Happy Sibling Day!
Today’s Thursday which is a good day as any for a little throw back time.
We recently celebrated National Sibling Day in the U.S. to recognize the often under-appreciated special bond of love and friendship shared between siblings.
Eric is 13 months older than me, and we’ve had our own adventures since we both left southern California and matriculated into college. It was only when – I moved back from the east coast and especially when his oldest daughter Lauren kept asking questions about me – did I spend a lot more time with his family.
So when National Sibling Day approached, I pulled out an old photo album and picked out a charming photo of us from 1980 standing in front of a giant telephone, a prop from Universal Studios Hollywood. Luckily I still had something laying around as I hadn’t yet tackled downsizing sentimental items.
One of the toughest areas to tackle when downsizing and purging your belongings is tackling sentimental items. I thought clothes would be tough. They were a breeze compared to this.
These items include journals, photos, letters and other personal papers which capture moments in time. No one else would value them, but me. If anyone has looked back at their personal papers, you may understand this feeling of being transported as if through a time machine, into the thoughts and feelings you had at the moment pen touched paper or the shutter of a camera clicked.
How can I casually discard this connection to the past?
So if I use the same approach described in 30 weeks to minimalism, the haunting question I am left with is: How do these items serve me in my future? I came up with three ways:
- Learning tool
- Throw back
There’s a famous longitudinal study the Harvard Study of Adult Development that tracked the lives of 724 men, year after year, asking about their work, their home life, and health status since 1938. I had read about it some years ago, and so when I came across it once again in a TED Talks video, I was fascinated to hear the results. The fourth director of the study, Robert Waldinger reports:
The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keeps us happier and healthier. Period.
Rather than rely on my memory of events, I have documentation penned by myself at the time of the event of my own life. With less science & rigor and with simply a cohort of one, I have a longitudinal study of my own life which captured thoughts and feelings over time since the age of 13. It seems a terrible waste to discard this rich personal history without first trying to learn from it. Perhaps I can form a better understanding of myself much as a social psychologist would a patient.
As an aside, Bill’s father participated in the Harvard Study of Adult Development, and while we haven’t yet asked, we suspect Bill is participating in the Second Generation Study to provide information about aging across the lifespan.
After I sent Eric the picture of us for National Sibling Day, he peppered me with questions about our high school experience.
My brother is struggling with coming up with an approach to help his 15 year old daughter Lauren with getting into college. In the fall, she will be starting her junior year in high school. Should she take advanced placement courses or cool courses (e.g., dystopia in films)? Which course work will look better on her application? Naturally, she wants to take the cool courses now, but is she being shortsighted by making this choice? What can a parent advise her?
The journal I kept from my high school years gave us some insights into what is happening in the mind of a 16 year old girl. Not only did it provide me a great deal of empathy for my 16-year-old self, it provided a perspective and some guidance on what Lauren must be going through.
From a parenting perspective, having that information brought a little more clarity to how Eric would approach these next steps. It’s hard for a parent to pull information like thoughts and feelings from a teenager. I was happy to share what I went through at the time so it might better prepare Lauren for the present day.
The final benefit we gleaned was reading a page out of my journal about my first rock climbing experience. I read that Scott, Kory, Eric and I along with our AP biology teacher went on a mid-week trip to Joshua tree. We stayed at Intersection Rock for two days, where our teacher showed us different knots (e.g., water knot, figure 8, double figure 8, etc.) and the various climber & belay commands. He led each of the pitches placing protection along the way, while we followed on top rope.
The kicker was finding out that we climbed Cyclops back then (pictured above). It blew my mind, and when I told Andrew about it, he was gobsmacked. The reason is this:
For his 40th birthday, Andrew and I went rock climbing in Joshua Tree. After doing a mix of face and crack climbing on “The Swift” a 5.7 multi pitch trad on Lost Horse Wall, we spent the next morning on “The Eye” a single 5.4 pitch on Cyclops Rock. According to my tick in Mountain Project, I wrote,
Lead up the gulley, ran it out 20 yards before placing the first pro when route angles to right, good holds, nice stem in parts. Need 3-4″ pro for anchor at top.
If I had never written about it or if I had thrown out the journal prematurely, I would not have made the connection. Of all the routes in Joshua Tree, we picked the same one 30 years later.
If we go back to the same approach outlined in 30 weeks to minimalism, I would say these sentimental items retain some intrinsic value that will benefit me in the future. Or maybe this is just one big juicy rationalization.
MICHAEL Don't knock rationalization; where would we be without it? I don't know anyone who could get through the day without two or three juicy rationalizations. They're more important than sex. SAM WEBER Oh, come on, nothing's more important than sex. MICHAEL Oh yeah? Ever gone a week without a rationalization?
So, I gave myself a few days and read through a couple of journals, letters from friends and family, documents from my travels around the world and boxes of photos and photo albums.
After reading the journals, it was insightful to see my younger self throughout the years handling challenges and articulating hopes. In some cases, I did a decent job chronicling events, books I read, music I was inspired by, people I met and the circumstances in which they made an impression on me. They all shape who I am today, and I am grateful for these experiences.
In the photo albums and boxes of photos, I saw my childhood unfold. All legs and arms as a youth, athletic and still baby-faced in high school, and some unfortunate choices in hairstyle. All of these pictures pre-dated digital photos and the era of instant gratification. Since I was an editor on yearbook, I had access to some photos that didn’t make the cut. I posted a few on Facebook, which triggered the following reactions:
Annie: The hair! We had such big hair!
Grace: OMG… I love these photos! Yes, the hair!
Akemi: Oh my! I had forgotten my big 80’s permed hairdo!! Thanks for the memories.
Linda: Brings back some amazing memories.
Ellen: Love these!
In Sik: Omg. So many memories. Just glad we didn’t have social media back then.
Hans: Yearbook was the closest we got to social media haha
And so with a light heart, I am happy to let these items go.
A Pirate’s Booty
Among my personal papers and travel documents, I found a treasure!
- 20 Pound Sterling
- 100 Indian Rupee
- 3,000 Japanese Yen
- 10,000 Chilean Peso
- 20,000 South Korean Won
- Red envelopes totaling USD $300
At today’s exchange rate, this is $382.41. So it turns out intrinsic value equates to monetary value. It pays to go through your papers carefully.