Why I Still Have Birthday Cards From 8 Years Ago And What I’m Finally Doing About It

I don’t know about you, but I have a ton of old stuff that I’ve saved over the years. I’m a terribly sentimental person and, while this is something I usually don’t mind, I also know that a line exists between sentimentality and irrational attachment. If you’ve been following what I’ve been up to lately, you’ll know I’m in the middle of a big move to a studio apartment. This will be the first time I’ll be completely on my own. And, while I don’t have truckloads of big furniture, I have a lot of little things: birthday and holiday cards soaked with glitter and ink, clothes I’ve outgrown physically and emotionally, and little knickknacks picked up at garage sales.

This wouldn’t be a problem except that I’ve been changing residence every one to two years, if not less. And I’m not as settled as I thought I’d be by now. So, today, instead of finding reason to take these things with me to yet another residence, I found a trash bag and filled it up. And before you start imagining me in a whirlwind, disposing of each and every item in my path, know that there are things I still can’t part with. But this act has been a trimming of the debris. And there was a lot it.

But why does this matter to me so much? Why write a post about it?

I surrounded myself with objects. In a way they locked me in a cycle of reoccurring memories, the good and the bad, and insulated me from living in the present. I envy those who are able to get rid of things easily. To let go. But that’s something I’ve always struggled with and throwing things away is on different.

Let’s just focus on the birthday cards. These were from the time when I turned 20 and 21. For me, objects hold meaning and stored energy. Power. And the only reason they have that power is that, somewhere along the way, I’ve attached it to them. But how much power should they have? How much meaning? And which of each of these powers and meanings are inherent in the object? And which are pressed upon these objects by me? It’s not that I necessarily wanted to keep these birthday cards and other randoms oddities. It’s more that I never saw a functional reason to get rid of them. They were nice. And sweet. The memory of a relative. The joy of an old friend. And as long as they could be stuffed away in some decaying cardboard box in the back of my closet, what harm were they really causing?

But now they’re accumulated weight. And that’s weight I can no longer carry with me. And what does it say about all of these things that I’m apparently sentimental about if the only time I look at them is when I’m digging through the depths of my possessions. Instead, I’m making deliberate decisions to get rid of things rather than passively hold on to them just because I can. Because, really, I can’t anymore. And the only person I need to justify this to is myself, if I need to justify anything at all.

And of course I read every single card just before I shoved it into the trash bag. In the cards I found all the who’s and what’s. Good tidings for who I was or who I was going to be. The thought that I was moving towards something great. But something no one could predict. And I found myself bawling my eyes out. And no one should have to place so much weight in objects or the words inside. And yet I did. Unintentionally. And that’s not to say I’ll never do it again. It’s a habit that’ll be hard to break. But now it’s at least something I’ll be aware of. Maybe I’ll be able to catch myself in the act. But the most important thing is what the objects represent and not the objects themselves. Keeping those ideas dear and not as a proxy to the material.

Now, I’m sitting here on a Saturday night, writing about what today meant to me. I’m emotionally exhausted, but clear-headed. I’m a bit lighter. Some blockages have opened up in me. Some fears removed. And I can say with confidence that the loss I thought I’d be feeling is not present. I thought I’d feel a void, but that isn’t true. I found, instead, insights into myself and other objects with more tangible value. Among them, one I decided to keep was a small telescope I must’ve received as a gift when I was about 9 or 10. Something like that is timeless, good for looking out ahead and finding clarity. I’m hoping for more of that in the days and years to come.

2 thoughts on “Why I Still Have Birthday Cards From 8 Years Ago And What I’m Finally Doing About It

  1. Nice article Alan.Yeah, I keep a lot of stuff. Some of it does bring back memories. I still have birthday cards like “You’re Four.” Hah.

    1. Like I said above, it wouldn’t be a problem if I wasn’t moving as much as I am. But sooner or later, all those little things add up to a ton of weight. And I don’t need to carry all that around unnecessarily. Good for material and emotional cleansing.

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