I’ve been spring cleaning. Ok, it’s significantly more than spring cleaning, but I’m calling it that because Trimming My Life’s Possessions Down in Anticipation of Moving to Another Country is just bulky. For the last six or seven weeks, I’ve had the urge to have a massive clear-out and tidy-up and throw-away, and when I came back from visiting Phil in England, that impulse could no longer be ignored. We may not know exactly when, yet, but we know I’ll be packing up and moving to Yorkshire to be with him in the not-impossibly-distant future. So I came back to Portland all fired up to do the spring cleaning, but also to start getting rid of things I know aren’t going to make the trans-Atlantic cut.
It felt great. Taking bags of seldom-worn clothing and decade-old knick knacks and never-unpacked picture frames to Goodwill. Pulling exactly seven DVDs that I actually want to keep and selling off all the rest. Culling supplies for crafts I am never going to learn and donating them to Scrap PDX. That bit was my favorite: having all those yards of fabric and yarn and obsolete embroidery transfers and bags of buttons gone gave me a breath of creative fresh air. Things I wasn’t ever going to use – wasn’t even interested in using – still managed to make noise in the back of my head and when they were gone the quiet was suddenly so productive. I’ve made more new things in the last two weeks than I have in the preceding six months.
The hard part of this process came when I got down to letters and photographs and picture albums. During the move from Chicago to Portland in 2012, I deliberately didn’t look at any of those things. I just sealed them up and brought them, with a lick and a promise to go through them later. I knew at the time that I wasn’t going to keep a lot of it, but I wasn’t ready to go through 15 or 20 years of my own history and talk to it. So I’ve been doing that these last few weeks, and it’s been joyous and painful and funny and sweet. A lot of things simply got read and discarded. Many more have been uploaded to online storage or allocated to be scanned for later uploading.
The process has made me think about how I interact with the artifacts of myself. I haven’t made everything digital, by any means. I’m not comfortable with the idea of keeping all the papers and pictures of my life in the cloud. There are things I may never look at again now that they’re in internet storage limbo, but I’m still not willing to say goodbye to them completely. I have problems with fuzzy memory and there are things I want to keep as touchstones to situate myself. There are other things that make me cringe and that I’d love to let go, and yet, and yet: some of those things are very important artifacts of ways in which I’ve changed and how hard it was to make those changes. And so I kept them in all their awkward physical reality in order to keep the threads of who I am and how I got here.
But I think the most interesting part of the process for me has been the things I’ve chosen to let go, but have given closure to in some way. Either I’ve found a new home for them – dozens of postcards I bought during a summer college course in England, quilt blocks for a project I’m never going to finish – or I’ve given them a sort of social media Viking funeral via Twitter or Instagram or Facebook. The act of posting a picture or a few lines of memorializing text about the thing I’m letting go has somehow made it more concrete in my memory, more fixed in the story of myself, than keeping it in a box in the closet ever did. Those things, that were not important or intact enough to keep, have somehow achieved a more vivid life than a number of the more vital things that got put back in boxes or uploaded to archives. How often will I visit or remember or need the things I’ve kept? Who knows. But the tiny white jacket with red trim that my mother crocheted when I was born, which I wore and which all my siblings wore after me, and which was far too greyed and shabby to give to the next generation, got a fitting and affectionate goodbye before I put it in the trash. I think that’s better than keeping it forever in a heedless box under the bed.