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Faded Memories...Another Professional Organizer's Take On Holding On vs. Letting Go

Last week I came home and had two packages waiting for me. One I was expecting...a large peel n stick dry-erase whiteboard which I was so excited to get...until I read the directions which stated it was a two-person job to install it.

I immediately called a friend and asked if she would come over to help sooner rather than later. I'm a very visual person and have come to the conclusion that I really need that giant piece of plastic to be the constant reminder of stuff I need to do.

Trust me, I have a pretty good digital productivity/reminder system as well as copious pads of paper for every project or personal adulting type stuff. But I realized recently that I needed yet a third method for my TO DO list-making. Yes, it may be overkill for some, but for me, it just is what I wanted to help with all of the various balls I am juggling on a daily basis.

Meanwhile, my friend hasn't made it to my apartment yet and as soon as I finish writing this blog I am going to defy the instructions and attempt to install it on my own. I am pretty sure that will result in a lot of swearing and sweating and as much as it will probably make for yet another one of my the stories I seem to create each and every day, that's not the point of this blog.

The point of this blog was in the other package. The large, thick manilla envelope was from my sister and I had no idea what could be in it. She had only recently returned to Florida at the beginning of February after spending 4 months in Michigan while my brother-in-law was recovering from the kidney transplant surgery he had in October. And no sooner did she get back to Florida she had to quickly prepare for their move to Arizona, a journey they are currently making across the country this very week.

It isn't my birthday month and she hadn't told me she was sending anything so I had no clue what could be inside. I literally had just walked in from a long day with an It's Just Stuff client and the drive home was long enough that I desperately needed to go to the bathroom before thinking of anything else.


Nah, you all know that it is inevitable that the minute you get home that is the moment when you suddenly have to pee...badly...and you drop everything in the middle of the floor and make a beeline for the bathroom.

But curiosity trumped peeing at that moment and I immediately ripped open the envelope and found dozens of envelopes of various shapes and sizes inside. I had no clue what they were but as I pulled one out and saw the all too familiar handwriting that identified every piece of mail I ever got from my grandmother until she died in 1994,

I literally felt my breath taken away for a second.

And when I realized that the letter was addressed to me at the camp I went to for 8 summers I started scanning the rest of the contents on my kitchen counter and discovered they were all letters sent to me from various friends and family members over the course of the first 4 summers. Yes...I did actually separate them by year so I could read them in chronological order.

#organizersneverstoporganizing ...just saying 😉

There was also mistaking my father's handwriting regardless of the fact that it was in an envelope from his former law firm.

And this one from my seems she traveled with my father that summer to Alpena when he must have had an arbitration hearing?

I looked at the postmark, 1971, and thought that it was interesting she went with him because I don't recall her ever really wanting to go when he traveled for work around the state. I mean, Alpena is not exactly a vacation destination, or at least I don't think it was in 1971. But then I remembered that my brother and sister did not go to camp that first summer and clearly she needed an escape from them...or at least that is the story I am creating for the sake of this blog.

Hey, if you're a parent, especially after going through the pandemic with kids at home, you know how hard it is to entertain kids for an extended period of time right?

Mixed in with all of the letters was a copy of a song from a Fourth of July team competition on the back of an annual pre-camp letter from 1967. I do remember the song, but I don't remember what year this particular one was from so I will be calling on a few of the counselors from my early years at camp who might remember that I am now friends with on Facebook and it will definitely generate a lot of memories for them as well including the son of the camp owner who took over the ownership role when his father passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack in the late 1980s. I remember getting the call from my father and I immediately called one of my former cabinmates to cry together. Bernie The this day I can still hear you use your commanding and very deep voice to get our attention at the flagpole every morning and evening bellowing two simple words that you could drag out for at least 30 seconds...


It should surprise no one that knows me that I was that kid at camp who actually enjoyed writing letters. And when I say write, I mean I would provide a lot of detail. Somewhere there is a letter that my parents saved through the years about me describing how uncomfortable the bunk bed mattress was and they please send one of the egg crate mattress topper things with, Bernie the next time he was in Detroit for the routine trips he needed to make throughout the summer to work on his clients' cases. He was a partner at the same law firm with my father, grandfather and great uncle.

My parents never sent the egg crate thing but they did save the letter and always referred to it as the "Princess and the Pea" letter.

Lumpy mattresses aside, I loved EVERY...SINGLE...SECOND of my summers at camp and I maintain to this day that I would be a completely different person if my parents hadn't sent me for so many years. These were my people, my tribe and if I could go back for even a day I would in a heartbeat.

