What happens to my life when I die?

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Red boxes of

Red boxes of “stuff”

“The things you own end up owning you.” –Chuck Palahniuk

I have three boxes full of stuff I will never throw away. These boxes hold years of memories, some great, some sad and some bittersweet. They contain birthday cards, old school schedules, report cards, my graduation gown and cap, notebooks full of my writing, newspaper clippings, notes from my friends, old agendas, and other stuff useless to others but precious to me.

I left these boxes back in Europe, in storage at my uncle’s house. They’re still there today but I had no space to bring them with me when I moved to New York. So until I go back to visit, they’ll stay boxed up. But over here, I have a new box of memories in my room. Little pieces of my four years here and it’s going to grow bigger over the years.

My dad recently took a trip back to the home country and he had a chance to sort through some of the stuff in storage. When he came back he told me he had thrown out his old military uniform and medals and badges. I was shocked. He was in the military for almost 20 years. How can you just throw away your medals and uniform? If nothing, they’re sentimental but I guess I understand, after all he obviously has no use for them now. Still for a moment there it still came as a surprise.

This made me think of all the stuff I’m hoarding. When will I throw them out? I’ve sorted through them before, and I’ve often thrown away things that have lost their significance over the years but what about the stuff I will never ever throw out? The things I’ll bring with me to every new city and new home in my lifetime? They’ll probably find themselves in a box somewhere in 40 years. Then I’ll die…and then what? Except the occasional piece of jewelry, I don’t own anything of my parents and grandparents. We’re not a family with heirlooms.

I like to thing one day I can show all my stuff to my kids and tell them the story behind each memento. But is that practical? Will they care? Will I still care in 30 years? Right now it feels hard to throw away these things. It’s like I’m erasing a memory and that’s one of my biggest fears. Forgetting. Losing little memories of my life. Getting Alzheimer’s. I’m so desperate to document my life that throwing away these mementos feels like throwing away a little piece of who I used to be. I still want to hold on to what used to be important to be in high school. I have a mason jar filled with old concert tickets and wristbands because I’m happy when I’m at concerts and I want a tangible reminder of that. This is also why I journal. I want to remember the little details of my life at 14, 18 and 22. It’s pretty incredible to read old journal entries and relive the happy days and the stressful ones. It’s like a window into my own life told by the person who knows it best – me.

This is all an attempt to establish my presence on this tiny Earth and huge universe. I don’t want to be nothing when I leave it. Will anyone read this very blog post in 2156? Is there a way my great-grandchildren can find this blog? Who knows what the Internet will even be by that time.

I have dozens of projects, blogs and journals scattered around in my life. I bet it’s now sounding like an unhealthy obsession and truth is it can feel like that sometimes. It’s tiring to update and record and write and take photos when I’m not even sure it will be worth it in the end. I’m realizing that it feels like I’m too busy documenting my life to actually enjoy living it in the moment. That’s also true at times. My argument is that feelings and moments are fleeting. Writing it down, taking a picture – these things help to preserve it so I can enjoy it over and over again. And if you do it well enough, I promise you the feeling is still in there. It’s like when you wish you could bottle up a specific scent. One that takes you back and stirs up that nostalgic feeling. I’m a sucker for nostalgia. I want to relive the good times. And all this documenting we can do? It’s the closest thing we have to a rewind button in life.

Do you collect and save mementos from past years? Is it hard to part with them? What do you do about it?

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4 thoughts on “What happens to my life when I die?

  1. I save mementos and I scrapbook each year of my high school and college years. I think sometimes it’s helpful to keep things to one day help us let go. I was in color guard in high school and it took me a long time to get over feeling like I had lost a piece of myself. As a result I kept old flags, wristbands, etc. One day I was okay with it only being a memory and I was able to let go and throw away what wasn’t preserved in a scrapbook. It’s almost therapeutic to be able to physically hold onto something until you can mentally throw it away. I like to keep things in my scrapbooks so one day when I do have grand kids there will be something to help me recall the stories I want to tell them one day. The stuff that stays special until the day you die? One day someone will stumble upon it thousands of years from now and somehow through advanced research they’ll be able to trace it back to your blog. Your keeping of your memories is leaving a trail for historians years from now and I think that’s something pretty special in the grand scheme of things.

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  2. I know exactly what you mean! I have a few boxes in my parents’ attic full of ribbons from dance competitions, the newspapers I wrote for in high school, all kinds of stuff no one but me will probably ever care about. Schoolwork was a big one for me too: last year, I finally threw out my notes…from middle school. I don’t know what it is about keeping schoolwork, but I probably still have tons of boxes of binders and notebooks and highlighted pages filled with info that I no longer remember or really care about. I like to think that when I go, I’ll just be cremated and burned with all these mementos and we’ll all be ash together. But in the end, it’ll just probably end up in a landfill somewhere. It’s sad on the one hand, but on the other, if I’m already gone, it doesn’t make a difference to anyone, does it?

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    • Burning them with you…Interesting! It’s weird. If those things won’t matter when we’re gone, why do we keep collecting them while we’re alive? We KNOW they’ll be trash one day. I guess it’s hard to come to terms with that. But maybe we just need time? It took you a while to throw out middle school stuff. Maybe by the time we’re old we will have thrown out the other stuff too.

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