Between Prepare and Remember

Me (to my son) holding up a hanger and caressing a soft light blue blouse and skirt hanging on it: Look at this. I wore this at your baptism, and I can’t decide if I should keep it.

My son to me: Do you still wear it?

Me: That’s not the point.

My son: Does it still fit?

Me: That’s also not the point. It’d be a memento from that occasion. It’s hard for me to get rid of mementos like that.

My son: But I’m also a memento from that occasion. What if that was enough?

This weekend I spent some time sorting and placing a heap of old clothes into a tidy singular portable closet that I bought at Ikea for less than it cost to get a couple big jugs of laundry detergent. I got rid of a lot of clothes, which was hard. Sometimes it was hard because I longed to fit back into them. Or because they were beautiful because of design or fabric. Or because I made them. Or because someone else made them for me. Or because they reminded me of a fun (or at least noteworthy) life stage. After a few hard rounds of editing, I ended up with what I am now affectionately referring to as “My Life in Clothes.”

Indicated in this sartorial catalog are the following events, from left to right and in chronological order:

When I had my one and only tap dance recital.

When I had my first slumber party.

When I lived in Germany and needed a thick wool coat to wear to kindergarten.

When I had my two and only state-level piano honors concerts.

When I went to prom. And the other time I went to prom.

When I got to wear cheerleading pants custom made for all the popular cheerleaders even though I was the mascot and merely hung out near them in a giant bird costume.

When I graduated from college.

When I went to Vegas and those memories have stayed in Vegas.

When I met friends and family at a picnic during the weekend of my wedding.

When I held my son at his baptism.

When I turned 40 and my husband took my picture and I looked happier in that picture than I had ever been.

And so on. From left to right. From then to now.

In addition to the present condition where my storage area is a little less cluttered, there are several actions that I am assigning to the future use of this collection. First, I have told my husband that if I ever suffer from dementia he is to take this closet and show me the clothing items to remind me of various life events. Since they are hung in chronological order from 1970s baby fashion to my 40th birthday party dress, this should be a manageable chore for him. Second, in an effort to not burden my only child with future sorting and thrashing of stuff and gnashing of teeth I want to make sure my stuff is not more overwhelming than it needs to be. So it is more manageably and arguably more interestingly situated. Third, I give lots of talks on the stuff of family life, and have lots of conversations with people about ways to honor our own goals with the preservation of our story alongside honoring the need to not burden others around us. I will keep my teacup set, but only a few. I will keep my clothes, but they’ll be in one tidy and tiny spot so you can read my life in clothes if you want or toss it in a manageable swoop. So there you have it: future memory care, love for my offspring, and a dose of professional development.

In my research on the curatorial practices of love letters (you know, whether you save, share, or shred them), I noted that sometimes we keep things not just because we enjoy looking through them now, but because we also imagine ourselves in the future looking back at at them. We organize, sort, and store as part of what I call imagined future nostalgia.

We reminisce with objects now. As we do this, we organize them as we imagine our future selves looking back nostalgically and rifling through these organized objects. Head spinning yet?

I’m not the only one who has gone through this kind of exercise. I always know this is the case if I find a whole marketplace of ideas (and accompanying goods and services and probably at least 7 Etsy shops) devoted to whatever it is I think may just be something I’m going through. And lo and behold, I found lots of evidence of people buying services and goods to assist them in their imagined future nostalgia projects — from quilt makers who put all those t-shirts in a grid for you to snuggle with in your basement hangout, to photo and video tape digitizers.

Memory, memento, remember. To this I add plan to remember. Prememory, prememento, premember. As in: premember to click on that web link for that person who will make that quilt of all of your old t-shirts so that in 10 years you can use the quilt as you watch the old VHS footage of your glory days that you also need to premember to have digitized so that you can use them on whatever tech device you will be using 10 years from now. Until you have to do it again because that tech device will also become obsolete. So, then, premember to premember the future obsolescence of your nostalgia projects.

Now my head is spinning.

Anyway, yes, of course my son is the best memento from his baptism. But I’m keeping the outfit I wore. Because in 35 years when I can’t remember all the things I want to remember I will look for ways to touch and feel the time that has gone by. I do (and will) remember by looking and touching. And fabric has been there at every turn.

I look forward to looking back. I’m evidently spending time premembering in order to remember later on. Maybe you’re doing this, too.