Check Contents Before Opening

Packing Only What Fits?

Every morning, I do a once-over of the children before they depart for school, and make sure they look solid. Before I consider them fully inspected, I give them that one last look from head to toe to confirm no hairs out of place; clean corners at the mouth; smooth, unbent collars; fully zipped coats; smiles all aglow; and covered necks and chests. “Child, don’t be taking no chances with this weather…can’t be coming down with a chest cold!” (Now say it in the most southern twang you can muster.) 😮 I’m beginning to sound like somebody’s grandma…probably got it from somebody’s grandma! Inspection now complete, they walk off, and I’m assured that they are all set. 

Once they leave, I settle into the domestic affairs of cleaning off the table and counters, and putting away cereal boxes and orange juice.  My eye catches hold of a small pile of school papers which contains unsigned permission slips and school announcements, some now moot because of past deadlines. These were all from only one of their backpacks, seemingly from a few days ago. How did I miss that? They probably snuck that past me, I thought. Darn it, I forgot to check the inside of their bags…again!  It occurs to me that I haven’t personally checked the inside of their backpacks in quite some time. I’ve trusted their little growing independent selves to handle this aspect of their organization, dismissing the fact that they may need a little help along the way.

In fact, I haven’t been checking on the inside of much, as of lately. Ouch! I consider the question of how often we check on the inside. Sometimes, my steady auto-pilot feature is so engaged, that I don’t do due diligence to my total self by checking on the inside, so by all appearances, it all appears well. This small example of not checking my children’s backpacks is a microcosm of our avoidance to thoroughly check the inside, and sift through the contents of our personal selves. By all appearances, we appear well, but beneath, lies an emergent self that is steadily evolving as it navigates through life and seeks to apply the wisdom gained over the years. It busily trods through life, hoping to present itself better, stronger, more equipped for the race with each new day, yet, it is bombarded with numerous messages, of things unattended, and of stories untold.

Left unchecked, this emergent self carries its ramblings, notions, musings, thoughts, hopes, dreams, and epiphanies under wraps, sealed, to be released probably never, and most certainly, too infrequently. Occasionally however, there is a need to check its contents. A thorough inspection is required to ensure that we have what we need when we need it. We may very well need to review its contents; discard what’s no longer useful, and replenish what’s needed. In my children’s backpack, it was the announcement of the school’s new SMARTboards, a middle school parent orientation, and a May field trip (which thankfully, I will submit in time). In a broader sense, however, a review might indicate that our priorities are in need of reorganization. It might be the realization that we haven’t tended to matters of the heart. It may be the acknowledgment that we need to nurture some personal connections, rest, or are on “to-do” overload, or that our bodies are lacking some key nutrients, exercise, and quality down-time. Perhaps life has become so routine and formal, so deadline-driven; but within, we are in need of some organization, prioritization, and yes, fixation…on the inside.

Check the contents not only to find what’s missing, but to also celebrate what’s in place; what you deem most important, what you’ve insisted on carrying, what propels you. Perhaps those things are glaringly evident, indicating that you are right where you need to be. Celebrate that as well, that you may give yourself permission to occasionally mess up on those things that show up on the outside. If your personal house – your very essence, your compassion, your storehouses of love, generosity, the very inner hearkenings of your heart, talent, art, ministry, gifts – is in order, who cares what everyone else sees?  Only you know the hard work that you put in to get it that way. Pack carefully, but don’t keep piling it on. Streamline often, to avoid getting bogged down by dead weight. Broom the crap, and groom the rest! Write the stories, and get it out one way or the other. Unleash the uneasiness that comes from avoiding what’s inside, and take joy in seeing it morph into tangible action. Experience the sweet joy that springs forth from releasing the pent-up frustration and seeming inability to move forward on said project, or action item.  Eliminate those things that add no value to what you say is most important to you – your values, your core, your master plan! Cultivate and enhance only the keepsakes – those contents worthy of keeping –  that you may rightfully grow into that beautiful beyond-emergent self, from the inside out!!

And  now, for some musical inspiration on the subject:
Bag Lady“, Erykah Badu
Lively Up Yourself“, Bob Marley

This One’s A Real Keeper!

