One of the most difficult sources of clutter to process is sentimental items.
I am particularly apt to hold onto words from ones that I love. Anniversary cards, notes that came in flower arrangements, things signed in the hand of beloved Grandparents. The question of if we should keep these items is highly personal. It is these items that can not be replaced that feel most priceless. I often think, there may be a day when I am low and I just need to read, “I love you,” or “You’re so beautiful to me.”
The bottom line is you have to decide what to keep and what to set free.
I’ve read lots of advice like the advice given by minimalist Fumio Sasaki in “goodbye, things.” He suggests that you scan everything so that it is safe in the digital world. For most of my sentimental clutter I am learning to appreciate that they did their job well and now it is OK to let them go.
I still have my actual, in the flesh husband, beside me who will tell me that he loves me a thousand times more if I need to hear it.
As I go through this process of living with less I’ve had to sort through many piles of paper and letters. There is a question that I naturally ask. As I look through all of the precious things written to me I wonder, will the words I write be words worth keeping?
I want my words to become treasures to those who I share them with. I challenge you:
When you have something beautiful, thankful or encouraging to say, write it!
Use beautiful paper and fill the heart of a loved one or a friend. Use a real stamp and send a note that will be a welcome arrival mixed in with bills and junk. Write, write, and write some more.
But…When you have a conflict, a sore point, something you want to set straight, say it out loud and face to face.
This was some of the best advice given to me in my teenage years. It has served me well. I grew up in the ancient times when we would pass notes, or write letters. This was before the days of texting or email. On these slips of paper I could process my thoughts and zing together clever comebacks in a way that I never could craft together on the spot with my speech. The trouble with these kind of conflict letters is that they can live forever. They are the damaging things that we read again as we empty a drawer and the wound that was almost healed is opened again. They are the things that can be shared with others, they create gossip that sounds like this, “Can you believe she wrote this!” Things in print have no tone of voice, no pauses, no change of direction when we feel the heart of the listener softening.
Written words don’t hug or hold a hand.
I recently got to be in the presence of one of the great musicians of our era. Her performance beautifully illustrated the contrast between things that are written, and things that are simply a shared experience.
Pianist Gabriela Montero played with the Grand Rapids Symphony.
Her performance of Tchaikovsky was so breathtaking that the house erupted in applause and was brought to their feet in an ovation that would only be quieted with an encore performance. Gabriela Montero reentered the stage and sat solo at the piano. She shared that she is passionate about something that is becoming a lost art, but something that marked the great composers of the past….improvisation. She invited the audience to shout out a song which she used for a spring board to one of the most complex, beautiful pieces of music I have ever heard. Her fingers danced on the keys expressing every imaginable style of music. The tones shifted dramatically between major and minor keys and she played off of the emotions of the audience in a masterful way.
Part of the magic of the experience is that she is “composing and playing new works in real time”.*
This music was not being documented in any way. It was something intimate that she shared with the audience that night and then it floated away on the wind never to be heard again.
Conversation is to communication what improving is to music. It is an experience that only exists between the people who are present. In conversation we can change tone, laugh, and even cry. Written words such as letters can be compared to written music. In the same way that written music allows us to generations later experience the melodies and themes of a bygone era, a letter captures our thoughts forever preserving them.
So as you create words on a page if your thoughts are something that will become a treasure then write, write your heart out.
However, if your words are hard, if they may come across as sharp or have the possibility to be misinterpreted then BE BRAVE, schedule coffee, meet for lunch and share face to face so that these tender words may do their job and then float off into the wind.
*Quoted from Grand Rapids Symphony program.