When my grandmother moved from her home into a senior residence in Saskatoon, my dad went to help the family clear out her house. At one point, my aunt noticed he wasn’t keeping any mementos for himself and she asked him why.
“It’s all up here,” he replied, pointing to his head.
I couldn’t understand my dad’s reasoning at the time (my grandmother had a wicked salt and pepper shaker collection) and I was the opposite. I fiercely held onto things, afraid to let go because I didn’t trust my memory. I coveted photographs, mementos, even old schoolwork because I was concerned that by throwing it out, I’d be throwing out pieces of my own life. I wouldn’t have proof of who I was.
I also tended to mythologize objects, but that was where my writer’s sensibilities came into play. I saw these souvenirs as fertile grounds for my imagination, certain I’d use them in my writing. I’d pat myself on the back one day for keeping my Grade Seven geography exam. You just wait.
Many years later, and after my dad had died, I found myself cleaning out my own mother’s home. There was an endless supply of things to take: table tops trinkets, kitchenware, my dad’s tools, furniture. Everything so loaded with memory, everything a connection to my own distant past. And while it was tempting to pack up my car with as much stuff as possible, I also realized I didn’t need or want any of it.
Getting older has helped me to live in a less physical world. I don’t feel the need to keep things like I once did. I don’t need to be reminded because I’ve come to trust myself over time. I’m more confident of my memory, surprised by it even, the new pockets, the lights that suddenly flicker in dark corners. Objects can provide comfort but they don’t make up who we are. They don’t define us. And, as my dad pointed out, the most valuable stuff has already been accounted for, tucked away for safe keeping.