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Letting Go of Motherhood, Starting in Storage Unit 276

Jeannie Edmunds has spent thousands holding on to her daughter's childhood artifacts. What does it mean that she can't throw anything out?

Most of the things your kids owned or created in childhood are more meaningful to you than to them. Not everything, of course. They may remember a few favorite toys or books. But relics of their past will be left behind, with you, probably for years. One of these days, you’ll have to do something about that. 

Or not.

My daughter is nearly 24. In the last four years I’ve paid more than $20,000 to StorCal to keep a few items of furniture, some art, and about 1,000 pounds of evidence of her childhood. Books. Artwork. Two of her childhood beds: a hand-painted twin with dancing rabbits on the headboard, and a queen-sized designer bed from Poshtots, her aunt’s online furniture company. Chaps and riding boots. Hula hoops. Breyer horses. Photo albums. Four large bins of stuffed animals. She didn’t ask me to save them all. I just couldn’t let them go. 

Last year on a short trip to LA, I decided to devote a Saturday to clearing out the non-essentials in our shared storage unit. I lifted the two steel rollup doors to let the light in, opened the first bin, and wept. “I can’t do it,” I told my husband. “Let’s go to lunch. Maybe another day.”

Six months later and $2,400 poorer, I tried again. 

Read More: It’s Spring, a.k.a. Swedish Death Cleaning Time! What are You Waiting For?

Bathing in Memories

Everything I touched seemed to have a soul. Muted watercolor paintings from preschool. Diaries. The wooden barn she got for her fifth birthday. Four small stuffed animals she’d lovingly tied together with a silk scarf (each one representing a deceased pet) and a koala my dad had given her. She added that to her stuffed animal train after he died. So many books. The Rainbow Goblins came alive as I flipped through the colorful pages and bathed in the memories. Like most mothers—maybe every mother—I’d like some do-overs. I guess I haven’t let go of the notion that I won’t ever get that chance. 

Like most mothers, I’d like some do-overs. I guess I haven’t let go of the notion that I won’t ever get that chance. 

In April, on my way to the NextTribe OutLoud event in New York, I shared this dilemma with the woman seated next to me on the plane. She’s about my age, and her daughter, a few years older than mine, has the lead in a network TV series. My seatmate had asked her daughter to go through her childhood boxes and was shocked she didn’t want to keep any of the playbills or posters from her Broadway career. 

“You sure you don’t want to keep these?” she asked. 

“Nah, but I would like this book,” the daughter replied, holding up some random paperback.

Her mom still can’t bring herself to throw it all away. “I know she’ll change her mind, but it may take a few years. Like a lot of adult kids, she’s so focused on the future, she’s got no time for nostalgia,” she observed.

What to Treasure

Why do we expect our children to treasure the same items from their childhood that we do? 

Even twins don’t have the same perspective on everything. I’ve always admired the Buddhist non-attachment thing but never really practiced it because how can you when your ego is connected to all of these things you can see and smell and feel? 

My “mother self” is embedded in the objects of her young life.

Wow. I just channeled that. I’ve been struggling, trying to figure out why I’m holding onto these artifacts as if my life depended on them. I just realized it’s existential. My “mother self” is embedded in the objects of her young life, from the first onesie through the artwork, the blue ribbons, the surfboard. 

If I let them go, who am I? Her childhood was mine, too. Mine, hers, ours. 

In 2012 I wrote a story for the Yogi Times about the Medicine Hunter, Chris Kilham. He travels around the world in search of exotic foods and plant medicines. This didn’t make it into the story, but he told me that most of the tribal elders he’d lived with couldn’t understand why we had closets in our houses. Possessions are meaningless when you’re surrounded by the abundance of nature. You can get by with a few kitchen items and a machete. Imagine what those wise natives would think of StorCal!

This last trip to storage I made a little progress. And now that I’ve had this epiphany about my “mother self.” I think I’m ready to let most of it go. I’m still a mom, I’m just not that mom. And she’s not that girl anymore.

Read More: Coming and Going: Depression at the Empty Nest End of Motherhood


Jeannie Edmunds is Chief Operating Officer of NextTribe, and the author of “Start Me Up: Tips, Tales and Truths about Starting Up and Starting Over

By Jeannie Edmunds


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