In honor of my brother’s birthday this month, I reflected on the list of attributes I value in him and in our relationship. He is sincere and caring. He brings me to almost tearful, deep laughter. He always gives me a big hug (which involves him bending a bit given the ten inch difference). Sweetly, he ends every phone conversation with, “I love you.” He has always accepted me for who I am and supports all my decisions. He has even let me help him organize his home, despite the many things I’ve suggested getting rid of (ex. a large chocolate Redskins football, entire pieces of furniture, and his beloved sushi set that he has never used).
To this list, I’d add that on my 20th birthday, he made me an incense burner. I know it was my 20th birthday because he inscribed the date via blue marker on the back of it, along with his initials (who else would have made me such a thing?), and “Happy Birthday!”
I don’t keep much. In fact, I made a business out of it. I spend a fair amount of time telling clients, friends, family, and anyone who will listen, to get rid of most of what they own. With them, I dust off old treasured objects re-found. I work deeply to unpack the sometimes complicated emotional attachment they have to their possessions or the guilt associated with disposing of something someone gave them. I remind people that love and memories make up relationships, not objects.
Despite this, my message is not meant to be completely unbalanced. It’s nice, on occasion, when it’s particularly meaningful, useful, or lovely, to keep items with the capacity to fulfill us more than the average Amazon purchase. But given my perspective, I wonder if people have begun to think of me as completely unsentimental or heartless. While there are many special people in my life, current, from the past, or passed away, my thoughts of them are rarely intertwined with objects. But sometimes they are.
Take the drawing my grandma made that I framed and hung on my wall. After she passed away, I went through some of her stuff with my mom and sister. There was a plethora of scarves, and purses, and other beautiful things. But when we came across this in one of the boxes in her closet, it felt like discovering her true self.
It was signed with her maiden name, representing the short period in her life that she wasn’t married to my grandpa. She had gone to a special high school for art but before going to art school for college, she found out her parents could not afford to send her. This was a dream she never fully realized. So her drawing is a daily reminder to fulfill all my dreams, of my creative potential, and the tremendous love I still have for her. It still manages to inspire me, in part, because it is one of only a few items I have hanging on my walls. Minimalism provides a clear back drop so that we can emphasize the special things in life, even if they are material in nature.
And whenever I burn incense, a habit I still continue on occasion, I think of my brother in his adolescence carving and painting wood to create an object for me that he knew I’d use and appreciate at the time, but likely never expected me to keep.