Sentimentality & Holding Onto Items

This is my doll collection.

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For those of you who don’t know me, I am not meant to have a doll collection. I mean, just look at how dusty and slouchy those poor dolls are!  It’s as though they’ve been sitting in a laundry basket in a basement closet wrapped in Wegmans shopping bags for the past decade.

Actually, they have been sitting in a laundry basket in a basement closet wrapped in Wegmans shopping bags for the past decade. Even if I were a doll collection type of person, I just don’t know where I would put them! We live in a smallish house and there are few around-the-house-type spaces that aren’t occupied by the things we need, or storage-type spaces that aren’t filled with the things I can’t get rid of.

I swear, I am by no means a pack-rat, but I do have a hard time getting rid of anything tied to someone I love (or that has a face).  For example:

Exhibit A: This is piano music I never play.

4Some of it belonged to my mother, like 100 Greatest Hits of the 60’s and 70’s and Great Songs of the Sixties; some of it, like Bette Midler’s From a Distance and Whitney Houston’s rendition of I Will Always Love You, was given to me by my mother.  I already have a big shelf overflowing with piano music I do play so I really ought to throw away what I don’t, but because of their ties to my mother these will probably stay with me forever.

Exhibit B: This is an index card that has been sitting on my dresser for years.

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An index card, mind you, not a card.  My mother sent it to me when I finished my masters degree.  She was sick and in the middle of chemo treatments and couldn’t make it to my graduation.  It was such a dismal and depressing time, an index card seemed to make sense; but I’m so glad I held onto it because I find encouragement in her words to this day.

Since we’re talking about holding onto things, can we address this bottle of Gap Dream I just noticed on my dresser?  That’s like the 1999 version.

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I’m fairly sure I bought this in high school, meaning it’s been with me for 16 years. I have no idea when I last wore Gap Dream.

Exhibit C: I guess we should also talk about the dresser the index card and the Gap Dream are sitting on.  This dresser is 100 sizes too big for my home and has very ornate and scary claw feet.  It originally came from my grandmother’s house where it made far more sense situated adjacent to a large canopy bed.

Even if I could figure out how to get the dresser out of my house, I’m sure I would never get rid of it. I have fond memories of rummaging through its drawers when it belonged to my grandmother, admiring her costume jewelry and imaging a day when I would be elegant and fancy like her (still waiting).

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Exhibit D: The outfit pictured above. My mother took me to the mall to buy this outfit for my senior picture in 1999. In my day, senior pictures were taken at the local portrait studio and consisted of a few headshots and a couple pictures of you casually leaning on a giant ’99 (or whatever year it was when you graduated). I’ve posed the outfit to give you an idea of what I might have looked like, hands on hips, standing next to that ’99.

Even if I wanted to wear this outfit from the late 90’s, I doubt very much if I could fit into it. Problem is, I have a complete inability to throw away clothes my mother bought for me. In fact, this is just one example of the many clothing items I’m holding onto in my giant claw foot dresser.

Now, back to that doll collection. Growing up, every Christmas my mother would buy me a new Madame Alexander doll – this is how I became an unlikely doll collector.  I cannot part with the dolls, but I don’t know what to do with them either.  I hadn’t looked at them or thought them worth looking at in years, a fact which filled me with shame as I remembered the sentimentality which led my mother to buy them to begin with.

These she bought during my Little Women phase.

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These princes she bought after deciding I should start collecting boys. Hmmm.

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And she bought this one after my high school graduation.

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As I pulled each doll from its plastic bag, my daughters watched in anxious anticipation. They examined their delicate details as I explained how each doll related to my childhood.  Some of the stories they knew and some I will share with them when they’re old enough, just as my mother shared them with me. I’m sure when my mother picked out each of these dolls she was thinking of how pleasing they would be to a little girl, but I doubt she knew how many generations of little girls they would please.

I have to be honest, my idea for this post was to poke fun at the useless and silly things I’ve held onto simply because they’re connected to my loved ones. Now I don’t think I can make such a case.  Items like an index card, tattered piano music, really outdated clothing, or an out-of-place doll collection might cause an outside observer to scratch their head, but as far as I’m concerned each of them tells a story worth remembering (well, except maybe the body spray). Could I remember the stories without the objects?  Maybe, but I don’t want to.  

I’m sure some of you are holding onto things that make little sense without knowing their context. I’m sure some of you have been encouraged to let these items go and I’m sure some of you have questioned holding on them yourselves.  We’ve talked lots and lots about the practicalities of letting things go, but from a sentimental stand point all I want to say is that, I get you. You’re not the only one with old shirts tucked in the back of your drawer and a large doll collection stowed away in your closet.  We’re all okay.

