Unpacking the Keepsakes

Oh, the junk closet. Folks outside of the military tend to restrict their junk to a drawer, but we like to overachieve in the military community and dedicate closets — sometimes entire rooms — to “junk” that we don’t unpack. We always have our reasons. Maybe our current digs don’t have enough space to unpack everything. Maybe we’re only here (wherever “here” is now) for a few months, so it isn’t worth unpacking completely. Maybe the boxes contain things we don’t need right now, but we can’t part with them forever.

We’ve had such a closet in every home we’ve ever lived in. Full disclosure, sometimes the “closet” spills into two closets… some tubs in the attic… and under the bed… and a couple of times they’ve ridden out a tour in a non-temporary storage unit. This move has sparked something new in me — something that is no longer okay with just leaving things in a box for now with the rationalization that I will someday have them out forever.

Since our last PCS, I inherited some items from my grandma and grandpa that may not look like much to anyone else — some Navy pins and patches, silver jewelry, a pair of porcelain elephants, and a simple vase, but these keepsakes represent people, places and moments that shaped me. They represent lives well lived and goodbyes I never got the chance to say.

In all the moving and reinventing and flexing, we inevitably lose little pieces of our old selves in forward motion, but these keepsakes — whatever they are to you — keep us connected to where we came from, where we started, what we’ve experienced and how far we’ve come.

Making sure that these special pieces make it out of the cardboard and into the light of day not only keeps them visible for me, but they create little moments to tell our kids the stories behind them. When my daughter asks about my “new” necklace, I can tell her that it belonged to my grandma — her GiGi — and open the locket to show her the weathered black and white photo of my smiling, newlywed grandparents. I can tell her stories about them or tell her how, when I was little, I used to stand on a little stool and look at all the “jewels” in grandma’s jewelry box. She would let me try everything thing on and tell me one day when I was older, I could have it all. When I hang up the frame that holds the many patches my grandpa wore on his flight suit, I can come up with questions to ask my dad, aunts and uncle — questions I wish I’d thought to ask my grandpa while I still could.

I won’t stop with the keepsakes I inherited. As important as they are to me, I think it is just as important to display — or at the very least, have accessible — items we’ve collected over the years as a family. I will continue to display my jars of sea glass and Japanese pottery, carefully combed from Pacific Coast beaches. Each piece has a story.

We’ll pull the kids’ keepsake boxes down off the top shelves of their closets so they can flip through the art they’ve made and the stories they’ve written throughout the years. We’ll use the serving dishes we’ve inherited. I’ll buy flowers from time to time and place them in the vase that once held roses from my grandparents’ yard.

I’d love to think this change in mindset will result in more closet space, but that probably won’t be the case. I’ll still insist on keeping way too many sets of sheets and curtains that don’t fit any of the current windows but might fit windows in the next house. It will just change what stays in the closet and what makes it on the wall or on the shelf. If I have any doubt about what to display, I’ll simply ask myself what I would miss if it didn’t make it back to me in one piece on the other side of the move. Those keepsakes are the possessions worth keeping front and center — reminders of a life being well lived.

Kristi Stolzenberg
Written By Kristi Stolzenberg
Marine Spouse

Kristi started writing for Blog Brigade as a new Milspouse in 2008, and all of a sudden, she’s a seasoned (but not overly salty) Marine spouse.

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1 Comment

  • Susan says:

    Keepsakes of the heart are more than deserving of daily celebration! So glad they will be front and center in your home(s). ❤️