Scan of a Valentine greeting card circa 1920.
"Who Does That Anymore?"

Amidst all this recent de-cluttering and organizing, I ask myself, “what are the real keepers?” What do I absolutely need to keep? Heck, what do I want to keep?  I consider these questions as I place yet another few old greeting cards into a photo box labeled as such.  One of my worst fears is losing my memory, so I tend to keep things that have sentimental value. I think that somehow these physical mementos will facilitate the recollection process in the event that that ever happens.  Though my filing and storage system can still use a little help from Oprah and organizational “expert” Peter Walsh, I will never admit to being a pack-rat.  (I put the word “expert” in quotes, as I’m reminded by my dear friend, that oftentimes these experts are experts in every area except their own lives. I tend to agree.)  I actually think I have a system – well, sort of – even though my husband thinks it quirky and understood by none other than myself.  When it comes to matters of the heart, however, I think that I have quite an uncanny ability to discern what is worth keeping. 

This list is by no means exhaustive. After all, I wouldn’t want to exhaust you, but some of the things that I’ve kept include:

  • Hospital Wristbands – those flexible pieces of plastic only slightly bigger than a man’s size ring, secured around a baby’s wrist at birth.  I’ll never forget their birthdates this way!
  • Greeting Cards From my Husband & Father-in-Law  – Something must be said that the two of them know how to pick the best cards ever! Not sure how much of this is learned behavior. I swear my father-in-law must spend quite a bit of time in his local Hallmark or drugstore selecting cards for his grandchildren. His cards to our children are especially meaningful, given the physical distance that separates us. More than his generous giving, I look forward to opening the cards they get from him. From the cover to the inside, each one is hand-picked to reflect the children’s interests, beauty, and personality.  My husband’s greeting cards to me are among the most random, beautiful, and hilarious cards ever!  They seem to say just the right thing at the right time. His cards to me are given “just because”, and are usually not centered around an event or occasion.  It is rare that I myself will purchase greeting cards for anyone. I think that only I know best what I want to communicate, so I will often write a letter instead.  Occasionally, beautiful blank cards or those with less print will do.
  • Children’s Artwork – Hold on now, not all of it, only the ones that they themselves have created. Classroom-generated art should be tossed at the door, as it only serves as proof that your child can or cannot follow directions, and you already know this! Plus, I’m not raising a bunch of conformists. Do remember to shred what you don’t keep. Trust me, no amount of explanation will comfort a child who discovers her “best-thing-ever” in the trash or recycling bin.
  • Photographs – preferably only those that capture your best side.  Choose wisely! 😮 Seriously, photographs say a lot. They capture moments as well as emotions in time, and remind us of the events and people surrounding those moments.  For instance, the image header on this blog was taken of a frog that my two oldest children found in the basement. They then took it outside and “nurtured” it, thinking that it was a good idea for a pet.  And you thought it was some internet “art”?  Photographs take you back to the physical places you traveled and inhabited, and evoke emotions that are as raw as when they were first felt.  Now you just have to remember where you put the darn photographs!  The absence of photographs, on the other hand, requires the memory to work overtime to recall and piece the past together, and sometimes obliterates memories altogether. That can be a good or bad thing, depending on the memory. 
  • Letters – mostly handwritten, few typed.  Someone took the time to write it, so I take the time to cherish it.  Before her passing, my grandmother and I wrote each other regularly. I’ve kept all of her letters, since the time we were separated. I was 10 years old, so I have lots of letters!
  • Playbills & Movie Ticket Stubs – how else am I suppose to remember the names of these things, let alone what happened in them?
  • Final Hotel Bills – they bear the name, address, and dates during which we stayed during our travels.  The bill itself is useless, but everything else is right there!
  • My Writing – I keep all of my writing, whether it’s written on a napkin, cardboard insert from dry cleaners, or the back of an airline boarding pass or ticket.  After I’ve pieced together all of it, I may very well have the makings for a complete novel! 

And now, I am off to the organization of all these keepers!  Oh Happy Day!  Let me know some of the things that you insist on keeping. I might need to update my list!