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One Editor’s Musings on Love and Letting Go (Of Stuff, That Is)

Memories are fickle. Stuff is forever. Space is limited.
| |Lance Trachier
Lance Trachier

I’ve always been someone who’s kept things. As a kid, I’d tuck shells found on beaches, notes passed at school, and sports participation medals into a trunk for safekeeping. It was my way of holding on to details and feelings I knew my brain couldn’t retain forever—an external hard drive for memories, of sorts. 

When my parents downsized a few years ago, they bequeathed to me boxes of my mementos that had been collecting dust in their attic. I pored over the contents. A playbill brought me back to an eighth grade stage production I’d starred in. My first diary shed light on what was important to me at age 7—namely, lost teeth and mini-golf outings. Each item unlocked memories that had been lost with time, temporarily recovered, thanks to this tangible souvenir of a past life. As I reluctantly threw out the things I had no place to store, I realized those memories might eventually be forgotten again—and for good this time. 

The urge to hold on to meaningful material objects has followed me throughout my life. Most of those keepsakes—cards from late grandparents, ticket stubs to favorite concerts, dried rose petals from my wedding—fit into a single, respectable box.

But once I had children, the mountain of items with sentimental significance grew Everestian in size, the task of letting go, monumental. There’s the romper my son wore as a baby that reminds me of a perfect day spent at the Arboretum. Seven years later, I swear I can smell his baby scent when I look at it. Or the long-outgrown baby blankets that were draped over my twin daughters’ incubators for the three months they spent in the NICU. Throwing them away feels like forgetting that hard, but important, part of their story. And don’t get me started on kid art. I cannot bear to part with a single scribble or handprint turkey, their burgeoning imaginations and chubby fingers forever preserved on paper.

“It’s the acknowledgement that a season of my life is over, that my babies are no longer babies.”

Rest assured, this is not a hoarding situation. I do not have a secret-shame storage unit. My husband and I can park both of our cars in our two-car garage. (Just maybe don’t open that guest-room closet.) Thankfully, my penchant for organization keeps this from turning into a TLC episode. 

Being limited in how much I can keep by sheer square footage (and the waning patience of my husband), I every so often reach a breaking point—a shelf without a shred of remaining space—and my hand is forced. But the painful part of purging is not the time investment of sorting, tossing, and donating. It’s the acknowledgement that a season of my life is over, that my babies are no longer babies. Having those time capsules ensures I’ll never fully forget how small they once were, how shaky their handwriting once was, how fiercely they loved their mama. In the teen years, I may need occasional reminders of the latter. 

I’ve learned that parting becomes easier with emotional distance, so I purge in phases. It’s terribly inefficient, but it’s what works for me. With time, the newer memory of a first soccer game preemptively fills the void left by that favorite baby toy, and I can reluctantly release my grip. 

For me, the question has never been about sparking joy, because it all does. Rather, the question is: Am I ready to let this—them—go?

Or perhaps the easier question is: Can we buy a bigger house?


Jessica Otte

Jessica Otte

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Jessica Otte is the executive editor of D Home and D Weddings. In 2006, she helped launch D CEO as…