To Have And To Hold: What We’re Compelled To Keep And Why

If you’re anything like me, so far during your life you’ll have accumulated a lot of what can be designated as ‘clutter’, compounded no doubt by creative writings or paintings or pottery work that you keep as a reminder of past interests and as an extension of the creative you. This keeping could even go back to childhood, with meaningful objects from days long gone. It may go back to times of studying, where you hold onto coursework notes and text books you’ve scribbled in and that you’ve kept for years – just in case they might come in handy again. If you are someone who records methods of ‘how you did it’ (like me) when you’ve done various crafts projects over the years, these notes end up in ring binders that are hardly ever glanced at again – but you never know, one day you might just want to make a pinch pleated pelmet again or a pair of plaited tiebacks! And there’s even the argument that when you’re a writer, you might as well keep hold of this stuff you’re so familiar with in case you want to draw upon it for source material or research. I mean, you just never know, do you?

So these ephemera can clog up shelves, choke cupboards and lofts, until one day you might have a go at sorting it all out with the determination to tackle your attachments and let some of them go. It’s better for you spiritually, right? But what happens when you try? Well for me, it’s a tussle, a push and pull process, which can be pretty hard going, and I was asking myself why recently, prompted by a conversation with a friend around the same age as me over lunch this week.

But the stimulus began before we even sat down. I was looking through some soft toys on display in the shop area – you know the kind of thing – monkeys, rabbits, bears, all exquisitely soft and cutely floppy limbed. And I commented ‘they didn’t make them like this when we were kids’. Next thing I know we are sharing the fact that we both still have our teddy bears from when we were at primary school. And then over coffee we drew them roughly for each other on some scrap paper, remembering times gone by and describing their current state of distress. Both of the teddies are practically threadbare, both have needed stitches for wear and tear. They’re both in ‘poor health’, yet have to be made comfortable in their cupboard space, sitting nicely and not crowded by other ‘stuff’. So this is two ladies in their fifties, who have mostly rational and analytical conversations, who were probably  never giggly girly types discussing their teddy bears over their lattes and sandwiches. And it was beautifully surreal. But what struck me was that the attachment to these cuddlies was, and still is, so important that we still have our special bears. Meet mine, who I got out of the cupboard for a rare photo shoot:

Now I do periodically have a clear out and I can see if anyone moves house then this is the perfect time to do it. And although I am always very thoughtfully circumspect about it, I do get results. Now all I have from childhood is: ‘Big Ted’; a squeaky Percy pig from the 40s? given to me as a baby (and a possible collectors item because he still has his squeak ;>))


…and a few teenage drawings and paintings, to mark my origins with my art, which I very much loved doing and still do. I managed to burn/cremate a knitted doll called Jemima, because I couldn’t bear the idea of her sitting in a rubbish bin, along with old school reports, school books and a few other sad looking bits and pieces. But it’s really the much later in life course notes, text books, ‘how to’ notes, books, books and more books, and my art  I can’t let go of – these are the hardest to handle, and they’ve accumulated like these piles of documents.

So yes, I should probably de-clutter, otherwise we occlude the light and space in our lives which we do need. I really feel for people who are struck by some natural disaster where they lose everything they own, and yet, people say this can be a cleansing of a kind, a new beginning, and of course we shouldn’t feel defined by what we have and hold onto. So there’s no doubt about the benefits of letting go of our past through letting go of our clutter.

But my defence (and this defence is for all of us who are collectors, note-writers, recorders and keeper-just-in-casers) is that what we keep hold of, what we have and hold, so to speak, are what we have invested ourselves in over the years. These emphemera have contributed to who we are and what we have become today. We have had a special relationship with these investments. They are what we have found meaning in, and what we find meaningful. They are tactile reminders of our own self development, our learning, our strivings and our passions. Should we be able to let this ‘clutter’ go? Undoubtedly! And our clutter is our own responsibility. But go easy on yourself, and do it when the time feels right, and trust that you’ll know exactly when that is.

(document and shop front pics from pixabay)






About lynnefisher

Writer and visual artist living in Scotland, INFJ type Writer's blog: Art: Twitter @writeartblog Writers page Facebook Artists page Facebook
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6 Responses to To Have And To Hold: What We’re Compelled To Keep And Why

  1. Ari says:

    The desire to declutter is often overwhelmed by the paralysis of what if. As a pack rat myself, it took a lot of years for me to part with clutter. To acknowledge that sentiment and perceived necessity were not always enough to cling onto something.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lynnefisher says:

      Loving the expression’pack rat’ Ari! Acknowledging the sentiment and apparent necessity of keeping is important and then the letting go can happen more easily. I find personally the course notes the hardest because my engagement with them and the subjects was high and very enjoyable. My sister burned all her degree course notes after she got her degree because she had been very conscious of going through the motions as a means to the end. We did our degrees as mature adults and this makes the letting go harder for me. Having to move house would probably get me there!


  2. galenpearl says:

    Books! It is hard for me to let go of books, although our neighborhood free libraries have made it a bit easier to pass some along. Otherwise, I have let go of a lot. My sister accuses me of being unsentimental. There is probably some truth to that, but I am pretty clear with myself about what to keep–things that are currently meaningful to me (as opposed to things that only meant something in the past), and things that my kids might care about. With that in mind I have jettisoned trashbags full of old photos, bins full of stuff from my career (I’m retired now), clothes that went out of style long ago and are not ever going to be in style again (or if they are I will be way to old to look cool in them).

    But as you suggest, I’m gentle with myself. If something gives me pleasure to still have (all those books!) then I keep it.

    Thanks for the insight.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lynnefisher says:

      Thank you Galen for sharing. I forgot about sentimental value because I’m not too bad about this. Times passes and I can let go, because life is about change and moving on with the flow. It’s more relating to what I’ve loved doing in the past which I keep, and wanting the reminders around me – these were precious times to me and very much linked to my self development, so I’m not ready to let go yet. Being conscious of this is a good thing to recognise though. Books! oh yes, because of the engagement and entering into other worlds and ideas. Sounds like you’ve done very well, despite the books, Galen!


  3. terrepruitt says:

    Hmm. I have way too much “clutter.” I am an-on-the-verge-hoarder. But when I do finally come to terms with getting rid of something I take a picture of it and then “have” it that way, but the space is freed up. But, you sound like you have USEFUL stuff. I just have CLUTTER. If you have binders of “how-to” – wow! Perhaps you could scan it and post it on your blog to help others.

    1) they would benefit from your knowledge
    2) they wouldn’t have to figure it out on their own (refer to #1)
    3) they wouldn’t have to accumulate binders of how-to documentation
    4) you could put it in the recycle after you posted it – it would give you space yet you would still have access to it.


    Liked by 1 person

    • lynnefisher says:

      Thanks for sharing! My response to your quite reasonable idea of my sharing is yes, to some ‘how tos’, which are ready typed (on painting from classes i taught) , and Hmmm to the rest which are mostly hand written and would need ‘sorting’. But it’s a good idea and I will give it some thought. I also ‘collect’ glass baubles, but no room for any more, paper weights, same thing, love decorative glass and a lot of what most people would designate as clutter. Living in a small house is a help though. But in my dreams I would like a bigger domain so I can carry on fuelling my ‘interior design’ passion and painting and making more stuff to fill it!

      Liked by 1 person

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