“I had 58 boxes, my husband had 1!” I wrote this story as part of a creative writing exercise for the Women’s Writing Workshop in Waimea. I read it out loud to the group and everyone encouraged me to share this story of having to let most of my “stuff” go to move to Kona four years ago. The process of letting go was certainly not an easy task as I had methodically been putting my life in boxes since I was in high school. Thirty years later, I had 58 boxes of life. Or as my husband called it, “stuff”.
Here’s the story:
What I wanted to say but didn’t was “Please don’t throw that away”. We were standing amidst 58 boxes of stuff, as my husband would call it. But for me it was stories, memories, secrets, and treasures. Those boxes contained my life. Some were from college, with sorority t-shirts with photos of besotted nights, and Spring Break days. Some were of a post-college life that was lived on fun vacations of oceans in places like Jamaica, Tahiti, Moorea, Cabo San Lucas, and Hawaii.
Some boxes held hundreds of photos of two little lives from conception (literally, as I kept the EPT stick) until five when we decided to move to digital to keep our memories on our computer instead of in our garage. But the day came after we spent a year living in Hawaii and came back to our house in Los Gatos to sell the house. We needed to get rid of most of these boxes, we just had no room in our condo in Hawaii, and knew storage expenses were going to be too expensive for us to keep paying monthly.
My husband kept reminding me of who we are now. We are residents of Kona that do not need to cling to stuff. We are free of the emotional and physical connection of our stuff. The concept seemed to be a crystal clear reality when we talked about it after not seeing our stuff for a year. The year we lived in our vacation condo hoping the recession would end so we could go back to our lives in the Bay Area. We rented our house in Los Gatos and told the renters that the storage sheds and garage were off limits as they were all full of our stuff, furniture, wedding dishes, children’s toys, vacation tees, and memories.
When it became evident in the summer of 2011 that the economy was not going to get better, and when our house lost another $100,000 in value, that we decided that we could not keep both houses and we found a life we loved in Hawaii. We made the choice to get rid of just about everything. We had a monster garage sale during the week vacation we had to clean out the house, say goodbye to our neighbors and give the keys to our Realtor.
I was convinced that my husband had not had much of a life..he had one box, I had 58.
He said I had a misconception. He chose to store his memories in his head, while I had to fill up a box. When he pulled all the boxes out onto the driveway to pick out what I could store at his father’s 10×10 shed, I thought I would go insane. (like a good hoarder!) How do you go through your life and only get to keep a few things that you have two hours to deem most important? How could I throw away the photo albums that I had painstakingly created or the baby’s toys and clothing that would forever keep them infants in my mind?
My husband kept trying to remind me of who we were now. Not hoarders of physical memories that resided in boxes and boxes of photos or vacation memories or onesies or sixth grade art projects. Certainly not in the 15 boxes he called “Christmas Crap” of the ornaments I had collected over 40 years. How could he stand there and say all that stuff did not matter? I knew the reality of the situation. I could blame the banks for putting me in this unenviable position or the fact that shipping it or storing it was just not feasible. I was feeling a loss as each piece of my life was bought for a fraction of what I had paid for it at the garage sale and the discount shoppers walked about with my holiday memories and new mother’s were thrilled on a deal on babies clothing and furniture. I silently wept while my neighbors were hugging me in the middle of all my stuff.
When I thought I could take no more, my husband said at 5:00 pm that we have to give away or throw away everything that was left over. Do you remember that scene in the movie, “The Jerk” with Steve Martin where he was wandering in the yard in his bathrobe saying, “This is all I need! My lamp..my remote control…”? As my husband would try and give the Goodwill guy something I would say “No! NO! I’ll find a space for that!” I called three of my best friends and tearfully begged them to keep a few of my boxes in their homes for me until I could buy a larger house to call my stuff back to me in what I thought would be the near future.
How could I throw away the stuffed unicorn my brother gave me at my high school graduation? The worst of all of it came at the city dump. My husband threw photo frame after photo frame into the pile of stuff no one cared to buy, take from us or could store for us. Glass shattered as one by one my life was tossed into a heap. Photos of my infant son, released from a three foot tall photo collage blew in the wind and scampered across the refuse. I chased after it like a mother whose son had recently passed away. Both my kids were at the in-laws so they did not have to watch this pitiful behavior and much is a blur-a grief fog.
When we were tucking the 10 boxes of the stuff I DID keep into the shed in Sunnyvale, my husband and his father, very kindly said that this was my space. A place that was mine, a place I could return to each summer when we came to visit. A place I could thumb through my wedding album, the baby books, and press my face into my father’s sweat shirt who passed away.
When we returned to Hawaii I DID feel somehow lighter. I spoke to other people who had moved to Hawaii about letting go of their stuff and how painful it was for them, as well. However, we all agree that stuff is an anchor.
(Here are some of the comments from my friends on Facebook while I was going through “the purge”.
Sometimes to find true freedom, you have to let the stuff go.
For the most part, I have released the energy of loss, but sometimes it pokes me. Every Thursday on Facebook, people post photos of themselves from high school, college, and family get togethers from the ’70’s for Throwback Thursday’s. I got nothin’. All my throwback photos reside 2500 miles away and some of them are under 15 feet of garbage in the Santa Clara County landfill. But what I DO have is “every day is a moment to live-right now-moving forward”. I get it, but sometimes what I want to say and don’t is “Kids, put that souvenir trinket down-it may end up in a box at some point and you’ll be emotionally tied to it forever. Don’t do it to yourself or your soul”.
That’s the end of that story..and the good news is that in six weeks I will be heading back to the shed in Sunnyvale..I will bring a glass of chardonnay with me as I get to traipse down memory lane for a few hours.