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August 3, 2016 / Rae Spencer

Lost Time

Squirrel May 2

Every so often, time slips sideways. One week it’s May, and the next week July scrolls into August. I have photos and bills to prove that June actually happened, but it happened in a blur of travel, home repairs, and unhoarding.

Rabbit May 11

My unhoarding saga began after Mother died, when the extent of her hoarding (and mine) could no longer be overlooked.

Eggs May 14

Mother’s hoard was generational. Parts of it accreted as she raised five children, other parts were passed down from two much-loved grandmothers, a formidable mother, a pair of admired aunts, and a somewhat difficult mother-in-law. With each obituary and burial came new photos, letters, books, furniture, glassware, doilies, and quilts.

Hoverfly May 14

The women who raised Mother had filled their homes with small treasures, and, because each of them had very real memories of hard, empty years, they treasured everything. Everything held a story, and all of the stories were passed to Mother (who had no siblings) for safe-keeping.

Ladybug July 15

Fighting her own memories of hard, empty years, Mother made room for everything, stuffing her house to the eaves with family history. She made room in her heart, too, and genuinely loved this patchwork collection of heirlooms.

Dragonfly July 15

She loved it, that is, until it overwhelmed her.

Swallow May 26

The hoard took over Mother’s house, just as my hoard was taking over mine. In her house, as in mine, cabinets were jammed full, drawers wouldn’t close, shelves bowed under their burdens, one entire room was given over to storage.

Ducks May 11

In the wake of Mother’s car accident and death, as I helped my siblings sort and pack five generations of Mother’s belongings, I resolved to make a change. I didn’t want to carry on this tradition, the death ritual of dividing the hoard. Treasures or not, I no longer needed or wanted most of the stuff I had been hoarding.

Robin May 24

Resolve is one thing, doing is another. And unhoarding is ridiculously hard work. It got even harder after I scraped off the easiest layers — books I was never going to read, clothes I was never going to wear, dishes I was never going to use. Then came the emotional stuff. Tattered childhood books. Scarred toys and threadbare stuffed animals. Memory-laden trinkets and gifts that warmed my hoarder’s heart.

Bee July 16

I spent hours and days and weeks putting off decisions, moving containers from one room to another, painting around them as I dithered. Some days I was tempted to ship them all off to thrift stores, unopened and unsorted. Other days I fought an urge to unpack everything, to binge on dusty memories.

Skipper July 8

But I don’t want to live in a box of memory. To be owned by the past. So this summer I’ve been cleaning and repairing toys and stuffed animals. Some few will stay with me, others will go to thrift stores. What can’t be salvaged will be recycled or sent to the landfill. (After being photographed, of course.) I’ve also been cutting up old books, calendars, and posters for use in current and future art projects.

Clearwing Moth July 16

Some memories I’m voluntarily discarding, others have been lost in the commotion. But the house gets lighter and brighter with each newly emptied container, with each completed project.

Carpenter Bee July 16

And it feels like an even exchange — memories for light. Time for time.

Tiger Swallowtail July 9

I think Mother would approve. I think all of them would approve.

9 Comments

  1. RobK / Aug 3 2016 7:13 PM

    Thoughtful post, thank you. And most excellent shots.

  2. Sharon Poch / Aug 4 2016 7:19 PM

    Rae, I most certainly approve — and will attempt to follow your lead.

  3. Sylvia Ismail / Aug 7 2016 3:40 PM

    So thoughtful and moving… You get right to the heart of the matter. Older generations treasured what they had through good times and bad, and how it accumulated! I have been in the same position as you, and chose a slightly different way to handle it, trying to match as much as I could of what we inherited to younger generations with particular interests in, say, Art Deco jewellery, or the history of aviation. That way, young members of the family share in a small portion of their ancestors’ lives.
    As for the house (and life) getting lighter and brighter as you move the collections on: Yes! That’s exactly right – aren’t we all just weighed down by our burdens of materials and memories?

    Beautiful photographs…

    • Rae Spencer / Aug 7 2016 4:15 PM

      Like you, we tried to pair our nieces and nephews with items of particular interest to them, but I’m finding that the next generation doesn’t collect and keep stuff the way Mother’s generation did (and mine does.) They seem content with their own memories, and with the few memories from previous generations that resonate with their experiences. I’m trying to learn from them, to switch my focus from the past to the future. 🙂

      Thank you for reading and commenting!

  4. mylatinnotebook / Aug 8 2016 12:33 PM

    So much happens in the summer, it’s hard to keep up!

  5. Laurel's Reflections / Oct 17 2016 12:17 AM

    “…memories for light. Time for time.” Beautiful.

    Learning to declutter has been part of my journey too – a natural collector and hoarder as a child, holding on tight to small beauties and memories that felt safe. Over time, between burglaries and moving (sometimes between continents), having less and less space in smaller homes, and also discovering the lightness that comes with fewer “things” and more space for the new, it’s becomes easier to both let go and accumulate less. I do still love holding on to a few special things though, and have had fun using old
    Mementoes in scrapbooks and other creative projects in recent years!

    • Rae Spencer / Oct 18 2016 2:39 PM

      I haven’t tackled the world of scrapbooking, mostly because I’m afraid my collecting obsession might take control. I would probably end up with a room full of scrapbooks, and be overwhelmed again.

      I did save a few small boxes of memories for use in future projects, but I’ve recently run out of energy. Hopefully I’ll be recharged by spring, which tends to be my cleaning up and clearing out season. Until then, I’m enjoying the empty spaces created by the work I did this summer. 🙂

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