I was aimlessly drifting through Twitter a while ago (as I do when I’m procrastinating), and I ran across a post about someone who was moving. He was happy to report that he had far fewer boxes of “emotional debris” than he has had in the past. William (@WilliamVintage—if you don’t follow him, you should) described it as “letters, photos and things that your heart and your eyes don’t want to see, but you can’t throw away!”
Even though I read this a while ago now, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. When we break up with people, we tend to “purge” them from our lives—and sometimes in a major way. DM has a friend who repainted her entire apartment so she could start fresh without the pain of actually moving. I did a massive housecleaning about two minutes after The Ex announced his new life. Everyone has their own speed. But it is incredibly rare when we get rid of everything—it seems we all have at least one serious obstacle to sweeping away all the emotional debris.
For me, I had a very difficult time throwing away anything that said, “I love you.” For the longest time I couldn’t do it. I suspect I’m not alone with that one. It is the definition of emotional debris—you don’t want to feel that pain, you don’t want to see it and yet you can’t pretend it is garbage. Maybe there is a sneaky part of me (and some of you) that thinks that no one will ever say it again, so I have to keep this reminder that someone once did, and that I once had those feelings (you’ll be happy to know that I don’t have the same attachment to old condoms, though the same theory could apply).
Why do we keep these things even when we’ve moved on to new relationships, jobs, retirement homes? What do we gain by having the boxes of emotional debris? Are we reluctant to walk away from our past because it, in part, represents a youth (or relative youth) we want to recapture (even though our memories are far more valuable than a 20 year old teddy bear)?