This post was weird but subscribe anyway.

March 28, 2017

15 responses on "Sentimentality & Holding Onto Items"

  1. It’s been 15 months….I continue to wear my husbands’ wedding ring on my left hand, along with the 2 bands he gave me when we got married…. i try to take them off… but i can’t…i don’t know when i will get the strength to remove them…i even tried putting them on my right hand…I need to wear them, but i know i also need to eventually take them off…feeling so sad….if i remove them, I will feel that I am forgetting him…denying that we were wed…i am in such a bad way… my heart is broken…i barely can go on…

  2. I saw a post on facebook over the last couple of weeks: “another griever grieves alone because someone told them to move on.” It’s only been 5 months since I lost my precious husband. I have been told “you’re living in the past”, so I’ve distanced myself from those who have said that to me. I’m living in my beautiful memories which are all I have now. I am so glad another griever shared this website with me. Thank you . . .

  3. Someone told me we should have been better 2 weeks after our loved one died in the World Trade Center. Two weeks later I was walking through every day feeling as if someone had taken a sledge hammer and whacked it upside my head and that the result was for me to be plodding through every day not even fully understanding where I was, feeling as if I were walking through a dream instead of waking life and sometimes even feeling like I wasn’t inside my own body. I don’t know what that was bc nobody ever explained it but it’s still one of the most awful memories I have; being stuck above myself with the sensation of looking down but not being able to get back inside myself. I was afraid I’d get stuck like that and not be able to return to what I was like before it happened.

  4. Thank you for posting this. I lost my dad in January this year. I have lots of things of his but I have a necklace he bought for me which has a “secret” message when you scan the QR code on it and his wedding ring. I’ve worn them both round my neck everyday and night since he died, only taking them off for showering or a hair cut. I can’t bear to be parted from them. I was starting to wonder if that was normal, or okay and then someone told me I really shouldn’t be wearing them “this far on”. (I put that in speech marks because it feels like it could be yesterday. I still hear the hospital machines beeping in my sleep). I may come to a time where I want to take them off, but I feel like I need to have them with me all the time. Thank you x

    • Profile photo of Eleanor Haley

      I can’t believe someone said that to you – mostly because the sentiment is just plain wrong. Argh. I’m glad you have those precious items to keep your loved one’s memory close.

      • Thanks. I’ve learned very quickly, as I’m sure most people have at some point, that people expect me to be fine now, in fact one person said that I should have moved on after 4 weeks. Not taking into account my sister and I spent 3 years fighting day in and out for a diagnosis and appropriate care. Just a lot of emptiness. People didn’t and don’t understand that living so far away didn’t make me any less of a carer. I’m kind of fed up being told how I should feel and how it’s “not normal”. So keeping things that are so important so close seems a natural next step…to me.

  5. Beautiful post, Eleanor. May I suggest making shadow boxes with uv proof glass? The graduation doll and the note, the other dolls in groups, the sheet music…all of it would work in shadow boxes. The sentimental clothes can be photographed with your memory attached to back. My late sister taught me about taking photos of some things and then you can let go of them easier.
    I’m right in the middle of sorting many years worth of totes, so your post was just what I needed to read.

  6. Dear Eleanor, Thank you for validating my need to keep some things from the past that are now giving me comfort as I face my future as an “adult orphan”. Strange term, isn’t it? In 2000 I lost both my parents, then in 2005 our only child died at the age of 31 and I lost my husband of 46 years in 2014. We had an estate sale last spring before he passed and I let go of a lot of “stuff”. However, there were some things I couldn’t/wouldn’t let go. I am especially fond of the photo, slide, film, & video collections of all the happy times we spent together. There are things I’m sure that someday whoever goes through my “stuff” will wonder why I continued to keep such useless items. These precious items are my connection to those I loved and think of every day. I am so glad you are sharing your memories with your daughters and helping them to make connections to you and their grandmother.

  7. I’m lucky, I have some things I managed to salvage during the hour or so in the unlighted house I had to go through his stuff. I tried to get things that I knew were important to him and I did get what I wanted, although I wish I had had time to think then, because I missed or passed over some things that I wish I had. Right after he died I became obsessed with finding every ticket stub from things we had done. Unfortunately, I had not long before thrown out years of “why am i keeping this stuff” memorabilia. So then I was frantically going through coat pockets looking for what was left. Making it worse is that we weren’t married or living together and he didn’t have any family to speak of, so I was at the mercy of distant relatives during the funeral, etc. There is no inscription in his name where he is buried, which makes me even more crazy about his stuff.

