Fall and the things we keep…

It’s fall in Houston. Such as it is. Houston’s summer and fall are merged into one hot, muggy, sweaty time interspersed with the periodic and overarching terror of hurricane season. Texans watch the windows for signs of rain, check the radar hopefully each morning, and discuss a coming “cold front” in tones suggestive of a coming savior.

Summer and fall in Houston are almost impossible to distinguish climate wise, but are still marked in my mind with the hopeful energy of the new and changing.

Like clockwork I find myself pinning recipes for soups and chowders, pulling on a sweater (that I will inevitably sweat through by mid-day), and watching the waving green of the live oaks in hopes that this year will be the year that fall color will return to my life.

I grew up in Minnesota, a place where apple cider was not served chilled and where boots and sweaters were a necessity rather than a rejection of reality.

Fall is my favorite season of the year. It’s a season that makes me want to cosy up at home and spend Sundays cooking warm and comforting meals that we can eat for an early dinner while watching football. Where Halloween stress gives way to anticipation of pumpkin pie and family and Christmas shopping. Where the joy of a new school year and the anticipation of change settles into a comfortable and manageable daily rhythm – a rhythm that has not yet become monotonous and overwhelming like it so often does in the spring.

Fall also means putting up summer. Washing the suits and towels for the last time and packing them into their storage crates to await next spring’s try on season and inevitable purchase of multiple new swim suits. Changing the wreath of the front door is my last step in transition to my favorite season.

I never really understood the satisfaction that I could feel from changing house decor to match the season until I had my own house. In that house I have developed a deep and unrelenting obsession with glass pumpkins and gourds. I have somewhere around 20 of them. When I see them, I find it hard to resist buying just one more.

Some people like Christmas villages, I like glass pumpkins.

But the swim suits don’t actually get stored in Texas. They hang on until at least October when the outdoor pool season really winds down and there are no longer weekend birthday parties in someone’s pool to accommodate. They always remain for weekend trips and those friends with heated pools. Therefore, the swim suits don’t go into the deep storage realm that is the attic in our house.

We have an attic – though pro-tip for those new to Texas, don’t store anything wax up there, I learned this lesson on December when I opened a box of Christmas candles that I had mistakenly added to the attic stash the previous January and found a solid mass of melted wax shaped like the box that had once held 10 individual candles.

Of constant debate in our marriage is what should be stored in the attic. My husband, the pack rat, thinks nothing should be thrown away but is equally adamant that nothing should be stored in the attic as its “too hard” to put it up and to get it down. I am much less sentimental about things. I would eliminate the vast quantity of old toys, books, and stained clothing that we no longer need. I realized this aspect of my personality when my parents arrived for one visit with six huge crates of my childhood memorabilia. Scrap books, projects from first grade, mix tapes from high school, random rolls of film containing 20 pictures of various people’s chins and one good group shot, pins collected at figure skating competitions, and multiple unwritten postcards collected from various travels. I love that they kept these things, on one level, and was deeply furious that I was now expected not just to house them but to eliminate them. Had they never kept them, I doubt that I would have missed them. But now, I’ve been asked to do the work of throwing them out or convincing my husband to transport them into the attic and I’m frustrated.

It feels unceremonious to dispose of them. It feels painful and like I’m getting rid of part of myself. A part of myself that I no longer need or want – I remember the friends fine without the mix tapes we made together containing mostly the same six Indigo Girls, Sarah McLachlan, and Ani DeFranco songs on each tape. Songs I still own in digital format – and probably could find on the collection of CDs I’m still dragging around from college.

Why is it so hard for me to get rid of them? Why does it feel painful in a way that it wouldn’t if my parents hadn’t kept them in the first place? Perhaps I’m wrong and it would have hurt if they hadn’t kept them. Perhaps I would have felt overlooked and rejected.

I can’t say because I haven’t experienced it. Now I know that I feel burdened by this memorabilia. Weighted down by it. It is a project to cull it and to store it. But I also know that I don’t need it. The poster of the freshman bonfire at Dartmouth seems meaningful at first glance, but it’s not the poster I think of when I think of that experience. What I remember most is the feeling of the heat on my left cheek as I ran our required laps around the bonfire (at Dartmouth freshman are paraded through the streets and then made to run laps around the bonfire equal to their graduating year – I graduated in 2001, there was some debate about whether we were obligated to complete 1 or 101 laps, clearly those who were to graduate in 1999, and were still on campus in 1997 during my freshman homecoming, believed it would be deeply unjust if we ONLY had to do 1 lap). I remember the smell of the smoke and the laughter of my friends. The pinching in my toes because of course I didn’t wear sensible shoes for this endeavor. I remember the splinter in my thumb obtained during the construction of the bonfire earlier that day and the lights of the campus buildings surrounding the campus green.

No poster needed for those memories. But seeing the poster among the things saved certainly did provide impetus for me to engage in that sensory remembrance.

So how to balance the burden and the inspiration of the things we keep? I’m not so practical as to be able to Marie Kondo my memories, but she does provide some guidance here. If the thing creates that emotional and sensory experiencing then I’m keeping it for now. If the sense of frustration at having to store it outweighs that flight of fancy then it goes.

While I know memory is not forever, the meaningful ones will outlast the poster or mixtape that activates them and being intentional about thinking about them more often will help me to keep them fresh and accessible.

Certainly that’s less of a strain on my marriage than convincing my husband to haul six huge boxes up the attic.

Published by alexm1008

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor practicing in Houston, Texas. I specialize in helping clients develop skills and strategies to feel more in control of their emotions and behaviors. I am also a wife and mother of two who loves to run and travel (particularly to Disney World with my kids and without).

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