Sentimental Pack Rat

* This is dedicated to Dorothy Mitchell and Jeff and Mary Denton*

In the process of letting go, you will lose many things from the past, but you will find yourself.” ~ Deepak Chopra

Are you the type of person who becomes attached to things? I am.

I’m not talking about being materialistic. Although, that adjective has crossed my path more than a few times too. I’m talking about the need to keep an object because of a memory or person tied to it.

Having an attachment to things has always been a part of me because loss was a common thread in my life. My husband jokes that I’m a packrat. It’s true. I can’t deny it. I come by it honestly, as my mother before me felt the sting of loss and learned to hold tight to her possessions.

I can see how hoarding starts.

My saving grace from hoarding is my husband. He is the polar opposite of me- a minimalist. He keeps a small box of sentimental objects and the Taylor guitar my mother gifted him. Other than that, he travels light. But I am learning (slowly) through him how to let go.

The past decade has been a series of letting go moments. Letting go of loved ones, letting go of life’s Plan A, letting go of control, and letting go things.

My first memory of letting go was over a doll.

My young father didn’t plan on dying in his thirties and therefore didn’t leave a life insurance plan. His void altered my life course greatly. His death was the birth of my attachment issues. I let go of a father, what it meant to have a parental team and stability for a while. In time I would let go of my private school and friends, let go of gymnastics and horseback riding lessons and our pretty house. But first it was a doll with a pretty pink dress and blond ringlets.

Everything in my life got downsized that year, including my toys. I can’t recall much of my 8th year, but I do remember having a yard sale to move out of our house. We were to move into my aunt and uncle’s, who had graciously welcomed us to stay with them until we got back on our feet.

I had to pick out toys to sell, and it was a difficult decision on what to part with. This wasn’t a crime- my room looked like a Toys R Us junkyard. But my eight-year-old mind thought it unfair. I lost my father . . . why does that mean I have to lose my things too? I don’t remember anything from that day, EXCEPT for a little girl my age coming to our yard sale and her father buying my doll for her. I watched her walk down our long driveway cuddling my doll and feeling a mixture of anger and sadness. It was just a doll, one I didn’t even play with much. It was the reality setting in that hurt. That this was only the beginning of the changes to come.

This set the tone for me hating to part with things.

I used to keep anything my father had his hands on in a box under my bed: matches, notes to my mother, medals from the Navy, his watches, a comb. I treasured a stuffed dog he brought home one night for no reason except to say he was thinking of me. It was the last thing he gave me. Still have it.

Fast-forward to downsizing our house after my mother died. There was much to sell and it was mentally traumatizing. My poor husband gently encouraged me to sell my parent’s dining room set. You would have thought he was asking me to sell her ashes. I gave him the sob story of how she had worked over 6 months of weekends, on top of her full time job, her first year of marriage to buy this furniture. I recalled playing under it as kid, my first chore was to polish it every Sunday, and twenty-five years of holiday dinners took place at that table. So many memories wrapped up in those table and chairs-and he wanted to sell it? How dare he! Sure we had our own set. And sure my mother’s was not our style and it was looking worse for wear, but sell it?

Crazy talk!

But eventually he talked me off my sentimental ledge and little by little more of her things were sold.

I got a break from selling pieces of my life for a time. And now here we are – on the cusp of another move. But this time we are on a more united front, both striving to possess less to live more.

This time I decided to part with my mother’s Christmas Spode china-that we ate on almost every Christmas I can remember. And all of her delicate Dept 56 Christmas Village she displayed year after year. I hated parting with this, but I didn’t need the 12-piece place setting nor did I have the house to turn into the North Pole like she did. So why keep something packaged up to only look at from time to time, why not let someone else enjoy it? Seeing my indecision my husband suggested I keep 4 place settings to remember her at Christmas. He made my little packrat heart happy.

His heart did a little dance too, because with every move he was the one to lift and carry said boxes, heavy with memories and weight, for them only to sit in an attic.

I took the plunge and placed the items online to sell at really low price. I feared the yard sale affect. You know when people haggle you and make you feel like your possessions aren’t worth much. But instead an older farming couple thirty minutes away took interest in my mother’s things and didn’t even negotiate. They drove up in their big truck and were some of the kindest people I’ve ever met. They own the J.W. Mitchell farm in Franklin, NC. The wife, Dorothy, invited us to come on down this fall to hand pick their fresh fruit. She spoke of how much she loved Christmas and asked questions about my mother. She cared. I don’t think heaven could have sent a better person to take new ownership of my sentimental “things”.

