Today’s guest post from Sherry Ott, our brave and intrepid friend, is a nice reminder of the struggle to let go of the stuff in our lives.
I recently read something in People magazine about the review of the book Stuff. It’s all about compulsive hoarding. It describes hoarding by saying “ the compulsion to accumulate objects to the point where the clutter interferes with our lives”. Sure – this seems accurate, however I believe differently.
Hoarding is the compulsion to accumulate objects to the point where it keeps us stagnant; cemented in place, scared to move and change without our stuff.
As I was visiting my parents in South Dakota this winter we were going through boxes of stuff, trying to convince them that they no longer needed to hold on to all of these boxes in the garage. My parents aren’t hoarders, but like most people they hold on to things much longer than they need to. Each box and item was a negotiation with my father; if the negotiation was successful, it went into the burn pile, if it wasn’t it sadly stayed and collected dust for another 5 years.
After much effort we had quite a large burn pile and my brother manned the big bonfire in the field where long-time possessions deemed not even useful enough to donate were going up in smoke. I strangely love this feeling; the feeling of getting rid of stuff. It makes me feel lighter and more open to possibility. Yet I do understand how hard it is to get rid of stuff. My dad was in a state of agitation the whole day, and I don’t blame him. But I also know how unimportant stuff can be. While I’ve been living out of my suitcase and a small storage unit for the last number of years, I also realize that there is very little I miss. I think my dad will realize that too when the day is over and the smoke clears.
My brother and I continued to go through boxes, laughing and joking about how silly it was that our parents were unable to give this seemingly meaningless stuff up. And then I lifted the lid of the shoe box and there they were – hundreds of paper napkins. Each one was different, some were from childhood restaurants, some from birthday parties but each was saved and collected with care by me…yes me. As a child I used to collect paper napkins. I realize now how silly of a collection it was, but at the same time I think it was an indication of how I would always always be looking for things that were different in life; a way to stand out and be different. While friends collected friendship beads, bears, and stuffed animals – I collected paper napkins.
When I was a child, I created a scrap book of napkin memories, and when the book filled up my mother had me put them in a shoe box. She even wrote on some of the plain white ones describing why a simple plane napkin was special; “from your sister’s college dorm cafeteria” it read. It threw me back into memories of how sad I was when my sister left home and went to college – I missed her incredibly as it was the first time our little family unit was ever apart.
I came across old airline napkins and thought about how different airline travel was then. Not only are the logos different – but these napkins came from a time when meals were free and smoking was allowed!
The napkins triggered memories of times gone by, but even though I was amused by the napkins and the memories they evoked, I knew what I had to do. My brother stared at me wondering if I would be a hypocrite or stand by what I had been preaching to my father earlier. In good brotherly form, he egged me on and taunted me asking if I would get rid of my ‘meaningless’ stuff. I must admit – I was a bit torn and just like old times I really wanted to hit him for pissing me off.
I realistically looked at the napkins and realized that a woman who had no home and lived out of a suitcase had no reason keeping these napkins. Nor did I have a right to continue to ask my parents to keep them for me. So I did what I always do – I took pictures. Images of my favorite napkins would be all the memory I would need. Then by the handful I threw the paper napkins into the bonfire and the napkins went up in flames of blue and green, crackling as if the fire itself was happy to receive this new offering.
The memories will live on. I don’t have to save things and collect stuff to have memories; none of us do. I have the photos and that’s enough. I know just how easy it is to hold on to stuff, and soon you have a whole garage of it. Stuff that you never really look at again, it gets put in a box for 30 years and simply takes up space and anchors you.
One of my favorite things about my life is not being anchored. And every piece of stuff I can cast off counts – even something as small as a few napkins.
Sherry is a long term traveler, blogger, and photographer with one goal in mind – to make you wish you were somewhere else. She seeks out unique travel experiences and writes about her around the world adventures on Ottsworld. She’s also a co-founder of Meet, Plan, Go!, a website and national travel event teaching you how you can take your very own traveling career break or sabbatical.