There’s something about summertime that causes me to contemplate life’s transitions. Whether it is triggered by the last child moving up to middle school, the last child graduating, or the realization that they’re really not coming back (except for brief visits), summer is the time when our new life stage hits me. Over the years, it is during this season that I have evaluated why there are still baby toys still in my sixth-grader’s closet, or more recently, why a bathroom that my boys shared in their youth still harbored rubber duckies and water pistols while they were away at college. When there is insufficient storage space for current interests because the closets are stuffed with relics of the past, it’s time to do something about it.
Women’s magazines are full of articles about purging excess stuff, de-cluttering, organizing, and strategies for ‘the best garage sale ever.’ They admonish us to make three piles: things to keep, things to sell or give away, and things to be tossed in the trash. Children who are still in the household can make their own decisions about things that should be parted with, and mine hosted some lucrative garage sales along the way. But I’ve never seen a magazine article that acknowledges the real emotion – even the grieving – that comes with trying to dispose of things that were once ever-so-meaningful to our children, but will never be played with by them again.
The three-pile strategy works for me – for a while. Some stuff is just stuff. It’s not too hard for me to toss what is really trash, and I can generally sort out the few items I’d definitely like to keep for future grandchildren. But that strategy breaks down when I run into a patch of things I’ve imbued with precious mom memories. Some things, either singly or as a group, trigger powerful, sweet remembrances of life stages that will be no more. When I find myself sitting in a sea of childhood things and paralyzed by my task, here’s a strategy that has helped me honor my emotions, and yet move on.
Instead of lumping things that should be given away into one pile, I try to imagine who would really enjoy the things that I’ve imbued with such maternal value. Is it the child down the street, a favorite pre-school or elementary school teacher, or a charity that serves kids? By picturing a specific, happy new end-user of the items in question, I can free myself to let go and become a cheerful giver.
Of course, identifying just the right receiver for each item and delivering it to them is much more time consuming than putting everything out on the porch for the next charity pick-up in the neighborhood. Certainly it involves many more piles, some research to determine whether a particular charity you have in mind can actually accept what you have to offer, and “inefficient” trips hither and yon, sometimes for a single item. But it makes me smile when I can share something that has been precious to me with a young mom, infuse a classroom with books and games appropriate for indoor recess use, or introduce new resources to a child care setting.