I recently moved house. For some people, not a big deal. Especially when you are young and starting out, transferring from rental to rental, maybe increasing your space, and perhaps eventually settling on being a home or condo or townhouse owner.
For me….huge deal! Thirty-four years in one place. The home where my husband and I raised our family, hosted countless holiday and celebratory get-togethers, welcomed our grandchildren, grieved the loss of our parents, entertained our dear friends. The home we watched transform from a hole in muddy ground in 1979 to the two-story cocoon that was our comfort zone, our retreat, and, as I have come to realize, the warehouse where “stuff” grew.
Mountains of stuff. Kids’ art work, boxes and boxes and albums of photographs, decades worth of hostess gifts, i.e. things we never would have bought ourselves. Tools. Lots of tools. Electronics. Slightly incomplete sets of dishes. Sports equipment my kids abandoned years ago. Textbooks. (outdated, of course.) University notes. Elementary school report cards. Pattern books featuring hippy-dippy crocheted ponchos from the 80’s. Yep, I could go on…..
The point is, though you can probably recount a story or memory that is attached to every one of those things you’re hanging onto, there comes a time when it has to go, and despite my loathing, I reached that deadline. The “froggy towel” my kids used to make a game out of after bathtime, the specially-commissioned quilt from Prince Edward County, the falling apart antique dining chairs. They had to go. They couldn’t follow me to my new, smaller home. Even though I loved them.
William Faulkner famously admonished writers to “kill all their darlings.” Just as you are inevitably forced to rid yourself of material things even though you love them, good writers need to learn to be ruthless about cleansing their work of phrases and ideas and anecdotes that take the reader or listener away from the main point. No matter how beautiful or clever or funny your description, you need to ask yourself if it is detracting from your story or theme. And hard as it may be, you need to press delete.
Luckily, in this era of multiple platforms for preserving information, we have the ability to “save” things, whether they are physical or virtual. I had my mobile handy when I reluctantly packed away the quilt and the froggy towel for donation. And if you’ve written something you can’t bear to part with, save it in a file. Use it elsewhere. Just make sure you put it where you’ll get the most mileage out of it.