Its easy to accumulate a lot of stuff over the years. The difficulty in making decisions about what to keep and what to get rid of can often turn us away from the task altogether. This is the story of stuff I kept and stuff I destroyed.

Our unfinished basement was becoming a dumping ground/storage space. No matter how many times I organized it, times got busy and it filled with piles and mess to be dealt with later. We’re tight on space in our lil’ house, so we made the decision to define our basement, finishing it to provide the extra rooms we could use.

I have never actually seen our basement this empty.

Our first step was to empty the basement completely so the last few weeks were spent chipping away at our stuff, reorganizing, selling, and donating. Last weekend was the final stretch – going through the sentimental stuff. These are mostly my dusty ol’ things which hadn’t seen the light of day in years. Alongside photos was a huge box of materials worth about $ One Fine Arts Degree and a drawer full of old letters.

The university stuff was interesting to dig into but cathartic was dealing with my letter drawer. For my entire life I was really into writing to people. Receiving letters in the mail excited me (and still does!) so I’d write lots hoping to receive as many responses, which I usually did. I kept all the ones I got back from people and often wonder where the letters I wrote ended up – kept or tossed?

A small handful of the letters I have received.

The letters hail from all over the world. I had a lot of people to write to since most of my family is in Europe and I’ve lived in 4 different countries. I put forth a strong effort to keep in touch. Reading these letters takes me back to different times of my life, some of which I forgot about (these could come in handy if I lose my memory!). I am so glad I had a life before e-mail. I treasure these letters and will continue to hold on to them, with a small exception. 

I associate him with a very dark time in my life. When I think back to it there is this, thick, negative energy, like tar. I have no desire to read a single word in his many letters, subjecting myself to re-experience the way I felt in that relationship. In the back of my mind I guess I always knew his letters were with me but I never put together that I had been lugging these tiny black clouds around for the last 20+ years! I’m angry that I allowed them to take up so much space in my life. When they finally made it to the deep six pile, I felt free! Without reading a single word I let them all go and took flight! 

My letters were the last box to deal with and once finished I took Tino for a peaceful, long walk in the light snow/rain (yes we get this in Calgary). My brain was clearing, deleting files, and I thought how indulgent it would be to take a further step and burn those letters. It’s a final, symbolic ending that would give me pleasure, even if it makes me seem slightly unstable. I realize it doesn’t exactly sound like normal behavior to go to the trouble, but, I decided his letters are becoming ash and there was no turning back.

Fire add
Watch out, Tino!

Fire toss

fire last
What would Marie Kondo Think?

I uncovered a bunch of old journals packed in with my letters. I realized that I had been keeping journals on and off throughout my life. I am so lucky to be able to read through these hilarious, emotional, desperate, and pathetic pieces now. They are a window into my heart at the time. When I was 16, my parents sent me on an amazing 1 month trip to visit family in Yugoslavia. I was without my friends and nuclear family on an adventure I will never forget. But the journal entries from this trip provide details that would otherwise have been lost forever. Getting to read what I was thinking is priceless:

inside diary
“Grub” was code for hot guys (between my circle of friends back home).

It reminds me so much of who I was back then – a boy-crazed, fashion-obsessed, really bad speller! Ah, it’s so much fun to peek into your 16 year-old mind 33 years later! 

Ana unearthed my old dance journal which piqued her interest. She thought of starting her own. Do it, child – you will not be sorry! I wanted to see what she found so intriguing about it. Reading it, I was reminded of how much dance filled me with joy. The entries were uplifting and full of ideas and inspiration. I love dance! In recent years, I have looked into classes for myself but could rarely make the schedule work with our one-car family’s activities and my ridiculously early bed time.  This time things lined right up and I am completely energized from dancing again!  Thank you, Dance 210 Journal, for reminding me!

A pile of my journals.

Keeping a journal and writing letters are a lot alike. A journal more raw and honest, not intended to be read by others. Writing for all those years has kept me hopeful, passionate, sorted, and has helped bring me back from low points.  Reading back through my journals has helped me learn about myself, exposed my fragility and humanity, and given evidence of how I stood in my own way. At the same time I feel embarrassed and uncomfortable about the way I was/am. These bits of writing give me an indescribable feeling putting me right back in those moments.

I’m so stirred by this recent going-over that I am thinking about sharing some of the letters I have with the writers so they can remember, too. It may interest them them, especially if they don’t have their own journal or letters to look through.

I love reading through my old journals, it reminds me of who I am, and have always been. Nuts or not nuts – it’s pure me, straight from the heart.

What have you kept over the years? Have you looked at it lately?


9 Replies to “Keepers”

    1. Laurie! Thank you! Enjoy the process while making progress. I ended up setting a few things aside for deeper exploration later. I would love to hear about about what you find!

      Thanks for reading, miss you too!


    1. Hello Ell,
      We are just framing it now so still a while before it’s done. We are putting in a bathroom, an art space and a hang out space- all very exciting and tiny. BTW I have a letter from you. I will email you a picture!


  1. Hi Irena! It was so wonderful to read this. Your honesty and reflectiveness are so welcome, as is your willingness to look at the face value of who you were then and now, and to make changes. And I always love a good burn pile : )

    Thanks also for the reminder of how great letter writing and journalling are. I need to bring both back into my life.

    Can’t wait to see the basement photos!


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Elizabeth thank you for taking the time to make such a thoughtful comment! Hearing that you are considering bringing letter writing and journalling back into your life means my goal has been reached with this piece!!! I just love ya!


  2. “Grub” is a good word for hot guys. Reminds me of something yummy lol

    Over the years, I’ve kept photos in a big plastic bin. It wasn’t until last year that my husband asked me to please organize it and trash the duplicates. I’m summarizing. He didn’t say it this nicely. So, last year is the last time I’ve looked at my massive box of photos.

    Liked by 1 person

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