By Jane Adams, author of Boundary Issues and When Our Grown Kids Disappoint Us.
Like a snake shedding its skin, I discarded remnants of myself before I closed, for the last time, the door of the Seattle loft I’d call home for 14 years.
Letting go of my books was harder than letting go of my kids had been. I had some volumes a lot longer, ones that traveled with me from a college dorm to a starter apartment, and island cottage, a house in the suburbs and a loft in the city. Even though half of the books had languished in boxes I had never got around to unpacking three moves earlier, I felt bereft without them.
It was the same with my clothes, even those that looked great in the dressing room but never made it beyond my bedroom door. Only slightly easier was setting aside all those silver bread trays and gravy boats and serving pieces I got as wedding gifts, the ones I polished every couple of years but never used. And the four drawers of photos that never made it into albums, including the faded snap photos I couldn’t bear to throw away when I cleaned out my parents’ house? Tossing my mother and father’s memories felt like burying them all over again.
My own souvenirs were even harder to discard – not the African masks still hanging on my walls or the lacquered trays I use almost daily, but all the other little tchotchkes that cluttered my life. Like the incense burner I bought in Morocco a decade ago. Often I’ve thought about the smell in the souk that day, the taste of the mint tea the shopkeeper proffered as we haggled over the price – but looking back now, I never needed that little piece of brass to remind me of Morocco.
Nostalgia is different from loss – one is memory the other is absence. Sorting and separating my lares from my penates, my must-haves from my don’t-needs, I finally came to feel a delicious sense of lightness. I was divesting, not downsizing, I realized the day I filed my change of address card with the post office. I didn’t get rid of stuff for lack of room in my new digs – my apartment was more space, not less. Downsizing is about pinching, restricting and cutting back while keeping yesterday’s dreams alive; divesting is about freedom, expansion, redefining the self and dreaming new ones.
Soon after the move, I traveled, and for the first time in my life, I returned without one souvenir. As long as my memory holds out, I don’t need any. As Emerson said, “Things are in the saddle and ride mankind.” These days I am riding into the future bareback, and it’s a wonderful feeling.