Letting Go of Nostalgia

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying UpI think I’m done with nostalgia.

It was the holiday season that made me realize it. I wanted to do something special for Christmas, but for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what that should be.

From the time I was ten until I was seventeen, my family and I were very active in our local Episcopal Church. Christmas consisted of observing Advent for the month before the holiday, midnight services on Christmas Eve, and sometimes even church again on Christmas morning.

Yes, we did presents and a big meal and went to holiday parties, but church – especially the music – was at the core of our holiday. It was the ritual that tied everything together.

I slipped away from Christianity and organized religion many years ago, but at Christmas I would often go to church to sing the music and enjoy the ritual. The driving force behind that was nostalgia: I was looking to recreate the feelings of my youth.

I no longer want to do that. Frankly, I’m not much interested in my youth or my past. What I’ve learned from it – my accumulated knowledge – that interests me, but I don’t have longings for another time or place.

(When I indulge in those quizzes on Facebook that ask what era you prefer, I’m always at a loss, because I don’t even want to go back to one of the earlier decades in which I lived, much less an earlier historic time where there was no room for a woman like me.)

As I unpack the things I moved, I find myself wondering why I brought this table or that book. A lot of my packing was driven by an attachment to an item as a symbol of something past, but many of those things have nothing to do with my current life.

Some of them are reminders of something pleasant, like the bracelet a boyfriend gave me when I was in my twenties. But I’m not likely to wear it. Other things were passed down in my family, and I’m holding onto them out of duty.

I’m reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo. She advocates getting rid of any possession that doesn’t “spark joy” in your life. Under her system, you go through everything you own at one time (she suggests starting with clothes, which are relatively easy to sift through, and doing the most sentimental items last), getting rid of everything that you don’t love. Then you find a place for everything that you’re keeping.

Once you do that, she avers, it’s easy to keep your place tidy.

But there’s an earlier step, and it’s an important one: You have to figure out how you want to live before you can really start to throw things out.

My sweetheart and I, who are working to integrate our separate lives into a joint one, are delving into the concept of how we want to live. We agree that we’d like a spare home, but we may not mean the same things by spare. And we’re thinking about things such as traveling and hiking and community, and how all those things might fit together (and might not).

But I don’t think there’s much room for nostalgia in the life we’re working to make. Nostalgia tends to clutter things up, and whatever we mean by spare, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t include clutter.

So I’m letting go of nostalgia. Oh, I’ll keep some pictures and a few odds and ends from old lives that still spark joy in the current one.

But I’m headed down a new path. We’ll see where I end up.

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Letting Go of Nostalgia — 2 Comments

  1. You, my dear, with your merged households, are at the start of forging some very happy memories and traditions all your own. I’m so happy for you! 🙂

    [ ” Yes, we did presents and a big meal and went to holiday parties, but church – especially the music – was at the core of our holiday. It was the ritual that tied everything together. ” ]

    Same for me, how I grew up. However, as the weeks of November – through the first week of January were the most happy days of my growing up years, every year, I love remembering them.

    It’s not nostalgia, because most of the days of the year growing up were filled with anxiety and fear, and often terror — it was a rough, dysfunctional family in many ways, and even violent, very violent at times, at least toward me — no wife beating in our family thank goodness, very frowned upon in our community. And surely if Dad had even wanted to, Mom would have left him sooner than she did, when she walked out on the family on a Christmas Eve — the very Christmas Eve of the first year I was married the first time. So I have memories that the younger siblings do not have, and they have memories that I don’t.

    And I’ve had wonderful Christmases ever since, with maybe a single exception — the first attempt I made at moving to NYC. Hardly any of them the same, some of them in other countries.

    Love, C.

    • Thanks so much for the good wishes. I’m glad you have some happy holiday memories to offset the bad ones from growing up in a difficult family.

      Remembering the past doesn’t have to be nostalgia. I have fond memories of those Christmas times as well, but I can remember those at anytime, not just during the holidays. I need to find ways to celebrate that are neither religious nor nostalgic. Working on that.