Respect the past. Don't immortalize it.

For the love of god. That travel shampoo from your hotel stay on your honeymoon is not the embodiment of your marriage. You can throw it away, I promise.

I want to talk about stuff. Specifically, the crap you hold on to because it reminds you of something. It might be hanging on a wall or displayed on a mantel, but I'm mostly referring to the keepsakes stuffed in dresser drawers or boxed up in the garage. You know, the stuff you haven't touched in a couple of years.

I'm in the middle of a layover and staying with parents while our apartment in Seattle gets renovated. This has meant spending a lot of time with various family members to whom I'm extremely grateful. They're providing us a place to sleep and helping look after our pets. Moves of this magnitude require help and we're glad to have it. So, thank you parental units.

These thoughts aren't directed at everyone and I want to make that clear. The notion of having too much stuff is very much a first world problem. I don't mean to sound cavalier about anyone's personal possessions. More than anything, I'm having a little fun with this.

Now parents, we have to talk about all that junk. And it is junk. It's time to accept that getting rid of old jerseys doesn't mean we never played sports. Donating those old prom dresses doesn't mean your daughter was never the belle of the ball. You can toss out the kids' old stuff, paint the bedroom, and turn it into an office.

It won't be easy. I know because you've told me ;)

The Defense

I've heard the opposition. There are two primary arguments for hanging on to things past their expiration date.

  1. When I was younger, you didn't just throw stuff away. Times were hard.
  2. It has sentimental value.

Times Were Hard

Let's start with the first defense. Children raised by parents who lived during the Great Depression hold a unique set of values. They were raised to keep what little they had and finding a way to reuse things was a way of life. Simply put, the times did the dictating.

I'm glossing over a lot, but understanding the genesis provides context for why things started getting collected. You held on to stuff because re-buying was cost-prohibitive. This does not, however, explain why things are kept today.

The end of World War II brought about the the golden era of economic growth that lasted all the way into the early 1970s. This means my parental units were raised seeing things on the rise. They begin their careers in the mid-70s and continued gaining experience and stability through the 80s and 90s. A picture is worth a thousand words, so have a look at the following graph.

img Source: MID IDE

I say all the above to say this. Several decades of constant economic growth and general prosperity should have tempered the notion that you might need to disassemble the old toaster to fix the AM radio. We just don't live in those times any longer.

Globalization, technology, and manufacturing has improved to make everyday items cheap and abundant. Moreover, families likely have more spending ability than they did coming out of the Great Depression. Simply put, things are cheaper and families have more money.

Let this empower you.

Toss out those jars of mismatched screws. Chuck those old incandescent bulbs you kept after switching over to LED/CFL. Erase the hard disk drives in the old computers sitting in the garage and get them recycled. Embrace an empty shelf and a clean counter.

I'm not promoting a wasteful existence, but we all need to find the right balance with our stuff. You should be able to move around your apartment, house, or garage without having to clear a space to get some work done. It's no longer okay to blame the way things used to be for the way things are. Enjoy the fact that times are good and you don't have to act like a squirrel hoarding acorns for a winter that's not coming.

Sentimental Value

This one fires me up because it is such a straw man argument. The greatest memories are such because they are fleeting. Furthermore, they are great because they are rare. The beauty lies in the brevity.

I'm not here to tell you that we should topple the monuments of great men. I don't want to burn down the photography industry. I certainly don't want to melt down all the wedding rings circling the fingers of loving couples, but we need to gain some perspective.

We must respect the past, not immortalize it.

Start becoming more discerning between the intentions of things. Let's take a painting, for example. An artist renders something inspirational knowing it's likely to find a semi-permanent home on a wall somewhere. The key here is the intent. A painting has the intention of being possessed and displayed. You can't say the same about a dinner receipt from your high school prom. The inherent meaning of the receipt is a record of the food you bought. It does not represent the wonderful (or awful) time you had while having that meal. So please, throw that receipt in its proper place, the garbage.

Throwing your junk away is not akin to erasing history. That lame wine stopper your friend likely re-gifted to you as a going away present is just a way to represent a thank you. It's the physical manifestation of appreciation. And as such, it can be graciously received and then left to take it's natural place in the repository of thanks you've received throughout your life. It's not intended to represent your friendship because hopefully friendships are worth more than a cheap store-bought item.

Maintaining Balance

Just like so many thing in life, it is important to strike a balance. This is no different with your material goods. Holding on to too much makes you a hoarder. Holding on to too little makes you an extreme minimalist.

Try to avoid injecting meaning into objects that have none. This mentality frees you from seeking out false idols and allows you to focus on moments rather than things. That moment will become more concentrated and vivid while creating a more lasting place in your memory.

Life is about moments. Aim for the experience itself and not the magnet on the fridge that says, I was there.