• J.F. Rowan

Letting Go


First, let me just start by saying that I am posting this story in hopes that if anyone is ever tasked with a similar situation, I hope that this might be of some help. Our transition to a more simplified lifestyle is necessary. We have moved from a 1700 square foot home into a 900 square foot condominium. And now, we will move from the condo and have to downsize again into a space less than 100 square feet inside the new Tiger Adventure Vehicle! Even though we have thinned out our possessions and necessities during the first move, we find ourselves doing it again before we leave in our new Tiger. One of the hardest tasks for me during this entire process, is letting go. Letting go in the sense of thinning out those possessions that we no longer need, or better still, can no longer practically keep because of our new simplified life.

From day one, going through all of those “things” has been a task for which I’ve dreaded. There were two areas which proved most difficult. First, those things that were extremely useful or handy. For instance, tools. I had finally reached a time where I had collected enough tools to be able to fix what I needed, when I needed. And materials such as wood, sheets of metal, tubing and the like. Or just those handy things, like that gross of plastic fall-cleanup leaf bags that I found on the side of the road. Second, and probably the hardest for me to deal with, were those artifacts which had some sort of emotional value such as items from my family. Photos, letters, and handed down personal items just to name a few. A set of men’s sterling silver hair brushes from the 1920’s. Boxes of photos from as far back as the early 1900’s. The items that were practical such as tools, were easy to figure out. Those decisions were like those block diagrams you see for troubling shooting. “Can you still use this item, yes or no.” If yes go this way, if no go that way. In the end, If I couldn’t sell it, I either gave it away, threw it away or on those rare occasions, stored them in hopes to sell or do something else with them at a later date. Not so easy for the more personal items however.

For me, the task of thinning out personnel items was made more difficult because I have no living brothers or sisters, and my parents have all passed away over the years. Those items that belonged to my father, and some items that belonged to my stepfather are stuck in limbo because there are very few relatives that are living on their side of the family tree. So, the decision to save or throw away sometimes hinges on my ability to discover, search and then locate distant family members. Through the entire process, my method has evolved into what I think worked well, at least for me. These solutions or methods may work for others whether they are cleaning out a drawer, an attic or an entire garage. These might not be solutions so much as an explanation as to the method of my personal madness.

My father’s items. Some of his items are pretty easy, at least for me. A dry cleaning receipt from 1967? Whoosh, right in the trash! A postcard of the Poconos during a time when gas was fifteen cents a gallon, same fate as the dry cleaning slip. But the pair of Sterling Silver Hair brushes? I actually watched him use those! I tried selling them and wouldn’t be successful, unless of course I was willing to part with them for less than the cost of a cheap dime store comb. No way! Throw them out? I mean really, who would toss something like that in the dumpster? Did I mention that the letter “R” was monogrammed on them? As you can guess, anything monogrammed is especially challenging for obvious reasons. I’ve never seen so much monogramming! What are you supposed to do with a twelve place monogrammed silverware set? Another “treasure” is an ivory cigarette holder which is about as old as the hair brushes. My mother’s Argus 35mm camera. My brothers wallet (he died in 1973). My father’s favorite cufflinks. My mother’s fur coat…and on and on. What in the world do you do with all this stuff? My strategy with these items consists of deciding whether or not I wanted to give them away, sell, store them if i wanted to keep hem or throw them out. Sometimes it was just easier to think of someone who might appreciate them, and give the item away. This form of “adoption” helped not only my guilt level (more on that later) but alleviated any task of the impending research as to worth and value if I intended on selling the item. Try selling a fur coat. What is it’s value? Okay, that’s not going to work so now try giving it away. If you had a coat like this, think long and hard as to who you would ask? “Hey, would you like my mom’s old fur coat?” See? Not so easy.

Photos. Literally hundreds of photos and slides. So many in fact, it would probably be more descriptive to describe their amount by weight! Fortunately, I did find a somewhat of a logical method in dealing with them all. Slides. A few years ago during what seemed an especially long winter, I spent a couple of days converting all of the favorite slides to digital files. The process I used was efficient due to the fact I had the option to save each file directly online to my free Flickr account. Then when each slide was saved, into the trash the original went. “Oops, did I record that one?” Scary. The family photos, and some family slides, were handled in a way that I think was my single largest success in during my archiving battle. Having an Ancestry.com account was a huge help and I would highly recommend this especially if you have a large inventory of family photos. Why? During the sorting process, if the slide or photo included a family member, I would scan it and then upload it to the appropriate family member’s profile in Ancestry.com. A photo or slide with multiple family members can easily be shared within the account by tagging and sharing the photo with other family member profiles, thus cutting down on any repetition during uploading. A description of any reasonable length could then be added to each of the photos and if there were multiple family members in the photo, that description follows the photo throughout the family tree as long as it’s tagged. Once the photo was scanned and uploaded, in the trash it would go. The bonus here is that other family members can log into the account and share in the experience now, or in the future. Another method might be to sort and then send whatever is left over to one of the many services that will convert your photos to digital files. Other photos that were not family related, I simply either threw away or scanned and uploaded into my Flickr account. I must confess, as a back up I added a family category in my Flickr account that holds all the photos that I uploaded into the Ancestry account. The rest? Well, there are only so many photos of a Thanksgiving centerpiece a person can take! In the trash!

Whether it was photos, an old camera, or a necklace, I had two major emotions that would often pop up. First, the guilt. All these artifacts (a word I commonly use to circumvent the word “thing” or “things”) are my responsibility and here I was deciding their fate…oh, and no pressure. Thanks a bunch! One of the best examples of the “guilts”, is a photo of my mom, or should I say copies of photos of my mom. I found this one particular set of photos of her while wading through one of the many boxes from her closet. The photo was probably taken during her high school senior year. There were no less than 8 copies of this photo, in different sizes, stored in what looked like the original wax paper sleeve from about 1940. And even though I had scanned and saved that image to her ever growing profile within my family tree, I couldn’t seem to throw out any of the copies. She just kept looking at me! One copy is sure to go on the road with us, the rest of the copies will go into storage…perhaps near a window where she can look out and…

The other emotion that I experienced with some regularity was sadness. I’m a 58 year old guy that’s not supposed to be so soft yet some things just set my mind wandering and remembering and eventually missing those who have passed. There were some real tragic times in my past, I’m sure everyone has those right? But my experience with sorting was such that when I would hit a wall, I would just have to close the drawer, box or closet and just walk away and wait for another day. With time, and after talking at length with someone who I think is very, very wise, I turned away from the more tragic memories and was able to concentrate on happier times during the process. After all, these are only only material things right?

As I write this, my sorting and sifting is nearly complete. It has taken what seems a lifetime to finish. But in the end, I think I made some good choices. But like all of us, I just did the best I could with what I had. After all is said and done, the items that I wanted to keep for whatever reason, if they can’t come with us, will be placed in a small very affordable storage facility. Even though this process was difficult it was rewarding in the sense that I was able to remember the great memories of my youth. At the same time, I slowly acquired the ability to ignore some of the more unhappy times that once took the limelight. If you have read and stayed awake up to this point, I appreciate your effort and if you think this might be of help or entertain someone else, please feel free to share it.


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