Personal growth

What we keep

“Why do we have this?”

I was in bed reading when Ryan asked the question. I looked up. He was standing at my closet door, holding up the end of a purple and gold Knox College lanyard that hung over the doorknob.

“I got it at Homecoming.”

“And … ?”

“And … what? I have two of them. The other is in my car.”

He shook his head and dropped the cord. What else could I tell him? Keeping the lanyard made perfect sense to me. It was a souvenir, a keepsake from Homecoming, which was itself a celebration of memories — a reminder of four monumental years spent at Knox, shaping my values, my goals, my true self. Besides, what if I suddenly found myself in need of a long cord on which to hang something? It could come in handy.

I heard once that a good life is a series of significant events. I tend to hang on to things that represent or remind me of the significant events in my life. In a box in my closet, I have every museum ticket stub, bus pass, and map that I accumulated over three months spent in France. In a Rubbermaid box in our storage unit, I have fabric, jewelry, and wooden carvings from my year in Africa. I have boxes full of photo albums, yearbooks, cards, and letters. I have a hard time letting go of these things; getting rid of them feels like letting go of my connection to those significant events that represent the good things in my life, that have helped make me who I am.

Sunday as we drove back from a weekend spent rock climbing in Arkansas, I noticed my small stuffed hippo (purchased in the drug store in the small South Dakota town where my grandparents lived) had fallen from his perch atop the rearview mirror. As I reached over to set him in his place, I contemplated the second of my Knox College lanyards, hanging from the mirror. Not for the first time, I noticed that it blocked the view of the moon-shaped crystal that also hung there. The crystal represents intuition; I bought it a couple of years ago when I was first making an effort to listen to and honor my authentic self. But it was being overshadowed by the cords that hung around it. Maybe Ryan was right, maybe hanging on to these things was pointless. Maybe I don’t need items as proof of what I have experienced or accomplished. I have my memories, and even when those fade, I will have the part of me that was shaped by those experiences. I reached up to remove the lanyard and threw it in the trash bag near my feet.

This morning as I drove to work, I noticed something. As the crystal swayed unfettered from my mirror, it threw spectrums of color around the interior of the car — tiny rainbows that had previously been hindered by the unnecessary trappings surrounding it. Freed from the clutter, the crystal was allowed to shine, to fulfill its purpose to illuminate and cast beauty, to remind me to listen to my intuition.

What things are you hanging onto that could be keeping you from fully experiencing the potential of your current surroundings? It’s only when we re-examine what we believe defines us that we can let go of what is no longer necessary and allow new influences to create beauty in our lives.



  1. Thank you! I love the idea of making a wall collage out of my France souvenirs … sounds like a good rainy-day project! And I haven’t printed a photo in years either, except for special ones I want to frame. Nowadays I’m having more fun putting my pics up on Facebook rather than organizing them in actual books. 🙂

  2. Being human we tend to hang onto stuff, but if we are paying to store it it doesn’t really serve the purpose of a reminder anymore.
    If you care so much about the ticket stubs and maps, why not make a collage for a wall hanging? It would make an interesting conversation piece.
    I haven’t had a photo print done in years, except when requested by a relative. All our pictures from the last 4 1/2 years are stored on our computer. I’m saving trees, and reducing the use of nasty chemicals.

    Great post. I was thinking it over all day.

  3. great metaphor. I’ve been slowly gathering items around my apartment that I could sell on eBay. Besides books and photos, there’s a lot of clutter that I could do without. 🙂

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