I went down a YouTube rabbit hole recently, when I noticed a video titled “57 Things We Don’t Buy Anymore | Family Minimalism.” You can find it here: bit.ly/2Zdw6NS.
I wound up spending 45 minutes watching several episodes of a chipper young mom expounding with enthusiasm about toys and baby clothes, groceries, dishes in her kitchen, chemicals and cleaning supplies … and explaining basically how she’s stopped buying pretty much all of it. With four little ones and a comfortable enough looking home and a minimalist mindset, she shared many palatable bits of wisdom without being over-the-top rabid about anything.
Though I’m not concerned anymore with outfitting a nursery, her philosophies about toys and creativity were confirming for me as a grandmother and an artist, and I received some cross-generational pollination from her thoughts about family heirlooms and material possessions, and how the “stories” about them are often more important than the objects themselves.
The minimalist movement out there, in case you weren’t aware, is the reason why a lot of our offspring decline, politely or otherwise, to take much of the furniture or other family treasures we’ve been saving for them. That, and taste.
As an aside, I just read a feature on design trends that reported, “Mid-century Modern” furniture is giving up significant ground lately, because of COVID-19. With so many people stuck at home for so long now, many of them are starting to look through different lenses at overstuffed comfy reading chairs, and the deeper tones, and “solid permanence” of antiques. Antiques for which, in case you didn’t know this either, the bottom dropped out of the market quite some time ago.
I too was stuck at home, reading all this and thought, “Huh. So I’m definitely hanging onto that music chest, not just because I like it, but for posterity.” The solid cherry one I remember my dad assembling and finishing for my mom when I was just a whippersnapper. And both grandmothers’ secretary desks? Though the uses I’ve put them to are not at all what they were intended for, they’re both still in fine shape. Maybe the kids might want them after all.
But that’s kinda beside the point, and not actually what I started out to relate.
I’m very much a visual person. Along with my learning style, it’s my memory style as well. Nothing conjures up my memory like a visual cue. The picture of our backyard in Anchorage when I was a preteen, with that bowling ball on the grass? Memories of our Rottweiler “Turk” flood back. The bowling ball outlasted the dog, I’m afraid, but memories of him rooting it all around the yard with his nose are indelible.
The faded tissue flowers that took years to throw away? They carry rich memories of the two weeks we hosted the Mexican dancer who gave a residency at McDonald Elementary. A band of us parents made hundreds of them to decorate the gym for the final fiesta. I’m sure something similar is true for many others, or else why would we save letters, Christmas ornaments, albums or 40,000 pictures on a cell phone?
But in my case, and this has been tested numerous times, if there is no longer a visual or tactile cue; there’s no memory at all. Zip. Nada.
I used to save many a sentimental “thing” that served no further purpose, for far too long. I didn’t need it, it might be totally beat up, and frankly I wouldn’t have kept it at all were it not for the fear of losing the memories that went with it. I’m a little sheepish about this because I know too much time spent remembering can rob energy and be detrimental to the present or the future. But I’ve devised a balanced and workable, if possibly eccentric solution for myself.
I take a final ceremonial photo. If it has memories that I’d like to retain access to, then I just “Snap!” take a picture of it. A portrait of one thing, or a messy group shot. It doesn’t matter. For whatever is finally about to leave the premises, or head to the compost pile (as in the case of the adorable “Cat” picture my daughter made out of leaves in 3rd grade) I have my lasting cue.
In my ongoing archives project (yes, I’m still plugging away) I saw I’d taken quite a few of these pictures. And since I’ve been emptying out several small albums in my quest to cull and condense, I took one of them and just started sticking the pictures in willy-nilly. No dates, no story line, no correct order, and not for anyone but myself to ever view. I’ve been doing this for a while now. Cheap thrills.
And I have my little collection of memories, all in one place, not taking up much room at all. A little album for me to open every now and again, and smile, perhaps wistfully, over an image or two. Precious memories, very little dusting, and nothing to trip over.
Jeanne Leffingwell lives in Moscow. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.