10/09/2014 07:07 am ET Updated Dec 09, 2014

Clinging To The Past

I am a collector. A saver. Despite countless futile attempts to rid myself of what my husband refers to as clutter, I find it difficult to throw things away. Over the years the death of loved ones has served to intensify my need to embrace cartons of what I view as priceless keepsakes.

I recognized the need to create more space in our home so, once again, I set about to go through those cartons with a goal of throwing things away. This time I was determined. This time I would forget sentiment. I would keep only what I absolutely need, offer some things to my children, donate some to charity, and have a yard sale with the rest.


As I sat cross-legged on the dusty, splintered attic floor, emptying and sorting through each box, I became lost in a time warp. The floor was my canvas, I was the artist, and the assorted articles that encircled me in various, colors, shapes and textures, were the medium that portrayed my life.

I found my grandmother's irreplaceable recipes, and as I clutched them to my breast and closed my eyes I could taste her mouthwatering knishes, kugel and blintzes. As a youngster I followed her around her basement kitchen noting each ingredient she used to magically create her delicacies. I tried to figure out the measuring equivalents for "handfuls" and "pinches" as she skillfully tossed spices and herbs into simmering kettles on her stove.

I relived the milestones associated with old greeting cards and caressed the yellowing photographs and possessions of departed loved ones. Those items would be meaningless to anyone else, but to me each one summoned a spectrum of incredible feelings.

How could I give up my dear late brother's matchbooks and hotel keys collected from his many trips around the world; his journals filled with stories of presidents and beggars he'd befriended, and his poetry that gave insight into his soul? Could I part with his pillow that I press to my face in search of his familiar scent, or his Rolodex, tightly crammed with his lifetime of relationships?

And what about my father's collection of first edition postcards? He had been a Letter Carrier in our small town, back in the early 1940s, and had proudly displayed the shiny number "1" on his gray uniform cap like a badge of honor. I recalled his stories about mail deliveries he'd made on foot, in snow storms, and the friendly homeowners who greeted him with coffee and hot chocolate. His ready smile, charisma and compassion had made him a legend in the small farming town of Union, New Jersey. Could I hand his prized collection of postcards to a collector for mere monetary reward?

Could I throw away my mother's treadle sewing machine that had been passed down from her mother? She made all of our clothes on it. One year my brother and I proudly presented her with a modern Singer, with a zillion attachments. She was embarrassed that she couldn't get the hang of it and continued to use her old machine -- in secret.

My mother was a beautiful, elegant woman, who delighted in dressing up. She had countless pairs of gloves, in supple leather, decorative lace and soft cotton, in every length and color. How could I sell them to a stranger at a garage sale, whose only interest would be in the attached price tag she would press to have lowered?

I couldn't possibly throw away my children's primitive drawings and hand crafted creations, presented to me with love and pride so long ago. My heart overflows with pleasure every time I look at them.

My home has never been a place to simply eat and sleep. It is my sanctuary. It reflects and embraces my life. Nearly every surface is covered with tangible evidence of my family's existence in the form of photographs, porcelain and crystal animal collections, pottery, ceramic dolls, collages and paintings. My past and my present co-exist. I've always derived great pleasure from living in the moment, but I find equal merit in preserving yesterday.

I now accept that I am too emotionally involved to objectively sort through those boxes with a goal of getting rid of things. It will be a job best left for my children when I'm gone. But, I hope that in their pursuit of neatness and organization they don't miss out on experiencing the wonderful surge of emotions that come with sifting through one's history. Hopefully they will be fortified with memories and disclosures, just as I am each time I find myself sitting on the attic floor surrounded by pieces of my past, in yet another failed attempt at throwing away what my home doesn't need, but my insatiable spirit covets.

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

Ways To Live More Simply