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Who Am I Saving This Stuff for Anyway?

Monday, March 29, 2021

By Rachel Levy Lesser

Throughout this past year, I have spent a considerable amount of time cleaning out my house. I can hear my family laughing as I write this because, in truth, I spend a considerable amount of time every year cleaning out my house.

Channeling my inner Marie Kondo, I recalled the joy that my childhood dollhouse brought to me and thanked it for the memories. And then I took a hammer to its roof (which I had long ago shingled piece by piece with my own hands) smashing it to bits, stuffing it into a giant Hefty trash bag, and leaving it on the curb.

Being the only daughter and granddaughter of women with vast collections of dishes, linens, rugs — you name it — I inherited heaps of these beautiful items. While I still use some, and find joy in others, I have learned how to part with things that don’t serve me anymore— happily jettisoning several place settings for twelve, embroidered table runners, and monogrammed napkins.

But this year I had a different focus. I set out to tackle my kids’ stuff. And by kids I mean my seventeen-year-old son, who is the tallest person in our family (and we are tall people), and my fifteen-year-old daughter, who makes fun of me in a more sophisticated way than any adult ever has.

When I was in my early twenties, my mother called me at work one day and told me to come home before the end of the month or she would get rid of everything in my childhood bedroom. I imagined her burning the classics I read in high school, my treasured camp songbooks, and my beloved dollhouse. I arrived home in time to save the classics, which now live on my family room bookshelves. The camp songbooks are in boxes in my basement and the dollhouse, well, it had a different fate.

Conversely, my mother-in-law saved just about everything from my husband’s childhood. When we had kids of our own, she busted out his Sesame Street and Muppet figurines, his sister’s play kitchen, and a giant collection of 1970s board books. These 30-year-old toys entertained my kids for hours on end when we visited (even though I was never fully convinced that 70s Big Bird didn’t contain lead paint).

In the years since, we were amazed at what else my mother-in-law saved: ice skates, ski goggles, and 1980s Bar Mitzvah favors. It became a running joke in our extended family; my husband took the items his parents had saved for decades and promptly threw them in the trashcan, in front of them.

I laughed at the absurdity of it all. Yet, now I find myself in a precarious place, pit between throwing out an entire childhood and creating a museum in storage to preserve one.

As a seasoned purger, I regularly put together bags of old clothes and toys for hand-me-downs or donations. These tasks come rather easily to me. No strings (or emotions) attached. But these days I’m struggling with a handful of items that I can’t help but feel wedded to.

In our basement is a floor-to-ceiling set of bookshelves containing my daughter’s pottery and paintings from the last ten years. She created many of these childhood masterpieces in an after-school art class she took with her close friends. I thought those classes would never end, until they did.

In my son’s room is a large bulletin board filled with photos of his soccer and basketball teams, surrounded by his good friends and teammates. There’s also a poster of him in a Philadelphia 76ers jersey with a fake background of a packed NBA stadium — the memento from a day at the 76ers basketball camp when he was nine-years-old.

Buried deep in the back of my son’s closet is a container filled with elementary school yearbooks, bad preschool art, and a ratty old stuffed bear named Mr. Bear. My son slept with Mr. Bear for longer than he probably cares to remember. My husband and I once considered getting a backup in case we ever lost the original, but we realized that no bear could replace the picked at, smelly, droopy-eared, one and only, Mr. B.

Across the hall, in my daughter’s closet, lives Lamby. Lamby is a light pink, super soft, and well-loved stuffed lamb with a rattle sewn in. Lamby was a fixture in our home even before Mr. B. My daughter took her lamb everywhere. Over the years, I developed a Pavlovian response to anything that made a similar rattling noise. To me, that sound recalls a four-year-old girl with tight pigtails and a high-pitched voice entering my room and jumping into my arms.

Now I find myself in a precarious place, pit between throwing out an entire childhood and creating a museum in storage to preserve one.

I’ve asked my kids what to do with these items, but they answer indifferently.

“Whatever you want, Mom,” they’ll say.

Whatever I want? What the hell is that supposed to mean?

Don’t they remember how much joy these inanimate objects once brought them? How can they not recall that when the scary world of their childhood imaginations kept them awake at night, or when a fall in the backyard or a dropped ice cream cone in the parking lot brought them to tears, that Mr. Bear and Lamby were there, ready to snuggle, no questions asked, no judgment whatsoever.

Don’t they remember what they felt like when I picked them up from art class or basketball camp bursting with pride, showing me their latest keepsake? I recall a few nights when I had to pry said treasured objects out of their tiny, inconceivably strong grips.

I suppose they do remember on some subconscious level. But these visions are forever etched into my mind and memory.

Perhaps that is where I should keep them, forever.


Rachel Levy Lesser is the author of Life’s Accessories, A Memoir (And Fashion Guide). Her work has appeared in the Huffington Post, Glamour, Parenting, Modern Loss, Kveller and more. When not writing, Rachel can be found baking, as she hosts a show on A Mighty Blaze where she interviews cookbook authors and bakes along with them in her home kitchen. (She still lets her teenage kids lick the bowl.) Rachel is also forever practicing yoga, knitting scarves and wearing them, indoors.