A Line in the Sand: Is everything really a keepsake?
Author: Barry Kaufman & Courtney Hampson | Photographer: Photography by Anne
Here’s a fun mental exercise you can try out next time you have a few minutes to space out: Imagine your house is on fire. Are you picturing it? Okay, great, because we’re about to do something stupid.
Let’s say you’ve just called the fire department, and they’re going to be there in five minutes, tops. At this point, all your stuff is either going to be ashes or waterlogged. Either way, you can kiss that sweet eBay revenue goodbye from all those Beanie Babies you’ve been hanging onto.
But wait, you argue to yourself, picturing that limited edition Brownie the Bear going up in flames. There’s still time. You can still get in there and save one or two things. So what do you save first?
(By the way, don’t ever do this during an actual fire, because it’s totally unsafe. Get kids and pets out and stay out).
Emboldened by the fact that this is all pretend, you burst through the door, brave the searing heat, and you grab… what? Family photos? Those are irreplaceable, unless this fire is happening in 2015, in which case your family photos are in the cloud somewhere. So that leaves… important documents? Passports? Birth certificates?
Let’s say for argument’s sake that you have some kind of “go bag” with all the important documents ready to roll. You grab it, you head outside and check your watch to find that you still have four minutes. Plenty of time to grab that next-tier-down stuff.
So you go back in and grab… family heirlooms? Expensive works of art? Sports memorabilia?
So now, arms laden with great-grandma Iris’ collection of slightly racist postcards, your Jack Kirby-signed Spider-Man #1, and your official Rob Gronkowski beer bong, you escape the flames once again. You look at your watch, and wouldn’t you know it, you still have time for another trip.
My point is, how many times do you have to keep going back into that burning house, lowering your standards of what’s important each time, before you grab your fourth grade report card? My guess is you grab it approximately never. In fact, I’m willing to bet if your fourth grade report card accidentally landed on the important stuff you were carrying out, you’d shake it off so it wouldn’t slow you down.
My mega-roundabout point here is that there are so many things you think are important, but when you really get right down to it, they’re just things you haven’t thrown away yet. And unless they hold some truly irreplaceable nostalgic connection to a place and time, please believe me; they are worthless.
Take a look around you and you’ll realize that a lot of the junk that you call stuff—those things that you keep packing in boxes, stuffing into drawers, piling onto shelves—is all just garbage. At some point, fire or not, someone, maybe you, is going to pick up that fourth grade report card and wonder why you held onto this thing for so long. Then they’ll throw it away.
So why not save them the effort and do it yourself? In the event of an actual fire, it will give you that much more time to preserve your Beanie Baby collection.
If I didn’t save everything, I wouldn’t have just found my baby book. And if I hadn’t just found my baby book, I (and you) wouldn’t know when I first sat on the potty (December 30, 1974) or that by two and a half years old, I was dressing myself. Or, that my mom probably let me dress myself, because according to my baby book, “Courtney wets her pants if she doesn’t like them. Two years old.”
Ah, so I have always been a ball buster. And, now have the forty year old data to prove it. While we’re at it, you’ll be interested to know that at seven months I was chewing on plugs and wires, and ripping the phone book to shreds. Apparently, I was a puppy. I walked around with a bucket on my head at 13 months and threw my toys in the garbage at 14 months.
As I pack up my house, after 10 years in the same spot (a record since I’ve been all grown up and on my own), I am discovering all kinds of treasures. Last weekend, I stood in the office, pouring over a decade of public speaking students’ final thought cards and speeches. I don’t save them all, but some students affect me just as much as I hope I have them, and I can’t bear to purge at the end of the semester. So, instead of packing, I read through more than 20 semesters of memories, as tears ran down my face.
When I moved to Bluffton from New Jersey, it was the fourth time I’d moved with all of my college textbooks and two boxes of my master’s thesis notes. I guess I am still waiting to apply that thesis research to real life. Might as well have been calculus, because I don’t see that happening any time soon. I also uncovered every annual planner (you know, the ones you actually write your appointments in) I’ve had since graduating college, just in case I need to know who I met with at 10 a.m. on March 1, 2004. And, this got me thinking, how long is too long to hold onto something?
And, as I lay in bed that night, over-thinking this column (and life in general) and willing myself back to sleep whilst scanning Facebook, I saw this post by a friend:
“Things. Things. Things. Things are just things. It’s really the thought that counts. Yesterday, I lost my wallet: all of my credit cards and driver license gone. And yet, the one thing about which I keep thinking is that old, worn, leather wallet, which my cousin Kathy gifted to me when I graduated high school 19 years ago. The cards and license are replaceable (in fact, they’ve already been replaced). But 19 years of being by my side—in college, in law school, and every corner of the world—can’t be replaced. I miss my wallet.”
And then it hit me. It’s not about the stuff I’ve accumulated over the years. It is about the memories.
The precious time. It is the moments that matter. You don’t need a picture or a date in your daily planner to remember your first kiss. Or an afternoon on swing set with the wind blowing in your hair. Or the first crack of a baseball bat on opening day. Or the first time you held your niece in your arms. We remember what’s important. The rest is just stuff.
So, as I continue to sort through all of my “stuff,” I am forced to ask myself questions. Namely, why do I still have this? And, if I don’t know the answer, I’ve decided to let it go.