Nostalgia Paralysis


Two Hot Tomatoes.  Left: a vintage sewing “tomato” pincushion, Right: My grandma, Irene Anthony, circa 1940something.  Chances are good she made that suit she’s wearing.


When you’re decluttering a massive pile of stuff, you can come across things given to you by people no longer with you.  Things bequeathed, given, or just things that can evoke a memory.

I was prepared for the craft room work of organizing the shelves, and purging a good 75% of my patterns since I hadn’t bothered to put most back into the packages correctly and sorting them out would have taken more time than they were worth.  I wasn’t prepared to find so many remembrances of my Grandmother in the piles of patterns.  Patterns she had bought and made into clothing for me as a child, newspaper clippings about Barbie dolls, a cut out doll pattern with a bunch of notes.  I even found a mimeograph of the spring concert for my band/choir in grade school where I had a solo.  She had saved them all, and when she died in 2000 I had been given all her sewing & craft items.  I had completely forgotten they were there, stuck in the bottom of boxes crammed full of crumpled unidentifiable tissue paper patterns.

I slowed, I smiled, I reminisced.  Images of my Grandma sewing for me, teaching me how to do a blind hemstitch and encouraging me to sew my own Barbie doll clothes from scraps of polyester knits.  That’s what these objects brought to me.

However, other than the nostalgia value, none of these items were of use to me or pretty much anyone else.  They really were doing nothing more than taking up space, and looking at it honestly I realized they had to go, which made me a little sad.  It’s hard not to feel like you’re getting rid of someone when you realize it’s time to get rid of their stuff.  When you look at it all, it brings back the memories of what they did, how you loved them.  A part of you wants to keep things so you can look at them again and remember.

On the other hand, I had these things crammed at the bottom of a box.  That wasn’t honoring her either.  Keeping my craft room so cluttered I couldn’t actually sew, a skill which she nurtured in me, wasn’t honoring her.  That’s what’s important to remember, living for life now instead of harboring old items for a nostalgia rush.

I know that there’s still plenty of her stuff left in my collection that’s not going away: packages of needles from the 1950’s, snaps and closures, several pin cushions she made, bits of interesting vintage trim wrapped around old cardboard from cereal boxes, notes she had made about my family tree, a drawing of me she had done by a street artist when I had visited them in Florida when I was about 6.  Things that I can use or display proudly without creating chaos and clutter.

It’s hard to get around nostalgia paralysis.  It’s a physical reaction, seeing items and connecting them to the feelings you have of a person that is gone.  But the physical items aren’t the only way to get to that physical rush.  If you’re having difficulties getting rid of items with emotional attachments, take pictures with your digital camera and then get rid of them.  Viewing an image of the items can evoke the same physical reaction, the same nostalgia for the person gone.

I miss my Grandma.  But I don’t need to keep an early 1980’s pattern of a dress I will never fit into to again to keep that love alive, it will be with me for all my days.

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