The Things We Hold On To

I’m a bit of a sentimental fool; my husband possibly more so, given the number of items in our house passed down to him, be it the pie tins marked with his  grandmother’s name on the bottom or the wooden hangers in our closets bearing the initials of each member of his grandfather’s family, being the orderly sort that his grandfather was.

He claims that much of the things that fills our home aren’t sentimental in nature, but there because he at one time had a house to fill and these things came to him. However, it’s been a long time since he filled his first house, so I have my doubts. (Thankfully, this comment gave me permission to toss the rusted kitchen utensils that filled the drawers.)

Over the past few weeks I’ve been preparing for a move, something that always necessitates a purge. I’ve had to be brutal in my decisions of what stays and what goes, telling myself  “this is no time to be sentimental”.

But I am sentimental. And this makes me wonder: What is it that makes us hold on to certain things?

Is it because we long for another time? Or is it to help us hold onto a memory, or perhaps to preserve a piece of family history?

When I see those initialed hangers, I’m reminded that my daughter’s predilection for having everything in its place, just so, is a bit more nature than nurture.

When I dust the little white Buddha statue on the bookshelf, I have a vivid memory of my Gram in her California home, piping up “rub the Buddha’s belly” as she reached out to do just that as she passed by. I can picture the nook it sat in. I can’t remember much about that house, but that image is as clear as a photograph, but even more it recalls the lighthearted nature that she had.

In our front room sits a formal sofa and set of chairs that belonged to my husband’s maternal grandmother. The sofa, in a faded red, is prominent in many of his family pictures through the years. In our own little family, birthday presents have been opened on that sofa, Mother’s and Father’s Day pictures taken, important occasions frozen, our own little markers of time.

The pieces were bearing the signs of age, the sofa cushion stiff and starting to crumble within its cover, small runs appearing in the fabric of the wing chairs.

And then the dog jumped on the sofa. I’m sure Grandmommy was already rolling in her grave when the fabric snagged on her nails.

It finally was time to take care of the wear, so we sent the pieces off to be recovered. I was a bit hesitant to lose the red fabric, knowing what memories the sofa held; I was reluctant to change the chairs, as I dearly loved the print. And really, it just felt a bit sacrilegious, to mess with a bit of history.

The furniture was delivered yesterday. It stunning. The are totally changed, updated and sophisticated, the feet polished and renewed.

And while it is having a piece of history in the house, I realized that these pieces are what we will build our own history upon, memories made. And these things that we hold on to don’t mean a clinging to the past but a tangible reminder of lovely moments past.


This post was inspired by the novel J by Howard Jacobson, about a world where collective memory has vanished and the past is a dangerous country, not to be talked about or visited. Join From Left to Write on November 20th as we discuss J. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.


  1. thienkimlam says:

    I’m sort of sentimental but am pretty ruthless about purging. My husband just gets out of my way when I’m in a purging mood!

  2. I’m reading a book called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and in it, the author asks,”does this item bring you joy?” I think that is a great way to think about the things in our lives and it sounds like the heirlooms you have, in fact, do bring you joy.

    • I think I need to check out that book!

      I agree, that is a great way to look at the things in our lives – and all the items passed down. If you don’t actually LIKE it, best find someone else who might love it.

      Although I think that premise might apply to my 8yo’s eraser collection, as well. Lots of things bring HER joy, lol

  3. Beautifully written, Jenn. I think you have captured the spirit of memories held by objects we have saved. Please post a picture of the chairs AND the sofa!

  4. I agree with Phyl ~ would love to see a photo of the updated furniture! such a lovely post, sentimental in itself!

    • I will share when they are in their new home, as the upholsterer brought them in plastic, and we’ve been thinking we’ll leave them covered for the move (the movers come in about a weeks time.) They are lovely!!!!

      Thank you for your comment!

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