In the immortal words of En Vogue, “Free your mind, and the rest will follow.”
The last time I moved, one of the biggest chores was packing up all of the cups collected during my travels. And then unpacking and finding homes for those cups in our new home. I could probably run a high volume café very easily with my collection, and it was very apparent that I was running out of room. It was time to stop buying souvenir coffee cups.
Fast forward a few years, and our refrigerator had all but disappeared beneath a collection of travel magnets. It was time to stop buying souvenir magnets. In fact, as we surveyed our needs it became abundantly clear that we didn’t need souvenir anythings. We already had drawers full of t-shirts, a cup full of pens, hats full of pins, a house full of knickknacks. We realized we could live comfortably for a very long time without ever needing to buy another one of these things, souvenir or otherwise. Not to mention running low on physical space for our mementos. Perhaps it was time to stop buying souvenirs altogether. Could that actually be?
The question got me wondering why we buy souvenirs in the first place. Certainly, some tiny portion of it fills an actual need. Honestly, I need a coffee cup, but do I need fifty of them? Do we keep buying souvenirs just to jog our memory? Is it to have something to show off like a trophy, or to broadcast to the world that we’ve gone beyond our tiny corner? Or is it a deep psychological need to have something physical to anchor the ephemeral nature of memory?
Whatever compelled us to stop in every souvenir shop we saw, we decided to fight it. We divorced ourselves from the notion that we needed some memento from every place we visited, and made the decision to not buy souvenirs a few years ago. We freed our mind. Sort of. Some planned purchases are mementos of our lifestyle more than souvenirs from a destination, and the occasional keepsake still finds its way into our luggage. On a winter trip to Washington, DC, I found myself without a hat or earmuffs on a cold, windy day, which is how I came to have a toasty headband from the Smithsonian. Is it a souvenir? Well, yes. But it was also a practical purchase, which has become a criteria for most purchases while traveling now.
That keeps the hoard from growing, but there is still the question of what to do with all of the souvenirs we bought in the past. This question became very real with the purchase of a new refrigerator. It actually looks…well, nice, without a mish-mash covering of mismatched magnets. So much so, that we’ve decided to keep it that way. But what to do with all of those magnets? Throwing them away seems wasteful, keeping them all seems like overkill. However, we have found a few tasteful ideas like the “picture frame” on the left. Maybe they’ll somehow transition to artwork with the added bonus of rotating our favorites on display.
Note: Our friends Phil & Garth have a wonderful post on how to display travel souvenirs. They have some creative solutions if you decide to keep a few (or a lot) of your favorite mementos.
We are starting to realize that travel magnets and other souvenirs have a shelf-life on par with Twinkies and Keith Richards. About the only time one disappears is when it breaks. And, the first time that happened, it was a little depressing. It was a glass I “won” at Circus Circus with my cousins while visiting family in Las Vegas. I enjoyed that occasional reminder of the fun we had, and the trouble we got into later. Even today, decades after that glass broke and disappeared, I remember the trip vividly. The glass, not so much.
So, maybe we can live without the shot glasses. And the coffee cups, and the magnes, and… You get the idea. In fact, we’ll have to learn to live without them. (A better way to look at it is that we will get to learn to live without them.) We are on the cusp of empty-nesterhood and, like many others, we have decided to pare down the trappings of family life; to downsize our stuff in order to upsize our lives. The souvenirs, along with plenty of other things, will have to go.
We freed our minds, and the rest is following. We’ve already started with a healthy donation of gently but lovingly worn shirts from around the world. This time, parting with the souvenirs – and meeting the empty space that created – was anything but depressing. In a very real way, it was liberating. More importantly, it reminded us of what matters most:
We have hearts and minds full of great memories, and plenty of space for more.