Dusty Old Boxes

*Note: This seemed like the perfect time to publish this story again. If you’re lucky, you may inherit a box of family papers someday…and if you’re smart, you will take the opportunity to ask for them when you see everyone over the holidays!

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The latest de-cluttering expert tells us to keep only things that give us “joy”1. All other items should be thanked for their purpose or memories and then given away. At the end of this challenge all that should remain are the things that spark joy in us!

We are told to start with clothes, then books, kitchen cupboards and desktops. Only then, after all that practise detecting feelings of joy over an item, will we be ready to tackle family photos and personal memorabilia.

On the highest shelf of my largest cupboard were three dusty old boxes that I inherited many years ago. They were to be the last step of my de-cluttering project!

I slowly opened the lid of the first box finding lots of old photographs, mostly black and white, some labelled and others not. The first handful of photos was mostly of loving couples and family reunions at the dinner table. Others showed groups of people standing proudly on the front step of a house (a new home perhaps?). The next scoopful were of children at play – sometimes holding family pets in their arms. Another handful produced proud young adults smartly dressed in various uniforms – perhaps starting a new job or ready to go to war. The last bunch showed lazy days on sandy beach holidays, numerous birthday party celebrations and Christmas gatherings.

Frozen moments captured in time from so long ago for me to enjoy now. It all felt so precious. I very gently placed the photographs back, undisturbed, into that first box.

Nothing to be given away.

The second box was filled to the brim with letters and cards. Some still neatly tucked into their envelopes, others held together with yellowing scotch tape and looking well fingered. Most of them had handwritten messages in big loopy writing that was difficult to read. The stamps alone told another story postmarked from places and dates from years ago. Among the letters were also children’s drawings, thank you notes, lists of party guests, festive menus and various well loved recipes.

But my very favourite find in this box were the love letters, written with such passion and lovingly folded into perfect little rectangles and decorated with doodled hearts.

Nothing to be given away.

The last box contained newspaper clippings announcing family births, deaths, weddings and other special events from all my ancestors over the years. And then, underneath all that newspaper, I discovered more treasures!

First, my grandmother’s monogrammed lace handkerchief with a tiny baby’s christening dress complete with a lock of hair tied in a ribbon and stored in a small envelope. Then I picked up the old school primer (book) and several dried flowers fell to the floor. Neatly stored in the bottom were numerous diaries filled with daily messages with the writing continuing up the sides of each page. Finally, carefully folded in tissue paper was an old sampler stitched by my ancestor, as a young girl two hundred years ago. Several of my family’s treasures (and perhaps a little piece of them?) had been lovingly preserved in this last box.

Nothing to be given away.

As I closed the lid on the last box, it dawned on me that someone had already sorted the family memorabilia into those three separate boxes, leaving me to find…three dusty old boxes of pure joy.

1 Spark Joy by Marie Kondo

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