Our Stuff

My mother took all the photos in our family. That’s why you never see any pictures of her. When she had died and my father was moving out of the house he tasked me with going through all the family photo albums and sorting out what to keep and what to throw away. There were over 40 albums, not to mention drawers and drawers of photos, some in that packaging you get when you take film to a photography outlet and some just randomly assorted. It was a mess. I suspect the assignment was handed out reluctantly, of all the family members I am the least sentimental and an outspoken minimalist. There would be worry, what would I throw out. My mother would be rolling over in her grave.

I decided I would keep only the best photographs. Where the main subject of the photo was my Dad the pictures would go in an album just for him. The same with my two brothers. It was rather obvious who was the focus of each picture, so the task of sorting was easy. The harder task was deciding what to keep and what to throw away. My mother would not have thrown one of these photos away BUT the result would have been that all of these photos, all of these albums, would overwhelm who ever received them. By sheer necessity the albums would have been stored somewhere like an attic or basement and likely never seen again until a funeral when they would be used for one of the boards of pictures you see at the night of visitation and reception after the funeral.

My hope was by scaling it back to two albums per person my Dad and my brothers would be more likely to put the albums in a usable space, that they would be looked through often, a part of our lives just as all of the art on our walls become part of our everyday consciousness. So I created three albums for Dad, one of photos of Dad and Mum when they were dating and newly married, and two of them with a growing family, right up to the present. For each brother there were two albums, at the beginning was a photo taken at their birth. This must have been a thing in the 1960’s as each of had a single photo wrapped in the blanket of a newborn.

The photos spanned our development, interests, friends, marriages, work, graduation, and fun times. I places the pictures in chronological order. I am good at jamming as many pictures as can fit on a page. I am less good at doing this in an eye pleasing fashion. There are no frilly additions, no quotes, and no headings. I would utterly fail any scrap book course!

I made only one album for me. The album is a greatest hits of photos of my life. I keep it in a very accessible place, I look at, Lucy looks at it, and it has become a part of my everyday consciousness just as I hoped. My Dad was very pleased, I see his three albums in his apartment. He says he looks at them quite often. Not surprisingly my two brothers would drop by the house after I had been busy purging and sorting the photos and look through the garbage bags full of discarded photos. Each had their own collection of photos I deemed expendable but they felt were important. I have seen some of these caches of pictures and I have to admit some cause me to scratch my head and wonder what I was thinking.

Still, I am convinced that given when Dad put his head to this matter, with the house sold and deadlines approaching, that my method was likely the only one that would have found us in any place other than 40 albums in someone’s attic or basement.

My mother used to say, “don’t throw that out, we might need that one day.” Or she would say, “we can’t throw that out, that item reminds me of (you fill in the blank of a relative who has died)”. My response was always the same, I agreed that some items could well be used by someone some day and that some items could not be parted with because of the memories they engendered. Unlike my daughter I am not a strict minimalist, I get the attraction of some items and what they mean to us and can used by us as unexpected gifts. But if these items are so numerous and so disorganized and so inaccessible how will they a) be seen and b) be available when needed for that special person? Prioritizing our belongings, purging what we never think about or need, allows us to finally see each day what is truly valuable and life-giving. Contrary to conventional wisdom holding on to everything you have actually means you will not see the items that really matter because they will be covered over, stored under, the avalanche of things you never look at and matter little to you.

In October Bethany has a large community Fall Fair where we sell household treasurers, using the entire church as a showroom. Should anyone reading this blog want to engage in some necessary purging you know who to call, where to take the items you have not missed or looked at since 1976. 40 years is a long time to hold on to something “because one day you might need it.”