Friday, August 10, 2018

Minimalism: What About the Trunk?

In the world of minimalism, there is no one definition that fits everybody. Each person can practice it in their own way, with the overall goal of being content with less and truly loving everything that remains. It's like someone who says they play basketball: maybe they play it in their driveway in their freetime, maybe they played it in high school and still do occasionally, or maybe they're LeBron James and its their professional career. There are all kinds of basketball players. (Yes, I did just make a sports reference). My point is, minimalism can look very different on a case-by-case basis. When I first posted about it, I had a few say that I wasn't a "true minimalist" because I kept my Starbucks mug collection and I still had a memory trunk. But the truth is, these are things that do still bring me an incredible amount of joy, so they stay. 

So today I thought I'd share a bit of that joy with you.
This post actually started as a response to something my mom said to me in one of our recent conversations. She told me that her heart broke when she read my minimalist post, because the things she had spent years packing away for my memory trunk seemed to have vanished. "It looks so empty," she said. And it's true: it took me a long time to sort through everything that had accumulated in the trunk, and I parted ways with a lot of things I'd protected for years. Trinkets, pictures, old playbills, stuffed animals, memory books, journals, newspaper clippings, and snow globes had once filled this trunk to the brim. Crafts and homework assignments from my preschool and elementary school years were preserved between the pages of my 'School Days" book. Even my graduation cap and gown had been carefully folded and tucked away inside. Well...I can see where she was coming from. This is all I deemed worthy to keep:
While it doesn't look like much, I assure you there are more memories and joyful things within this trunk than there are in the rest of my apartment. I'll admit, it was difficult at first to part ways with the things I'd held onto for so long. But once I realized that things like old decks of Pokemon cards and handmade bracelets no longer held meaning for me, it was easy to sort through and decide what to keep. There were even some journals I'd kept in high school - during a very dark time in my life - that I had no reason for keeping. There was literally nothing in them that I wanted to remember. And so they went. Boom - a huge weight off my shoulders, and memories I never have to revisit again.

The things that actually bring a smile to my face were what I wanted to remain in my trunk. I'll be honest: I was somewhat devastated that a Noah's Ark snow globe I've had since birth had broken, ruining my graduation cap and gown and a few other items (I haven't thoroughly gone through this trunk since I moved here last April...a bit of a surprise). But I suppose it made parting with those things much easier. Going through the trunk more carefully than I ever have before, taking out each craft project, old report card, and knick-knack was in and of itself incredibly powerful. To remember things from your childhood that you've long forgotten and have those memories come flooding back as vivid as ever...that is why I still hang on to these things. I don't feel they "own me" or that I'm "held back" by them (another purpose of minimalism; to part way with such things), and they still add a great amount of value to my life. Overall, my trunk has become a source of joy for me: a place of happiness I can go if I'm having a rough day or need some extra reasons to smile.

