Despite what many people think of minimalism or simple living – namely that it’s about living in a sparse white house with few personal touches – I’m here to tell you it’s not a matter of tossing out mementoes, forsaking the past and disregarding sentimentality.
Actually, for some it might be. And that’s cool. Whatever floats your boat.
But what can’t be denied is this: simplicity is about stripping back the inessential. Promoting what you love and paying attention to what is important. So to disregard your past and cast off all photos, mementoes and markers of time is unnecessary.
Instead, we need to make time and space to mindfully remember.
Stuff Doesn’t Equal Memories
It’s important to understand that your memories – while tied to a certain item – are not in that item. And if you give the item away, you are not forsaking the memories attached to it.
People are afraid of forgetting, I get that. You’re afraid of forgetting people, moments, feelings. So you hold on to everything that reminds you and everything that could potentially remind you. You hold on out of fear and guilt.
But instead of blindly holding on, make time to mindfully remember. Mindfully remember the past and then go live in the present.
Life is constant river. You cannot, no matter how hard you try, hold on to the water that flows swiftly through your fingers. It passes straight through, regardless of whether you want it to or not.
Memories fade. It’s a truth.
And if you spend your days trying desperately to remember, to preserve feelings and thoughts and experiences that have already happened, you are not living. You aren’t engaged in the moment. You aren’t present. You aren’t paying attention to what is happening right in front of you. And what is that saying to the people you’re with?
Yes, the glory days were wonderful. You were young, beautiful, free, adventurous, untethered, needed, loved, nurtured, maternal or the life of the party.
And guess what? Today you can be beautiful, free, adventurous, needed and loved. You can be all those things. So celebrate by living it. Today.
What Does This Look Like – in Real Life?
All this might sound fine in theory.
But what about being faced with real-life decisions? What about artwork from your kids? Gifts from your loved ones? Family heirlooms? This stuff also makes up life, and to disregard it completely is to stick your head in the sand. At some point you will have to make decisions about what to do with it.
Instead of mindlessly holding on to all of it, you need to make time and space to mindfully remember.
Choose a photo of a happy time – a holiday, family reunion a particularly joyful afternoon in the garden – and display it. Give it space. Celebrate it. Remember it. Because one photo on an otherwise empty shelf tells you and those who see it that this moment, this person, this event is worth remembering.
Create one photobook each year, and include all your favourite images in it. Holidays, birthdays, sunrises, cheeky grins – all those moments worth celebrating. That one photobook of images from the past year is an act of mindfully remembering.
Pick a family heirloom and display it. Give it space and a place of importance. One crystal bowl from your grandmother displayed on your otherwise bare dining table means so much more than five of them covered in dust and packed away in the garage. Celebrating that one item speaks volumes on how you feel about her.
If it’s a memory rather than a thing, get it on paper. Write a note about how you felt when your husband proposed/your daughter was born/you got your job/bought your puppy/the plane took off on your first trip. Frame it, stick it to the frigdge, include in your photobook. Celebrate it and mindfully remember.
However you decide to celebrate your memories, it’s important to give them space. They need space and light and room to breathe. And for some, the space required to celebrate these things seems like emptiness. But I believe these moments deserve space.
We absolutely need to remember.
We need to remember in order to learn. To celebrate. To appreciate where we’ve come from and how much we’ve grown. To remember who we love and how we’ve loved them.
We need to mindfully and intentionally remember. Not out of fear or guilt, but out of love and joy and respect.
The way you remember matters.