I hate stuff. Sometimes I feel like all I do is move things around in my house.
Piles from one level to the next, piles for charity and piles for the trash and piles for “I have no idea where this goes, so I’m just gonna throw it in the garage for now and hope my husband doesn’t see.”
I make a big deal about not caring about all the material things that other people fixate upon.
I tell people I am a minimalist, that I purge all the time, that you could open any cupboard or closet or drawer in my house and see that it’s organized.
In the end, though, what I don’t say is that all the stuff that accumulates exacerbates my anxiety.
That once my anxiety is already up there, one of the only ways to make it go away is to clean.
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Over a decade ago, when my father-in-law died, I couldn’t believe how many things my husband wanted to bring into our house.
“I don’t need any of this,” I said. “I have my memories.”
This summer my mother-in-law died, and I was the same way. I wanted two embroidered cloths and a coffee mug of hers.
That was it. I have my memories; I repeated.
Last week, we got some new furniture in our house, and we were moving some things around.
Everything was in a temporary upheaval, and for a short time, I couldn’t find my twins’ memory box.
The panic overtook me so quickly, and I felt like my breath was being squeezed out of me.
What if it was gone? An irrational thought, I know.
They couldn’t have walked off, after all.
But what if?
In that one tiny box is everything that ever touched my babies — their hospital bracelets, their baptismal gowns, a little diaper that my son wore.
Two molded casts of their hands and feet.
A tiny seashell that held holy water to be sprinkled on their foreheads as they died.
When I found the box, unharmed, I sat down on the floor and sobbed.
I regretted not burying them.
What if our house burned down and every trace of their existence disappeared?
Who would remember them?
Would anyone ever know they even existed?
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It was then that I think I understood why my husband had wanted to keep so many of his parents’ things.
After all, they were just ordinary household items that we certainly didn’t need.
They didn’t match the style of our house; most of them smelled terrible like smoke; I had encouraged him to choose carefully.
Suddenly, though, it made sense — the fascination with stuff.
The way small objects could help us remember and reminisce and love.
The way seeing something could flash a memory into your mind.
For the first time in almost ten years, I took their little urns out of their wooden box, and I put them up on the fireplace mantle.
There are subtle reminders of them everywhere in my house (butterflies, sunset pictures, etc.) but they had been tucked away, only for me.
Part of what makes life so incredible is that no matter how old we get, we are continually learning.
I continuously realize things I shouldn’t have judged, understanding that my thoughts and words probably hurt people, and remembering to give grace to those who need it.
How do you all feel about stuff? Does it trip your anxiety, like me?
Do you have memories of your baby(ies) around your house?
Do you regret any decisions you made about burial/end of life?
Photo by Onur Bahçıvancılar on Unsplash
Christy Wopat is a 4th grade teacher and writer. She lives in Wisconsin with her husband and who hilarious, energetic children, and without her boy/girl twins, Sophie and Aiden, who lived for a very short time in 2009. She is honored to share her words in hopes of breaking the stigma surrounding infant loss and grief.