Many people know I’m a compulsive declutterer. But they don’t know it’s because I come from a background of hoarding.
My weaknesses are paper (ideas, articles, research notes, things I want to do) and records of my life (school work, photos, letters, etc.).
I’ve gotten a lot better on the paper/idea side since I realized a year ago that I could Google most anything I ever do end up needing. The records of my life… well… have been another matter. Until yesterday, I wasn’t sure why I struggled to throw out old records. I came up with this:
Things are memory triggers for me, memories that said I lived and that what I thought, said, and did were once important.
Growing up, my parents, for different reasons, never showed up to my events. Ok, almost never. I remember my mom coming to my rifle marksmanship competition because I needed a ride there. I was the only girl on the team. We came in second.
My dad took me to the county spelling bee because I was a finalist. I came in second place. (BTW, I misspelled “alienation.” I had never heard of the word, but I had seen commercials for a new television show called “Alien Nation”, so I spelled it like that.)
Second place. That’s kind of how I have felt most of my life. I came second to whatever else was happening. People were probably doing truly important or urgent things, but it happened enough that all I recall is being not important or urgent. I was often forgotten at school when I was supposed to be picked up; I sometimes sat in that sweltering Florida heat for hours. No one really asked how my school day went by then. It felt like I did not matter that much.
Since no one was there to cheer me on at competitions or to see my progress, no one could remember the event for me and tell me how I did; I had to do all the remembering myself. If I forgot, it was like no one, including me, was there. And then, what did that say about me? I didn’t exist!
Who wants to be nonexistent? I wanted to know I mattered, I meant something to someone at some time. I had some sort of impact or meaning in the world while I lived here.
I chose early on (subconsciously anyway) that I had to take it upon myself to make me matter to me, and that meant keeping stuff that proved “I was there!”, “I did it!”, “I am good!”
By my senior year of high school, I had become accustomed to feeling unsupported and getting along in the world in that manner. I did a stand-up routine for the comedy segment of a talent show in front of about 100 people. (Scary, huh?) My parents didn’t attend. I won first place. I had no one with whom to share the victory. Another 15 years may pass before I toss out that trophy.
Yesterday, all these realizations went from my subconscious to the forefront of my mind. I pulled out a heavy file box from the top shelf of my office closet that included older proof of my existence. (The proof used to be in five very heavy boxes, but I trimmed it down over the last 10 years.)
• Newspapers from when I was a section editor for the school newspaper
• Programs from when I was a staff leader in a military youth leadership weekend
• Brochures from when I was selected as a representative in an international congress in Chicago and met Ms. Oprah Winfrey
• The “Have You Seen Me?” mailer that actually featured people I not only knew, but whose whereabouts I was aware of
• Newsletters of church positions I had held where I had soared
• Portraits I had drawn of people, earlier ones in crayon, later ones in pencil
• Form response letters from Congressmen
• Music I attempted to ink
• Lyrics I wrote
• Newspapers from Desert Storm and September 11th
• Letters from boyfriends and friends
Random proof that I lived, did something, and/or meant something to someone.
My whole life has been a keepsake box to make sure that when I die, someone will know “Adhis wuz here.”
In the box, I found a TIME Magazine article from the early 1990’s I had saved on Somalia’s starving population. One of the pages was a full page photo of a starving infant born to his mother as she walked to a food center 10 miles away. Hundreds of people had stopped and looked at him, but no one could do anything for him. He was crying, his eyes wide open, frantic, and kind of rolled back.
“His mother held him, and two hours after I took this picture, he died,” noted the photographer.
He was just a tiny little baby on the other side of the world who was hungry. He had no awards or school drawings. I cried for that little baby. I wanted him to know I knew he existed, and he mattered.
I thought on that photo for hours. I thought about the photojournalist. He must have cried that night. I don’t remember his name, but his work mattered because he made personal to me a travesty occurring to our brothers and sisters on the other side of the world, lives that would otherwise have been unknown to me.
In the midst of these thoughts, it hit me. The mark I hope to leave on this earth is not of the awards I’ve won, the celebrities I’ve met, or the honors I’ve received. The mark I desire to leave is in the turning points in people’s hearts, even if they don’t remember my name.
The best keepsake collection will be when I stand before my Creator, and I hear whispered from a multitude, “Hey, that’s the lady that made a difference to me” and then “I don't remember her, but my spirit tells me she made an impact in my life," and then maybe a “Me, too” and so on.
My soul came to the conclusion: To embark on new things I am called to do, I must appreciate my experiences without clinging so tightly to the earlier parts of my life.
I looked at the box of memories and pulled out half of its contents, softening my grip on the past. The pile went into the recycle bin. Hopefully, if I’ve retained any of the good traits that garnered those souvenirs in the first place, those traits will show up again on the rest of my journey.