Do you watch Parenthood? I’m loving that show (almost as much as Modern Family). On last week’s episode the mom decided to clean out her attic and make her grown children take all of their childhood crap to their own houses. My parents recently did the same thing. Actually, they barely waited until Nick and I had closed on our house to unload. My dad showed up in our driveway with a truckload of boxes. And then went back for more. Most of them were labeled “Erin’s memories” and contained things like Mets baseball posters and journals with three pages written and Disney World autograph books. There were a few boxes full of school binders--some dating back to elementary school (apparently I found it necessary to save my sixth grade report on Ireland with the green construction paper cover). My mom even tried to get me to take a box of rusty, dusty old trophies from my high school athletics days, including the one in the photo. Which, as you can probably see, is broken. Seriously?
But even as a kid filling these boxes I remember thinking, What if I write about my life someday and I need to look back at all this stuff for research? And I did write a book (shameless plug) but I don’t think I used much of my memory box in it. Probably because it was about cancer and not trips to Disney World. The reason I bring all this up is that I’m now the mom collecting my kids’ crap. Only I’m pretty ruthless about what to save and what to throw away (ruthless meaning I usually opt for the latter). My mom was a packrat enabler, unable to throw away anything herself (she has a collection of bridal and baby shower favors from about 20 years of parties), she encouraged me to save things I definitely could have thrown away. Like the program from my 4th grade holiday orchestra recital that simply lists my name (I played the cello and I wasn't good).
Alex goes to a really great daycare and he comes home almost every day with an art project. I admit sometimes I see them sitting in his cubby and if it’s just a few crayon marks on paper (he doesn’t seem to have inherited my love of art) or is messy sand glued on a page, I throw it out as soon as I get home. Or sometimes before we even leave. Of course when he creates something special I make a big deal out of it and I’ve even devoted a corner of the playroom to his masterpieces. See below:
But when he gets a little older and we redecorate am I going to move the spaghetti and meatball “painting” to a “memory box”? No. I’m going to throw it out. Because, let’s be honest, the kid is two. And he’s going to be doing a lot more memory-box worthy things in his life and I just don’t want to have that house that gets so bogged down in stuff, we can’t even find our basement floor. When I was leaving the hospital with Nora, a family friend happened to be there visiting so I asked her to help carry down some stuff. She started grabbing the pens and the little piece of paper from the bassinet and the gauzy stocking cap. She said I would want these things for the scrapbook, for the memories. I was like, really? More crap? I wound up throwing it all away a week later. (I think I put the Ruddy tag in her baby book, but I haven’t even written her name in that yet…which is a whole other story).
I want to be a good collector of memories, of important things that document my children's lives, but I also have an aversion to clutter and am desperately trying not to fill my house with things that are just going to get tossed in 20 years. But on the flip side, I know how fun it is to look back on the things you’ve done in life. Especially once you’re all grown up and have kids of your own. I have always loved to dig through my memory boxes, even when I was still creating those memories. I remember spending hours sitting in my room sneezing and sneezing as I flipped through old letters and cards and photos. I actually have a box of notes that were passed between my friends and I during 7th grade, which is genius (there are even a few love letters in there from a guy who is now one of our closest friends—along with his wife). I am so glad I saved that and that my mom never casually tossed it. And as a writer nothing is cooler than looking back at my many journals from over the years and seeing what and how I wrote. I want to save that kind of stuff for Alex and Nora too. I don’t want to seem unsentimental, because I think I am very much so, especially when it comes to family history (and, just so you don’t think me callous, I have two giant bulletin boards in my office full of pictures and announcements and invites that will never get thrown away). But I want to know where to draw the line. My mother never did.
So, let’s discuss. How do you figure out what to save and what to toss? Are you a packrat or a minimalist? (OR, like me, a packrat by nature who aspires to be a minimalist.) Where do you draw the line with your kids’ stuff?