As fellow small business owners, we swapped business cards and she promised to love her new Christmas decorations.

And two weeks after that, I let go of my piano. I am no Billy Joel, put I did take up the piano as a way to honor my mother and deal with my grief after her passing. She had wanted to learn, but chemo left her with little energy. So the Christmas after she passed, my husband and I bought a piano, and I signed up for lessons (with all the other 10- year-olds in Wake Forest). The best thing about learning to play the piano was all my focus went to reading musical notes, knowing the right key to hit, and cursing when my fingers didn’t. I had no brainpower to think about grief while playing. It was freeing. I played to honor her, but I wound up also playing for mental peace.

Like my mother’s Christmas china, my piano had fulfilled its purpose. Music was part of my healing, but it wasn’t my future. Words are. Writing is my passion, and it takes up any time I’d have to practice. As hard as it was to give up items I’ve held onto for so long only for memories, it was time.

I advertised the piano online, and was contacted by a favorite former co-worker of mine. I hadn’t seen her sweet face in a year. Her musical family drove an hour away and bought the piano. It warmed my heart to see her beautiful smile again. I had never met her husband, but moments before they drove away he turned to me and said something that wiped away any sadness over my piano leaving. He said that he read all of my blogs and had really enjoyed my writing. “Keep it up!” Those words are so powerful and motivating to a writer.

My piano went to a good home and I learned there are people out there I don’t even know reading my words. In that moment, I again felt these were the exact people meant to have my things. I felt only happiness in passing on those cherished possessions. I never would have thought it possible.

I’m continuing the journey of not allowing things to control me. They can bring me comfort or bring a sense of home, but they do not make a home. Our loved ones are our home and when they leave us they take up residence in our hearts. So we carry them wherever we go in life.

Do any of you have a favorite sentimental item (Or like me, and have MANY)?

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched-they must be felt with the heart.” Helen Keller

All photo credits to: cperciaccanto


6 Comments Add yours

  1. Rochelle Stramiello says:

    Little cousin Cara, I gave my Mom’s piano to the little boy across the street. Her china was donated to the Senior Center for their garage sale. I still have my baby doll, and my daughter, who is your age, thinks that I need to bury it in the back yard. I still have my paternal grandmother’s 1906 wedding dress, I think that it might fit my left leg. I spent the day cleaning the garage, full truck load to the dump. Wish I could have borrowed a bigger truck! My daughter gave me a book on de-cluttering for Christmas, and I have loaned it out more than once.

    1. Wow! You are making a lot of progress! Sounds like your “de-cluttering” has helped others in the process. Nice job! Think your daughter should be proud !! Thanks for sharing ❤️❤️❤️

  2. What a beautiful piece! I’m also so proud of you❤️❤️I think you’re doing what writer JD Salinger talked about and “removing the distractions “ for your true calling.
    Since delving more and more into myself, even reading their first book, I have purged a ton.
    Clothes have been my final frontier. I am gradually whittling them down. They encourage 33 items or less but I’m not there yet. Though I’m proud, shoes and all I’m down to 70 or less which is unheard of for this retired clothes horse.
    I’ve always equated clothes with beauty since I was raised this way and working in a clothing store didn’t help. I spent years having to look a certain way and hours in thrift stores. I don’t do that anymore. I’m big on asking what TheMinimalists day to ask before buying something: “ will this add value to my life? ”
    It feels much better to ask that than “Why not get this and this and this?”
    Keep up the excavating and selling! It ‘lol definitely make life so much lighter.

    1. The “ final frontier” LOL! Yes clothes are a hard one for me too. But have passed on a lot recently. It does make you feel lighter. Will have to check out that site ! It’s a good way of thinking about non essential purchases.Thanks friend ❤️

  3. Pat Motschwiller says:

    Photos are hard for me to give up!! I have a few boxes of old photos…from my parents and an elderly aunt that died many years ago!! I don’t know who many of the people are…and there are not too many relatives who could tell me…but I hold onto them!! LOL But in reality…I have lots of “stuff” I need to go through and purge. I just have lots of room to keep things and little time to go through them, so for now, they will be my future retirement project:)

    1. I totally get that! I keep my photos and letters ❤️

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