Once upon a time I romanticized moving day.
When my husband started graduate studies, I imagined packing up our condo, selling our belongings, and trekking overseas. I knew our time in this university town was temporary, and I savored the notion of reducing our lives to two suitcases. We’d be somewhat like Gandhi figures, possessing a loin cloth, a pair of glasses, and a spinning wheel. How freeing. How exhilarating. How romantic.
And then my husband and I settled into our humble home and acquired two children and a closet jam-packed with stuff.
Once our precious little bundles arrived, my priorities shifted. I simply couldn’t have my children sit on our flimsy futon, so we purchased a new couch. Our wobbly card table wasn’t fit for booster seats, so we traded it for something sturdy and more appealing. My sons needed cute outfits, wooden toys, books, and other items I had growing up, so I accumulated. And item by item, thing by thing, my husband and I crammed our closets full until our once spacious condo felt like a miniature doll house and moving day a distant dream. Oh, it would happen someday, miles down the road.
The trouble is I’m waking up from the dream, and moving day is becoming reality. It’s only six months away, and I’m forced to eliminate excess stuff. Today, as I sort through the toy box my father-in-law crafted for my sons, simplifying and letting go is no longer a fairytale but a Shakespearean tragedy. How does one let go of six years of memories without falling apart or revealing the ugly side of humanity?
The toy box is filled with firsts: my preschooler’s first push toy, classic telephone, and teddy bear, symbolizing his first words, steps, and kisses for his brother. As I peruse through the box, I find fragments of my son’s first years: the little teether blanket that accompanied him home from the hospital, the rattle he enjoyed shaking, the wooden puppy he pulled behind. The toys are not just plastic or wood, they represent my two sons, so how does one let go of that?
“We should keep this telephone for our grandchildren.” I tell my husband, hoping he’ll agree.
“We have to let go,” he says. “Remember all of this is just stuff.”
Intellectually, I know he’s right, and today it’s just the toy box. But in the next few days, I’ll tackle the kitchen and bedrooms. Can I really let go of the cutlery set from our wedding, or the teapot my husband bought me from England? And how will I sort through books. I love books. Am I able to let go of this home I’ve created?
It’s just stuff. I repeat my husband’s words and gather the courage to go through the toys. Soon a rather large yard sale mound develops. Where did these things come from? I’m surprised at what’s hiding in the cavernous box, and as I force myself to let go, a scripture passage comes to mind:
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19-20)
The toys in the chest are not true treasures, nor the beloved wedding gifts — it’s the memories. It’s the little people playing with the wood and plastic. It’s the man I call husband. As tears splash down my cheeks, truth clears my vision. The genuine treasure is my family, and they’re going with me overseas. The truth is my home is not these four walls filled with books and toys, it’s the people within. It’s the preschooler who tells me he loves me. It’s the toddler who says, “Mama!” It’s my husband who greets me with a hug and kiss. My boys are my riches, and regardless of where I settle, I’ll be at home when I’m with them.
I stuff an entire garbage bag of noisy, battery-operated-money-eating toys for the yard sale and keep just a few quality ones that spark imagination and creativity. I take a deep, free breath and realize the lid on the toy box actually closes now.
“Aren’t you proud of me?” I ask my husband. “Look at all we’re getting rid of.”
My husband scans the items. “Oh you’re getting rid of that?” He points to a light-up toy that sings the ABC’s.
“I don’t think I ever see them playing with that thing,” I say.
My husband fingers the toy given to my preschooler on his first birthday. He presses the button and a high-pitched voice sings the alphabet while colorful lights flash.
“Now look who’s having the hard time?” I laugh. “It’s just stuff.”
Our laughter fills our four flimsy walls. There’s a freedom in letting go of material things. When I let go of the plastic, wood, glass, and metals, I begin to see and experience authentic treasures — the way my husband’s eyes light up when he’s amused. The way my preschooler tumbles over the arm rest of our couch and says, “Look at me, Mama.” The way my toddler leans in for a sloppy kiss.
I’m far from overcoming the struggle of letting go, and as I sort through other rooms and closets, I’m certain I’ll attach memories to items and have a difficult time saying goodbye. I may even have to take photos in order to remember, or frequently recall the verse about true treasures. But, when moving day finally arrives, I have a feeling I’ll taste freedom and experience a unique fairytale ending.
I’ll pack up my boys, head home, and live joyfully ever after.