Let me show you what's inside...
I was tempted to part ways with these memory books, especially the photo album above (top photo). A lot of the posts I'd read on minimalism addressed sentimental items, and how photographs should be one of the easiest categories to 'declutter': everything can be scanned and uploaded. But these two albums...I'm not ready to part ways with them just yet. The top album is full of pictures from my summer in Dublin, where I spent nearly three months interning, exploring Ireland, meeting tons of great people, and learning how to travel by myself. That summer, I popped over to Germany to spend a weekend with someone who had been an exchange student when I was in high school. I also spent all of one day in Paris with another intern to catch the end of the Tour de France. I rode on a DUKW, visited the Guinness Storehouse, and tried some very interesting food that summer. Yes, most of the pictures are online. But there's something about that summer that was so life-changing for me: flipping through concrete pages makes me reflect on all the reasons I love to travel so much and why I continue to prioritize it in my life. The second album (bottom picture above) holds similar meaning; its a scrapbook of the very first time I ever traveled abroad, when I spent 10 days with my pen pal in France. I went in 2009 with a few other students from my high school's Cercle fran├žais (aka French Club). We didn't all stay together; we stayed with the families of our pen pals, meeting up occasionally for outings or at the French school. It was the first time I'd ever needed a passport, navigated a metro system, and used my French language skills 'in the field'. I kept handwritten notes, pamphlets, museum maps, and even a menu to create this scrapbook when I returned. I still love to look through it when I'm missing France, so of course it had to stay.
Wonderful picture quality, I know. (Ironically, the worst quality photo is of the highest quality items.) These are possibly two of the most meaningful things I have in my trunk. On August 24, 2016, we lost someone who had always been a sort of 'rock' to our family. My grandpa - my Papa - passed away after a series of heart attacks and strokes. He had always been healthy, with an unwavering, immense personality, and such a full-hearted approach to life. It took a lot to bring him down. Papa had served in the Marines, in the Navy, and had always worked hard to support his family. He was an amazing man. I remember as a little girl visiting his house, looking at his collection of Steins lining the shelves in their den. When he passed away, my mom asked if I'd like one, and of course I said yes. And then that Christmas - the first Christmas we didn't hear his laugh or his big, hearty 'Merry Christmas!' - my cousin made these pillowcases for me, my sister, and our cousin out of his old shirts. This has definitely gotten a few tight squeezes, and I would never part with it. Ever.
I had a really hard time deciding about my old school things. The diplomas I have to keep, of course, for professional reasons. (For example, the Navy required copies of them when I was putting together my Officer Commission application.) But the rest of it - the graduation chords, the writing medals, the crafts and assignments from Pre-K to high school - I had a hard time with because they really aren't necessary and a lot of it is just administrative paperwork and photos of classmates I don't remember. There were a few large, awkward items like a paper plate snowman, a 'birthday book' from my first grade peers, and a President's Day craft that were easy to part with, but I decided to hang on to the rest of it. My mom kept all of my report cards from the first 12 years of my schooling, and while its not great to remember how awful I was in AP Calculus or Trigonometry, my awesome grades in French and 4.0 overall in elementary school make me feel optimistic in my professional life now. (I was a smart kid, that has to count for something, right?) I had a few 'Best in Show's in writing contests, and I even beat my fourth grade teacher in a jump-roping competition. And you know what? I'm happy to say I have the awards to prove it.
The small espresso cup is from one of my best friends in college - my Haileybear - who shared my love of coffee and brought it to me all the way from Norway. The sand dollar was also a gift, a souvenir from my parents' Caribbean cruise years ago. Its been displayed on my dresser, or on my bookshelf, and always just reminds me that there are such beautiful things to be found in nature if you take the time to look. I don't know if I'll ever make it to the Caribbean (there are so many places I want to go!) so its nice to have a little piece of it with me.
In the smaller memory box, I've stowed away coins from my travels to Greece, Germany, France, Ireland, and Austria, a few journals I kept while abroad, and photos that never made it online (and likely never will). I am so, so thankful for these journals (and a few things tucked inside like maps and itineraries) as they were incredibly useful when I was working on my book. (Yep - fun fact, I have an unpublished book sitting in my kitchen and it is an absolute dream of mine to one day publish it!) Re-reading these journals lets me reflect back on every small detail - the smell of the air, the quirks of my hosts, the things I found unique on any given day - and not just the broader memories. The photo collection has accumulated over the years, a carefully curated collection of my most special moments, from my baptism (center, bottom) to Grandparents' Day (top left, there's Papa!) to my high school prom (bottom right). They let me remember that one time Haileybear talked me into doing a fashion show with her (top center), and how awkward my eighth grade friends and I were upon graduating from elementary school (dead center). Some photos just don't have the same effect as they might online. These ones in particular will never lose their value.
And finally, we have things from my very early childhood, including a personalized Precious Moments bible (I believe it was a baptism present...another fun fact, my special day was July 15th), my first beanie baby Fleece and my favorite beanie baby Ewey, and a cookbook I made with my mom when I was still in preschool. Basically, she did the writing and I just put stickers all over it. The recipes inside are cut-and-pasted copies of Disney recipes from a book we had, including Donald Duck's trailmix, Chip and Dale's Chocolate Chip Cookies, and Pluto's Biscuits (to name a few). My mom is a wonderful baker, and whether we were making cookies or muffins or cakes (ok, she made them - I watched) I used to love spending those afternoons in the kitchen with her, basking in the aroma of freshly baked goodies. It might just be a few pieces of paper, glue, and stickers held together with staples, but the memories it brings back are too good to part with it. And so it stays.

There are plenty of quotes about minimalism, and one of my favorites come from TLC's Peter Walsh: 'Clutter is not just the stuff on your floor. It's anything that stands between you and the life you want to be living'. I wholeheartedly agree. While some might see everything I keep in my trunk as clutter, I don't. It's not standing between me and the life I want to live. Its a great reminder of who I was, what I've done, where I've been, and what I'm capable of. It fuels me, reflecting on these things. While there were many things in my trunk beforehand that held me down, what's left only propels me forward. 

And that's definitely something worth holding onto.


  1. The world is too concerned about labels and rights and wrongs. There isn't only one right way to live! You do you, and you can do whatever you want to make yourself happy. Your treasure trunk is so special! The pillow-case made of your grandpa's shirt is incredible. What a special gift!
    Don't listen to what others say about your choices, it's none of their business.

    1. Thank you so much Miriam! I definitely think people like to slap labels on whatever they can, which is so stupid! I think getting rid of as much as I have has helped me to find way more value in what is still in my trunk, and appreciating it all so, so much. Like that pillowcase - I cried when I opened it that Christmas!


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