“Looking Back and Letting Go,” Aug. 27, 2019

Slowly, we are trying to unpack, in a new house that’s half the size of the old one we moved out of three months ago.

We wanted to downsize. But wanting to do something is not the same as getting it done. Part of the problem is that my husband, bless him, is an incredibly sentimental soul.

OK, fine, we both are.

We’ve been blessed to live full and interesting lives, including the almost 20 years we’ve been together. And we’ve got the stuff to prove it:

Paintings and photos and family keepsakes; cards and drawings our kids made in school; mementos and gifts from friends and loved ones who are gone but not forgotten; posters from concerts we think we attended and souvenirs from places we think we went; awards we won for doing stuff that we don’t remember doing.

We got rid of so much of it before we moved that now, when we look at all those boxes stacked in our new garage, we think maybe the moving company got us mixed up with people who are wondering what happened to all their stuff.

Actually, we don’t think that. We have looked inside most of those boxes. We know that stuff is ours. We just need to do one of three things: (1) Get rid of it; (2) Leave it where it is; or (3) Find some place to put it.

We’ve ruled out options 1 and 2, more or less, and are now scratching our heads on 3.

I swore when we moved here we wouldn’t clutter it up. I need to remember not to swear. This place is filling up fast, floors and walls, cupboards and closets, drawers and shelves, nooks and crannies, even the dark creepy places under the sinks where dark creepy spiders lie in wait.

A few days ago, my husband generously decided to give me any space that’s left in the house (not that there’s much) for my stuff, and he would take the garage — or rather, any garage walls not covered with boxes.

Then he went in the garage and started hammering. He hammered a long time. Finally, he took a break and he yelled for me to come look.

I wish you could’ve seen it.

There were pictures of his boys when they were small. A couple of paintings he did in college. A shot of his dad in the newsroom where he worked. A scorecard from the Giants’ first victory at Pac Bell Park. A poster from a Keb Mo concert. And two lovely photos of happy couples on their wedding day — his folks and us.

“Looks great!” I told him.

“Thanks,” he said, pointing, “but look behind you.”

By the door to the kitchen, in a space that was supposed to have been for his things, he had hung two of my favorite keepsakes:

The first was a painting of the house we moved from, the place where I raised my kids. I had packed it for the move and wasn’t sure I could look at it again. But seeing it hanging there felt good, like running into an old friend and remembering all the good times we’d shared.

The other treasure was a long ago Mother’s Day gift from my daughter: A framed collection of snapshots showing me with her and her two brothers in a span of 25 years from when they were born until they were grown.

In each of those photos, my hair is a different style and a different color. It looks like a catalog for cheap wigs. But the woman in those photos seems happy and content, as if she were meant to be a mother and wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Why did my husband choose to hang those things for me?

I can think of two reasons: First, he likes making me happy. It’s part of why I married him.

Second, he knows me well. That’s also part of why I married him, even when it annoys me.

Letting go is never easy. But it helps somehow to see reminders of where I’ve been and what I’ve done and all the people I have known and loved. It makes me want to wake up each day just to see what will happen next.


  1. Been there. Done that. I’d have bought the Tshirt, but I have n0 more room! Seriously, we moved 3 years ago after 40 years in our former home.We are in independent living and I love it here. We still have stuff, but as long as I can get the car in the garage, I’m okay with it.

  2. Ricky W Christian says

    You are such a pleasure to read!

  3. Mike Belcher says

    Friend of mine forwarded me your article which reflects what we incurred several years ago moving from a two story larger house where we lived for twenty years into a smaller home in an over 55 community which was the best thing we ever did. As we get older, we loose our work connections after retirement, our children move out and we loose their friends family connections and our friends move on or God forbid pass on and studies show there is a direct connection between isolation and loneliness to our physical/mental wellbeing. These communities are an avenue to build new relationships. Our only challenge is our own comfort zone, to open up to new friendships and getting involved in clubs and events. Stay safe!

  4. Joleen Hevner says

    If I were ever to get back to the Peninsula I had plans to visit you in that house that brought such heartfelt memories. That settles it… you’ll just have to visit us during Jonesborough Storytelling time!
    Love you, my friend.

  5. Kate Sciacca says

    Such a beautiful story… not sure why, but most of my best memories are still in my head – they do take up an awful lot of space there…. which is why finding my glasses is a constant battle 😀

    Other than framed photos, and the 1988 World Series pennant flag from my boys in blue (never going to have another one of those ☹️) I have no problem tossing the rest. A friend recently told me about “Swedish death cleaning” – I must be part Swedish!

    “In My Father’s House there are many mansions” – wonder what those are filled with…🤔

  6. Janet Mann says

    Your writings make me happy to know there are other people that think and do the things I think and do. We live in a 100+ year old house that is FULL! My husband is an invalid and we have talked for 5 years of moving and down sizing. Only things are: our resources are limited and none of the houses we have looked at will hold the dining room table I looked for for years and found. With its leaves it will hold 14 people. A good size for our family dinners, plus another table. How do you dispose of all the memories? All the things you listed above. I guess as long as my health holds, we will stay put. Familiararity (?) is so comfortable and handy. Love your writings. Keep it up!

  7. I ‘swear’ we are sisters from different mothers. I always relate to what you say and again understand your feelings. Thanks for putting in writing what my heart thinks.

  8. We downsized to a condo almost 6 years ago and I still have packed boxes in the garage and I don’t know what to do with the contents. I also still buy things I don’t have a place to put them, mostly antique glassware that I like but isn’t valuable anymore. Love your writing.

  9. Shirley Thacker says

    You are such a special writer/story teller. . . You write from your heart and soul! Thank you!

  10. Cathy Followell says

    Lord have mercy! I love you and your heart. You have such a way of putting things into words that just makes me happy.

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