While I was out in the yard recently my thoughts kept turning to keeping. Keeping things watered, keeping things picked up, keeping plants and trees going and healthy through the warm, but dry days of Autumn. But then I began to think about the meaning of keeping. Why do we keep things? How do we decide what is worth keeping? Do our ideas about keeping change as we do?
It occurred to me that keeping is really all about security and safety. We keep that article just in case we need to remember the nesting habits of falcons (could happen.) We keep the torn up, worn out shirts just in case we need to polish something some day (not likely.) We keep repeating the thought in our head that we want to go to Hawaii (like we could ever forget about wanting to go to Hawaii.) Somehow keeping these and millions of other things seem to give us a feeling of familiarity in the changing world. We can go back to the things we know and become grounded, and “kept” safe.
What happens however, when keeping becomes a problem? What do we do with all this stuff? If I get rid of something, I might throw out the very thing that I will need later. This is the “kept” thought of the hoarder in all of us. The voice that talks us into keeping last year’s phone book, 500 paper clips, or the earring without a mate.
If keeping is all about feeling safe and secure, it means that what we are keeping is giving us a ticket to the past and holding us grounded for the future. If something we are keeping is broken, or somehow not the way it should be, that means that what it represents will be that way too. So, in the case of the phone book- it is “broken” because it is missing the current businesses and people that are living here and now. It does not link to the present or the future because it is “kept” in the past. In the case of the lonely earring, it too is obviously “broken” and represents a partial memory with no hope of taking us to a future where we might replay a success wearing it. The overabundance of paper clips are not broken, but have no realistic future and make us feel that life is too short to use them up. They also take up space for something that would be used, like a pack of sticky notes. So they are hoarding the space in the desk for the present. (And who doesn’t feel more safe and secure when they can always grab a sticky note?)
There are exceptions to all this. No doubt we all have things that we will never give up because even in their battered, worn out or weathered state, they are special in some way. The faded picture of a loved one, the crumbling wedding flowers, the key to the first car. These are treasured memories and a bridge to safety and security. They take us to the past and bring us back to a new world where we can compare how well we have lived and are living still.
This, I think is the secret to happy keeping: Ask yourself these questions when pondering about keeping your things.
Good luck with your keeping, and keep on keeping on.