Redefining Memory Keeping

In this post, I'm continuing to explore our theme of "Redefining Minimalism." When I think about minimizing, it can sometimes feel like loss. I connect memories and emotions to my beloved possessions. Especially when the person I associate with them is gone. I know, they are just possessions, right? Still, minimizing can feel like a loss of its own.

I’m not sure of the psychology of it all, but I know that when I think about getting rid of treasured items, it aches in a way that reminds me of the person I lost, so much, that it's a bit like experiencing that loss again.

So I have this piano. I don’t really play the piano. Not much. I can play at the proficiency level that was my 4th grade self who refused to practice consistently and was finally granted the permission to quit. In essence that means I can play Heart and Soul, Merrily We Roll along, an Elvis song I can’t quite remember the name of, and little else.

The piano takes up a little too much space, and my 18 month old son is constantly trying to climb it and open the cover. I’m sure he’ll smash his fingers one day, but I keep it because this piano is the one my sister and I both practiced on in our youth, the one my mother used to play, the one I dusted every week while doing my chores. It’s the piano that used to sit in my Great Aunt’s home until she gave it to us. It’s the piano that my father gave to me after my mother passed away and it’s the piano that my sister-in-law and brother-in-law carefully moved for me from my childhood home to my current home, for free, because they own a moving company, and their kindness was overwhelming. It’s the piano that my son’s tiny baby fingers played when he was just 6 months old and his eyes lit up with delight. When I think of letting go of this piano…it’s like I am talking about tearing those memories up and scattering them to the wind. Especially the memory of my mother, her fingers curved over the keys, her face concentrating on the music, losing herself in the sound and rhythm.

How do you minimalize a thing like that? We all have objects like this. Objects that hold profound memories. Each memory is a story and story is our lifeblood as humans. Honestly? I’m not sure. I’ve had ideas. An artistic photo, framed and cherished is probably the best one so far. I can’t imagine dismantling the piano to make something else out of it. It’s a decent instrument that deserves to be played. I think about keeping it for my son to play and the history that would continue to build.

For now, we don’t have to get rid of it. For now, we have the space even if it’s a bit cramped. I don’t have to make this heartrending decision, yet. However, for many deciding to go tiny, you are wondering “what do I do?” “How do I let go of all of this history?” These are not easy questions. Part of the issue is that we believe the object itself is the memory, and if we let it go, the memory goes with it.

There is something uniquely human in this experience. When we are little we develop the idea of object permanence by throwing something on the floor and it returns to the table or highchair just like that. Oh! It’s still there! (it also becomes a fun game) so this object permanence follows us throughout our lives. People come and go, emotions come and go, life changes and moves like the flowing of a river you can never set foot in twice, but objects, we see them as permanent, even if they are not. We rub a worry stone, we collect turtles in every place we visit, we get tattoos to mark events and milestones, we create things, build homes, carve relationships in trees, press leaves in books...We keep things, but we don't just keep things, we keep memories. We crave permanence, and solidity in our ever-changing world. It’s comforting knowing some things don’t change. So here we are, in adulthood, looking at that piano and all it encompasses and represents. When my mother’s impermanence became apparent, the piano she loved, sat in her stead.

Sometimes, embracing the idea that everything is impermanent can help us move into a new state of thinking and feeling. Realizing that even the objects of permanence that we've cherished will break down, will falter, will fade, will crumble, makes me cling to the things that we know are the result of sharing life with someone. As long as I'm alive I will have my mother's smile, her hands, her love for eating small spoonfuls of brown sugar when baking cookies, and every little thing that she taught me along the way. How to tie my shoes, brush my hair, have grace in the difficult times, how to love the beauty of a sunset with childlike wonder and most importantly how to be a mother. She left behind more than a piano for me to remember her by. She left behind me and my sister and my father. Each of our lives deeply and profoundly impacted by her life, as well as countless other souls on this earth that her life touched. She may have never met my beautiful son, but he will know her through me, and that is something more permanent and more beautiful than a piano. That is what I will hold on to when I have to make a choice about my mother's piano.

What are your objects of permanence? What are some ways that you can make peace with letting go of them? It’s not easy to let go and that's okay. It means the memories are worth holding onto. Also when you are holding tightly to something, your hand is closed and cannot receive the other good things that are out there. Memories are beautiful. They are the reminders of the life we’ve lived and the people we've lived that life with.

If your fear is that you may forget the memory when you let go of the object, maybe you can tell the story, record it in paint or paper or ink. Keep your memories in a way that honors them, in a way that honors your life experiences and the people that were a part of them, and once you've recorded the story, see if the object is something you can let go of.

The story is yours to tell, not just the one from the past but the one that takes you into the future.

Until next time,

Jessica and the Switchgrass family