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I have been pushing myself to sort through my stuff and throw away as much as I can. It is amazing how fast I can fill up a large plastic trash bag with all kinds of stuff I no longer need. It’s a discipline to evaluate the importance of our accumulations and decide what to keep and what to discard. Not only is there the physical benefit of de-cluttering, there is also the psychological benefit of knowing that I am doing what is natural to do in the old age of my life – letting go of what no longer serves a useful purpose.
Concurrently, I find myself mentally sorting through events, situations and people that live in my memory. Out of the blue a memory of a person, of something that happened to me or of something I did will come up. I look at the memory and ask myself how I feel about it now.
What I am discovering is that I make decisions about these memories in a similar way to how I decide what objects to keep or throw away. I am particularly struck by the honesty with which I can evaluate the contents of my memories. Just as I can look at an object and say, “I don’t need that anymore” or “I never really did like that,” I can also say to a memory, “what happened back then was not OK.” I can say, “I really didn’t like that person,” “I’m embarrassed by what I did,” or, “I really liked that.”
For me, being honest with my memories is related to getting rid of useless physical objects. You cannot throw away a memory, but you can reclassify it by attaching a true feeling to it. Like throwing something away that you don’t really need, reclassifying memories makes one’s life lighter – a mystery, no doubt, but a reality nonetheless.
Sorting and sifting in order to evaluate what has meaning for us now; being honest by assigning true value, whether to an object or to a memory; and deciding to honestly deal with that thing or memory – these are a gift of old age.
“Thoughts on Aging” is a column by Baruch Gould, MOWSF’s Manager of Volunteer Programs, on issues related to seniors and aging. You can reach him at email@example.com.