So what does any of this have to do with being a professional organizer?

Well, one of the things that I made sure to keep really organized was all of the different stationery I brought with me every summer to write letters to practically everyone I knew. Camp stationery was a really big deal back then and we actually used to trade pieces of paper like they were baseball cards. And we also had a somewhat unwritten competition all summer who got the most mail every day. I never really slept more than 4-5 hours even when I was a kid so there were many times I was writing letters under the covers with a flashlight after my counselors went to bed.

Yes, those were much simpler times.

By the time I had kids and they went to camp I think I was sending them with pre-addressed "fill in the blank" stationery a la a "Mad Libs" kind of format which apparently have now, not surprisingly morphed into an app. Anyway, I was lucky if I got even 2 fill in the blank letters a summer. Apparently, postcard and letter day was no longer a mandatory thing like it was in the 1970s. I do find it a bit ironic, though, because my kids grew up in the age of helicopter parenting although I doubt I could ever be called that but trust me when I say that the competition for who got the most mail switched from the kids to the parents by 2005.

My parent's generation?

For the most part, they put us on the bus on a late June morning and barely gave us kids a second thought until we arrived home 8 weeks later. Don't get me wrong...they wrote letters as already documented above. And clearly, I got my verbal and written gift of gab from my father since he wrote equally long letters to me. He did, however, Xerox them once my brother and sister came to camp my second summer and we each got a copy. My siblings and I thought that was kind of unfair since we weren't allowed to write one combined letter back to him but I have to give him mad props for being so efficient.

Suffice it to say, I kind of implemented his system with my kids even though they went to separate camps in different states. Hey, typing a letter on a computer and simply changing the name from Child 1 to Child 2 or vice versa did make it very easy in the 21st century.

Shhhhhhhh...don't tell them although I have a feeling neither one of them ever read most of what I wrote.

It's fine...I understood their lack of interest in what was going on back home. They were at camp to forget about life as they knew it the other 10 months out of the year and have fun just like every kid who ever went to those little slices of summer paradise since the beginning of the camp movement.

So what's really my ultimate point in telling you any of this, especially as it relates to dealing those fade memories in your home?

Well, it remains a mystery how my sister ended up with them.

On some level that should bother me because I now am wondering what else I may have missed during the year we spent purging the contents of our childhood home. But at the same time I know that is not practicing what I preach to clients. I'm not saying we shouldn't maintain a certain part of our past but only if we have the actual room in our lives to keep those memories in an organized manner.

The letters I just received?

I didn't stay up all night reading them. I mean I could have because I am not the best sleeper anyway, but at some point, my eyes did start to flutter after about 2 hours and I decided it had been over 40 years since I had even thought about them so I could easily wait another day or two to read the rest.

It does beg the question, though, what will I do with them now?

I will probably scan them at some point in the next few weeks and create a collage along with any photos I have from my camp days and have one poster-sized memory to hang somewhere.

Or I may just throw them out and cherish the memories in my head. In my opinion, the thrill of seeing them after all these years has, to some degree, now passed and I can let them go. But before I do, I may decide to send some of them to the friends and family who haven't passed away so they can enjoy a little trip down memory lane and let them decide what they want to do with them.

Yeah, I know, I shouldn't pass clutter around and I never suggest it to clients either unless they know it will be appreciated by the recipient.

My sister clearly knew I would appreciate being the recipient. That or she was thinking it should be my problem figuring out what to do with them now. I can't say I blame her...but I can say I am extremely happy she provided me with a chance to remember so many of the people that are no longer alive and in the case of a few friends, that I no longer am in contact with but may now want to reconnect with.

That, in a nutshell, is what memories are intended to do. They are supposed to put a smile on our faces and never ever make us sad, angry or have any feelings of regret. While I may not be the biggest proponent of Marie Kondo's "sparking joy" method, I do not think there is ever a reason to hold onto anything that doesn't make you happy. And don't confuse happiness with the guilt you may feel about keeping your grandmother's chipped china.

I will not, though, ever let anyone tell me I should get rid of a bottle of my mother's perfume. I don't even like the scent but I do like to take a sniff of it every morning from where it sits on my bathroom counter next to a photo of her along with the metal box with the one simple word "BELIEVE", something my mother said constantly during her 7 year battle with cancer and I start every day off with a big smile thinking of her saying "You've gotta believe Beth".

Among the many other things I do believe?

Those letters, whether I hold onto them in any way, shape or form, are definitely memories worth keeping.

Here's to faded but not forgotten memories.


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