again, I have a threadbare, full of holes cloth bag from my great-grandmother that for some reason I can't throw away. Maybe I should look at repurposing parts that can be reused and move on.

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