  8. I love this post. My Thomas was only here 15 weeks so I don’t have much. In my wallet is the parking ticket that was given to me when i parked in the garage at the hospital that first night. We lived at the hospital for a month with our very sick baby. I cannot let that little ticket go. We gave away most of his newborn/preemie clothes before we knew he was sick. I wish I still had those. I’m a little paranoid about my other kids stuff. Before i throw away or donate something i second guess it “in case they die.” Such morbid thinking but that’s where i am, almost five years after his death.

  9. I have saved everything, letters, cards, jewelry, ticket stubs, dried and pressed flowers. We were lovers, he married to another so everything he gave or sent me was a unique and precious gem. I also keep the messages on my phone because I need to hear the sound of his voice. I cry but I could never erase them. I even take a photo of him to bed with me each night. It’s a comfort to know he is close. I realize he is in heaven but to ease the pain of my loss, I need to know he is close. My love for him is strong and eternal. I miss him more than I can put into words.

  10. I haven’t let anything go yet, except for the things I was never going to use anyway (like his clothes) when we went to his house in Philadelphia to sell it so we had to clean it out first. The house where I used to live with him, my daughter, one tabby cat and two “war” dogs. Mastiffs that he thought we needed and my kitty certainly disagreed with on the matter. She used to sit on the banister and hiss at them as they walked by, silly animal.
    I have his books about the Civil War, even though I don’t like reading books about combat. My problem is that the stuff he left behind, what Stephen King called “the things they left behind” when he wrote a short story about the people who died on September 11, their relatives and co-workers, is literally the only thing we have of him.
    The wall at the Memorial site that says “No day shall erase you from the memory of time” is the only other tangible object that brings me a modicum of comfort. The memorial pools themselves do too but you never get to be somewhat alone when you’re there. You feel like everyone else is doing it with you, even though they didn’t know him the way you did and for whatever reason, I can’t feel as comforted when dozens of strangers are also looking at his memorial with me; it feels like dozens of people following you into the cemetery to stand at his grave (or in his case the headstone that stands above the empty casket we buried.) It’s not like that at the Remains Repository and feels more private bc most of the people who look at it also never received their loved one’s remains, mostly from when the two planes hit and killed the hundreds of people in the initial assault.

  11. Eleanor, I loved, loved, loved reading this post. I laughed a little, felt sad a little . . . . I have given Madame Alexander dolls to my girls and now some of my granddaughters. I love them, and so did your mother, except they were called Ginny Dolls then and we bought one every time we went to visit a cousin in Kansas City. I wish so much we had both kept them. We didn’t. But that is how your mother learned to love Madame Alexander dolls. And wouldn’t your two little girls love to put some of them on a shelf in their bedrooms? Just asking. And I certainly recognize some of that music you’ve displayed. I don’t know how the music Evelyn and I had growing up ever got divided up between the two of us. She got some and I got some, but she of course had the greater amount because she was the major piano player, so to speak. I have some music that my grandfather on my mother’s side had, plus some of Aunt Marilyn’s I remember from the 50’s. I raided my Dad’s piano bench before he sold his last house in Wayland and his piano. I read once that people should just take a picture of their sentimental things and then let them go. I totally, totally, totally disagree. The things you have saved are certainly not silly or useless. If they evoke a precious memory they definitely have a use, especially if you share that memory with your girls. Just an aside. Do you remember my telling you that a few toys that I remember from your mom’s and my childhood were Betsey Wetsey Dolls and two large walking dolls. I went to someones house for lunch recently, a women exactly my age, and in her room on a chest were two dolls she had saved which were precious to her – one Betsey Wetsey and one large walking doll. I was so thrilled and tickled to see them. So in this case her precious memories even gave me joy.

    • Profile photo of Eleanor Haley

      Hey Elaine,

      I know mom loved those dolls so much and they really are precious, especially when you look at them through a child’s eyes. I think the girls would like to display them, they probably are getting to be about the right age now. I have been very grateful that the other reoccurring present from mom at Christmas, when I was the right age, were American Girl Dolls which I have already given to the girls and which have gotten even more use than when I originally owned them. I love that they love them. I wish Mom were around to see that many generations were enjoying them. Mom seemed to have a knack for good toys and kids books – I try to buy all the same books we had too.

      That is so funny you recognize some of the music. I have flipped through her books but I’m not that good so a lot of it is too hard for me or unfamiliar to me now. Mom loved playing through books of music. I remember trying to play duets with her one day and wishing I were better and could keep up. I’m in your camp about letting things go – if you can hold onto them, what’s the harm?

      Eleanor

  12. Oh, this post is so me. I can not bear to give up things that belonged to my mom and daughter. Although I know no one will be interested in them when I am gone. The daughter who would have is the one who would have cherished these things. Makes me more sad that she is gone too soon. Tears come to my eyes as I type these words.

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