My hobby of the last few years has been getting rid of possessions I don’t need any more–clothing, furniture, household items, files, duplicate tools, crafts supplies, and mementoes.
Sentimental items are the hardest to release, but I was successful with most of mine. If I proceeded slowly, it was easy to go through old pictures (I scanned them and stuck the originals in albums), old letters (I re-read them, and scanned some), and a few objects from my childhood and from my family’s life (stored in a couple of tidy boxes in the basement, with lots of extra space in the boxes). I have two bound copies of my Ph.D. dissertation, a pile of my published books, and a small handful of other books that I will actually re-read at some point, but the rest were all given away. My basement is spacious and clear. I even have a spare room in my house with nothing in it at all.
One category has been genuinely hard to get rid of, though. It’s a collection of pot-metal flat objects in various shapes, fencing medals, from the sport I practiced from the early 90s to the early 20s (I retired last year). Because it was a small sport, and because they used to let me do it, I went all the events that would allow me to compete.
More or less by accident, I started fencing the discipline of women’s sabre when they started allowing women to do it, so at my first small events, I often came home with a medal. There might be three of us entered, but even if I finished last, by god I got a medal, and I was proud of it, because I didn’t start fencing until I was in my 40s and it felt like a real achievement to show up.
Then I kept getting better, even though I was getting older, and for a while I competed successfully in open events, even in international ones. When I got too old to defeat competent fifteen year olds, I switched entirely to over-50 age-group tournaments, and I competed in about fourteen world events for people my age. Most of the time, I came home with another medal, and sometimes, I even won.
That’s a lot of pot-metal.
The collection used to take up a lot more space, but a few years ago I started cutting the ribbons off and chucking the medals into a crate . The crate was too heavy to move easily, and they got dusty. A couple years back, I sorted the medals into two piles, and stored all the minor medals in the basement, keeping the ones I’m proudest of in a basket upstairs.
But there are too many medals.
The thing about sentimental items is that they have stories attached to them, and my fencing journey was all about accumulating stories. I have competed against the best in the world, I have been to some very odd and interesting places, I have known all kinds of people who are important in the sport, and every time I competed, I was terribly afraid of losing and yet I showed up anyway. That counts for something.
I don’t want to keep all these little flat metal pieces. They have no intrinsic worth whatsoever. When organizers take a photo of the champions, and insist that they bite their medals, it’s because the medals are supposed to be gold, soft enough to show a tooth mark. But even Olympic gold medals are mostly silver nowadays, and if you bite them, you risk breaking a tooth. My medals wouldn’t get me a dollar at a scrap metal yard.
I should take the ones that really matter (the four laid out at the very far end) and put them in a shadow frame. I should chuck the rest.
But I want to keep the stories. I’m going to try to tell some of them. And then I can get rid of most of this load of cheap metal.