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Easy Come, Easy Go

As a proud Baby Boomer, I must confess, I am a packrat. I have a garage filled with items I have kept or collected through the years, all of which hold some form of sentimental value to me alone. Things from not only my childhood but also from when my parents were in high school back in 1941-1944.


I feel a powerful connection to my parents when I look at their old high school yearbooks or my dad’s varsity jacket. It’s like opening a window to the past and experiencing a warm, nostalgic breeze. However, if I really stop and think about it, I realize that the memories I hold of my parents are within my soul, my being—not stored in material objects.


This inclination to hold onto things for the memories they hold is a generational trait shared by many Baby Boomers and Gen Xers. For us, personal history and cherished moments are often entwined with physical items—objects you can touch, hold, and feel. These items, whether it’s your first pair of roller skates or the baton from your twirling days, act as vessels of memory, triggering emotions and recollections every time we look at them.


Take, for example, one of the most significant items from my childhood: a game ball from a Little League baseball game in which I pitched to win a league championship. It was early June 1970, and the minor league Orioles of the Linthicum Ferndale Youth Athletic Association were facing off against the rival Mets for the championship. The Mets' manager was one of our closest neighbors and his son, my best friend—a healthy rivalry intensified by friendship.


Both of our team’s regular pitchers had reached their maximum innings for the week, so our coach turned to the third-string pitcher: me. I was third string for a reason. I threw hard—scary hard—but I rarely knew where the ball would end up. While I hoped it would land in the catcher’s mitt, more often than not, it struck the batter or bypassed the catcher entirely, hitting the umpire. On that decisive day, however, I found my magic. I shut down the feared Mets and we walked away with the league championship, marking one of my proudest moments in baseball.


My dad took the game ball that my coach handed me after the game and painstakingly worked to memorialize this piece of history. He carefully counted the stitches to ensure the details would be centered, and then neatly wrote on the ball with a black ballpoint pen the words, "1970 Minor League Champs." He then covered the ball in shellac to preserve it. That memento sat on my shelf from the time I was ten years old until I was in my late 50s, moving with me several times but always finding a place of honor in my Mancave—until Chester arrived.


During a transitional phase in my son’s life, he and his family stayed with us for a couple of days before moving into their new home. Along with them came Chester and Baxter, their Boston Terriers. I happily turned over the Mancave to our guests, pleased that I could help my son during this transition.


Well, easy come, easy go. Chester found my nearly 50-year-old baseball and made quick work of it. The only thing left was a 50-year-old ball of string. My son was devastated. He knew how much that ball meant to me and was certain I was going to lose my cool. Surprisingly, it didn’t affect me as much as we both expected because I was beginning to realize that those memories were not confined to that sphere of leather and string. The memories stayed with me despite the ball being completely ruined.


Still, for a brief moment, I did think about trying to salvage it. But Chester passed the indigestible leather the next day, and it was unrecognizable. Of course, it was thrown in the garbage. No heroic efforts for memorialized pieces of dog chow.


This unique incident brought home a significant realization for me: memories don’t truly reside in things. They live within us. Yet, I've noticed a generational divide in how we perceive memories and the items connected to them. Baby Boomers and Gen Xers tend to hold onto things, seeing them as cherished connections to the past, while Gen Y and Z are more likely to discard such items, perhaps influenced by growing up in a digital age where everything can be captured, saved, and even shared through a screen.


Digital photographs will last longer than the paper of yearbooks or the fabric of old jackets. These modern generations understand that a quick snapshot can preserve the essence of an item, even if the tangible object is long gone. And they're right, to some extent. Digital memories are convenient and accessible. However, I can't help but wonder if they miss out on the physical connection that comes with holding a cherished item, feeling its weight, and reliving the moments it represents.


I have reluctantly begun crossing over to the dark side as I am taking photographs of significant items from my past. I no longer physically have my trophies from baseball, football, basketball, and bowling. Yes, bowling. However, I have the digital image that I can look at any time I choose, and more importantly, I hold each cherished memory from the diamond, gridiron, court, or lane, deeply rooted in my soul which no one can take away.


In doing this, I have realized that maintaining a clutter-free space doesn’t mean erasing the past. The memories and significance of these items will outlive the physical objects and can still be shared, and living in a clutter-free environment can be quite refreshing.


Still, there’s an essential reminder here: engaging with our memories is crucial. Taking time to sit back and revisit important moments—whether through journaling, blogging, or simply reminiscing—ensures that these memories remain vibrant. The physical objects might be gone, but the emotional and historical essence will always reside within our hearts and minds.


So, as a dedicated packrat and Baby Boomer, I say this: while it’s okay to treasure old items, remember that their real value lies not within the objects themselves, but in the memories and feelings they evoke. Whether we choose to hold onto these items or let them go, the important thing is to keep our memories alive and well. Let’s ensure we take time for reflection, cherishing our past while making room for the future.


Happy decluttering and memory-making to all—as you might find, the most important “things” are the memories you carry within.

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