A Red Sweater. A Music Box. And Mother’s China.

IMG_2216The Weight of Things

Last week I was contemplating Holding On and Letting Go. If you missed that post, you can read it here.

The more I think about it, the more I realize what a huge topic this is and how much of an impact it has on our lives.

Sometimes what we hold on to takes physical form. Other times it takes the form of ideas, assumptions, and beliefs – nothing we can see or touch, but just as real.

And sometimes it’s both, physical and psychological. Can physical objects evoke emotions? What power can a red sweater hold? You’d be surprised.

The Story of A Red Sweater

I was cleaning out my closet. Not just organizing or changing seasons. Though I was doing those things, too. The task before me was this: Take everything out, and only put back in the things that 1. Fit me well and 2. Made me feel fabulous.

It’s not as easy as it sounds. It requires a lot of honesty and reflection, even a little courage.

Those Calvin Klein jeans that Lidia said made my ass look great? They’ll fit me again when I lose 10 pounds, I thought. I can zip them up now if I hold my breath. Gone!

That beautifully embroidered jacket that I bought on the shopping trip with my best friend Kathy, and have never worn? Gone!

Those expensive leather and oh-so-comfortable European mules? The very definition of frumpish! These days I only wore them to take the garbage to the curb. Gone!

Gone! Gone! Gone! The more I put in the donation box, the better I felt.

Everything I tried on that day, whether it went into the pile to keep or to donate, had its own story and its own energy.

If I kept the jeans, I was also agreeing to hold on to the idea that I was overweight. For women this is a powerful message of “not good enough”. Women have only to pick up a magazine or turn on the television to get that message. I didn’t need it screaming at me every time I opened my closet. Donate!

The jacket was never really my style. What kept it in my closet was the memory of Kathy telling me I was worthy of and deserving of nice things. She wanted me to do something for myself for a change. It was a message I needed to hear at a particularly painful time in my life. I was never going to wear that beautiful jacket, but perhaps someone else would. Donate!

The mules? Purchased at a time when I was working two full-time jobs (one in an office and another at home), and was raising three kids and a husband. The definition of “frump” is dowdy, drab, unattractive. And a mule is a beast of burden! OMG! Donate!

The red sweater was beautiful. A long cardigan with a scarf collar and braided border. I could wear it with jeans or over my favorite little black dress. I could put a belt around it for a sophisticated, casual look. I always got a lot of compliments when I wore that red sweater. I tried it on with every combination. The color looked good on me.

Why did I only wear it once or twice a year? It was an item rediscovered. I put it back in the closet and resolved to wear it more often.

But something didn’t feel right. When I went to bed that night I was thinking about the red sweater. And when I woke up the next morning, it came to mind again.

I got out of bed and put it on over my pajamas. I thought back to when I’d added it to my wardrobe, the office I occupied at the time, my co-workers, my staff, my assignments.

The oppressive, toxic environment. The long hours. The never-enough, no-win situation. The power struggles in the C suite that rolled down hill.

Aha! The reason I never wore that sweater! Every time I put it on it took me back to that time in my career. I’d left that job over a year ago, but the sweater hadn’t!

That morning the red sweater went into the donation box.

Of course, it’s not about the sweater. It’s about what it represented, the negative energy.

I imagine someone buying that gorgeous, versatile sweater in the second hand shop for a couple of bucks. They might tell that story when they get a compliment. What luck! What a find! It will have a different meaning for them. And the thought of that makes me smile.

A Music Box and My Mother’s China.

I don’t collect a lot of things. I’m not particularly sentimental. I tend to be a minimalist. But a few items carry lessons or memories that I don’t want to let go.

My grandmother was a hard-working, no-nonsense farmer’s wife. She didn’t have a lot of frills or luxury in her life. But she had a powder puff music box that sat in the middle of her dressing table. It played The Anniversary Waltz. And she let me play it every time I asked, always with the same reminder “Don’t wind it too tight”.vintage-metal-powder-puff-music-box-8-base-picture-mother-daughter-pup-trinket-0c25fa9ada67d0d88ea13db9cee99f5e

My grandmother was one of the few champions in my life. She complimented my talents and encouraged me to go to college. She was my pen pal up until she died, always keeping me informed about the happenings back home the years I lived abroad.

The music box still works. It sits on a table in my bedroom, and now my granddaughter Evalyn asks if she can play it. Of course I tell her “Don’t wind it too tight”. I try to encourage my grandchildren to follow their dreams, like grandma did for me. That music box is a lesson in love.

My mother’s china is a lesson in scarcity. Mom was frugal and fond of keeping things packed away to be used “on special occasions”. I don’t remember once eating off her china, though when I inherited it I noticed that some of the cups showed a little wear, a faint stain of tea perhaps. Now her china sits on the bottom-most shelf of my kitchen cupboard for easy access. The week I brought it home, my granddaughter Reina and I used it for our tea party. The lesson it carries is this: Don’t wait for some day. Live now. Enjoy now.

There are other items I cherish: my grandfather’s rocker, the earrings my daughter bought me with her first paycheck, my first passport, old pictures and love letters, Aunt Tita’s oil paintings.

These physical items evoke emotions and are part of my history, my identity.

What are you keeping? What stories do those items tell? Are the stories positive? Or, are they “red sweaters” that you would be better off without? Post a comment and let us know.

2 thoughts on “A Red Sweater. A Music Box. And Mother’s China.

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