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SALT LAKE CITY — Eight years into my marriage, in a burst of decluttering energy, I retrieved a box from the highest, hardest-to-reach corner of my closet. Turned out, it wasn't just any box.
Fourteen years prior, the summer before heading off to college, my 18-year-old self had carefully chosen and tearfully packed my most treasured mementos into it, taped it shut, and wrote "Susie" in large block letters on the top and sides.
I quickly cleared a space among the toys on the family room floor for the box. It was me and the box against the clock — the "baby is napping and the littles are occupied so I’d better do this quick" clock — and time was of the essence.
So, utterly unprepared, I tore off the tape and opened the flaps.
Last in, so first out came four dried wrist corsages, elastics and a few roses still intact. Next, a smattering of tchotchkes, all covered with a layer of flower dust; a plastic champagne glass, embossed with the theme and date of a prom; orchestra and choir letter jacket patches, never attached to an actual jacket due to budget constraints and, if I’m being honest, their not-as-cool-as-sport-letters vibes; framed dance and BFF pictures; a cross-stitch from my best friend of two rabbits sitting side by side, one saying to the other, "Somebunny loves you."
Then came the flat, mostly paper items: folded notes with tucked-in corners, an arrow pointing to a small flap that said "pull here" (readers of a certain age will know what I mean); birthday cards; a letter to my future self wherein I expressed extreme optimism for a future filled with everything wonderful; a list of classmates’ comments about my best qualities (‘very nice’ and ‘really nice,’ mostly; I never did make the cool cut), a journal in which I had used an entire page to write — and later angrily cross out — the declaration, "I’m soooooo in love with Jeff."
My plan had been to quickly decide what to keep and what to toss — but an hour and a half after opening the box, I was still sitting on my family room floor, surrounded by toys and the box’s contents, bouncing my baby while my two littles hopped and rolled and zoomed through and around us (think Dash from ‘The Incredibles’). Also, I was sobbing and laughing in equal parts.
Each item I took out of the box brought back specific memories I would have never had otherwise. I was reminded of who I used to be, how I thought, what interested me, who I liked, who I loved, what made me laugh, and who made me cry. One box, all the feels.
I had led a rather average life, without tragic or extra noteworthy extremes. But it was mine, and it mattered to me, and I hoped it would be important to my kids — to the people who mattered to me.
So instead of getting rid of everything in the box, I carefully considered what to toss (the corsages were already on display in my dance pictures), what to take pictures of and then toss, and what to keep. Because of the discussions I could have with my kids down the line when holding a memento or looking at a picture or reading phrases like ‘Somebunny loves you,’ I decided that some things were absolutely worth keeping.
The ‘littles’ are now 25, 23 and 19 years old. I’ve never regretted keeping those memories; it has most definitely mattered since then, and I don't think it will ever stop.
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The year 2020 is shaping up to be anything but average. Because it’s the most historically significant year most of us have ever lived through, I don’t think I’d be too far off in speculating that what happens to us during 2020 will be important to people one day. Our levels of average or tragic or noteworthy or just plain sad are all different. But for our kids or grandkids, for students and even for historians, they will all matter.
So why not grab a box and a notebook and start capturing our 2020 memories? Big or small, fancy or plain — it’ll be what’s on the inside that will matter the most.
We can start gathering words and objects that best represent our anxieties, new hygiene habits, lockdown activities, projects. What we missed out on, what we celebrated. What and who we never knew we never knew. What and who we grieved.
Funny how answers to these 2020 musings echo the memories experienced, and still experience, when looking through the box I packed 33 years ago.
Because no matter our circumstances — from average teenage years to a historically extraordinary year — what happens in our lives matters. And our memories are most definitely worth keeping.
If you need some help getting started, check out the ideas Aimee Ferre shared on Tuesday's episode of "Studio 5 with Brooke Walker."