Right now, my life is broken down into jumbled piles all over my living room.

Books in the corner by the TV, blocking the Roomba. All my chairs, side tables, lamps and accent pillows stacked on top of each other along the east wall. All my important adulting life documents on the dining room table. A growing pile of Goodwill items next to the cast iron fireplace. A broken down desk and an empty wooden IKEA shelving unit in the middle of the room. Boxes of office supplies, crafting supplies, old magazine and newspaper clips from my early years of my career, floppy discs, cassette tapes, and memories in various forms sitting precariously on top of each other by the front door.

I have to go through each of these piles of boxes and textiles over the next few months. I’m combining my single life of 20 years from a 2-bedroom, 1-bath house into a 3-bedroom, 2-bath house with another person this fall.

I’ve never done this before. And I’m totally OK with it.

Right now though, it’s overwhelming walking into the living room when I come home after being away for a few days or a week. It takes me two days to just “Be” in the house before I can bring myself to do anything remotely domesticated or even broach the thought of sorting my life into Keep and Discard piles.

Tonight, though, after a day of about 5 hours of driving and another 3 hours of staring at my computer, I had to do something involving movement and tangible objects.

So, I started with the closest pile to me – old gift boxes and shoeboxes.

The gift boxes were overflowing with old tissue paper and gift bags. My instinct is to keep them because recycling; my gut is like, WHY? THEY ARE RATTY AND WRINKLED PIECES OF PAPER THAT YOU PLAN TO REGIFT? You’re a terrible and gross gift giver! (I KNOW. SHUT. UP.)

I just ignored the screaming, feeling like this was just a warm up exercise for the harder stuff.

A shoebox of floppy discs with all my important 300 and 400 level journalism college class projects. Also, ZIP disks (!!!). At least I have an external disc drive stashed with them that I can screw into a PC somewhere, should I want to read them again… some day? Right?

Open the lid to the costume box. Paw through it a little. Close the lid to the costume box. I definitely use all those pieces of clothing.

Scraps of poster board and foam core. Toss. I am not 10 years old, making posters for a class project.

Next, the Saucony shoeboxes. The red one and the blue one. They are filled with cards. Hallmark, Shoebox Greetings, Generic, homemade, embroidered, sparkly, sequined, inked up Good Luck, Birthday, Christmas, Thank You and I Miss You cards, with the occasional real handwritten letter mixed in.

The cards have been generally tossed into the boxes in chronological order, so the older the pile, the more the handwritten letters.

I did a hard sort through a few years ago and kept the ones that were the most important to me. But I felt I needed to do another sort.

I sighed, opened the red box, and quickly went down memory lane. These were newer, mainly birthday cards from the past few years, including an especially thick pile from last year’s 40th Birthday. And the same two cards Mom sent in the same year, because the first one never showed up, so she bought it and sent it again, but six months later, the first card finally arrived. We had a good laugh about that one.

Next, the blue Saucony box. That covers 2002-2008. My first six years living on my own after college.

I sorted through the top 10 to 15 cards and notes, and came across some REALLY embarrassing things I’d written and given to the intended receiver at special moments, but yet the note had never left my possession. I shut the box quickly, realizing I DID NOT want to go through that personal anguish and embarrassment, even though no one else would be reading these. It’s like I was embarrassed for 25-year-old me. Like when I wrote that one note to that one boy for only him to see but then the whole class found out and I thought I would die and never be able to show my face again.

I walked away, then thought, “Well, when ARE you going to go through these? What else do you have to do tonight? You’re here, you’re tired, you need something mindless to do. And these either go with you or in the trash. You need to decide.”


I flip opened the box lid again, sighed, and dove in.

Wedding invitations from weddings I either had to miss or attended. Thank you notes from those weddings that I could attend. That one thank you card for attending a birthday party (“I hope you enjoyed the stripper!”). Donations to causes for my birthday. Also, regular birthday and Valentine’s Day cards from my parents. Mom usually sends two birthday cards – a silly one and a sappy one. Dad usually sends one or two, full of puns and/or terrible jokes about getting old. Dad’s handwriting is unique and likely terribly difficult to read by most people but I can translate it. And always full of sappy sentiment (“Miss your face… don’t see your face enough around here… love you madly”). Tons of handwritten letters from my best friend from college.

Then, the handwritten notes and cards from my grandmother.

They aren’t long. They aren’t spritzed with perfume, or have any flowery borders. Sometimes they’re embossed, but in a very subtle, classic way. That was her style. Nothing flashy, just a hint of sweet and class.

She’d recall memories of road trips we’d taken when I was younger. Or include pictures of me, like when I was a toddler, reading the newspaper comics at her kitchen table by myself while sitting on a stack of phonebooks. You could put me in front of anything to read and I’d be perfectly occupied, no matter the age. Another note that had clearly come with a check: “Buy some clothing, not something for the kitchen! A girl always needs something for work!”

Eating lunch at Grandma’s in the early 1980s, Houston, Texas. Photo Credit: Grandma


The magazine pages she ripped out and sent to me about Depression era glass. This must have been around the time that she’d given me the set of the green glassware that we thought was from that time period; I later found out it was from the 70s. Still, I love that set. Martini and aperitif glasses, mostly. Olive green with a yellow tint. Then the small clear pedestal bowls she used for eating chocolate pudding when she was a little girl.

Sometimes it was a small note that she dashed off a day or two after we’d spoken on the phone, noting how nice it was to talk; she must have been doing bills and tucked it in with the outgoing mail.

She was famous for sending clippings, such as the column written by William F. Buckley Jr., about his friend’s new book, The Writer’s Art by James Jackson Kilpatrick. Her note at the bottom asked if I’d heard of it, read it, seen it, maybe it was out of print? She highlighted in yellow the title and the publisher to make sure I didn’t miss it. At the time, in my early 20s, I clearly didn’t pay attention, because I never picked up this book, despite the fact that I was a wannabe writer, but I was too busy fully living my early 20s as a poor journalist exploring a new-to-me region of the country to pay attention to the writing greats. However, a few years after that, I started reading Kilpatrick’s column, appreciating his witty but strict observations on the use of the English language.

Thankfully though, I don’t think these are all the notes. I’m pretty sure there are more in piles of my childhood memories in Mom’s basement.

Then, underneath these small memory boxes is the big box of memories: my journals going back to 1990. Those won’t be touched.

Five boxes of memories down, a dozen or so more to go.