Minimalism lite served me well this year. I’m no longer living out the latte effect. My shoes almost all fit into my organizers. There is hope that one day, my husband’s clothes and mine will be able to live side by side in one closet. That’s to say nothing of the money that I’ve made selling my stuff, clocking in at just over $1,300 for the year.
Yes, my watered-down version of decluttering and deowning was a bright spot in 2016. Until I realized that I gave away the saltshakers. Now, I’m not so sure.
Last week, I lost my mentor. She was a guiding light and a force to be reckoned with. At five feet nothing and maybe 95 pounds, she was tiny in stature yet one of the mightiest women I’ve ever met. Think Tuesdays with Morrie and toss in some cigarettes and an affinity for Virginia Woolf.
Our paths crossed my first year of undergrad when she taught an English 101 course with an economics professor. They called it Money Matters. At 18, I wrote essays on housing projects and engagement rings. Under her guidance, I read Shakespeare and economic theory. In one breath, she could move from gender theory analysis and semiotics to Marxism and questions about Freakonomics. She was, simply put, brilliant.
In addition to becoming my advisor for four years, she humored me when I signed up for every class she taught, and she also invited me to serve as a teacher’s assistant for two more revivals of that freshmen class about words and money.
I learned more about teaching from her than I did from the entire education program. She helped me land my first job. She was there for me when I lost that first job twice. For the past nine years, every time something has gone really well or really wrong in my classroom, she’s been an email away.
And then she wasn’t.
As a wedding gift, she bought my husband and me a saltshaker set from an art museum. They wobbled when you pushed them and arms sprouted out the sides. There were no feet. There were no heads. They were equal parts entertainment and nightmare.
This summer, I gave them away. I also tossed the note she penned for our wedding. I didn’t need stuff. Memories are between people, not things. Besides, they’ll always live on in my mind. This overreliance on material goods was proof of how indoctrinated I was in consumer culture. I had to be strong. I had to donate and recycle.
When I got the call that she had passed, I cried. And then I went to find the saltshakers. When I remembered they were gone, I did not feel like I had betrayed her. I felt like I had betrayed myself. When I realized the card was gone as well, it was almost too much.
It is true that no amount of things will ever bring anyone back to us. We can hoard all the clutter in the world, and it still won’t offer up a hug, a quip, or one last burst of laughter from a loved one who left. It is true that the real impact that people make is felt on our lives, not seen in our possessions.
But in this moment, I’d really like to nudge those damn saltshakers one last time.
So Tell Me…Have you ever missed anything that you parted ways with?