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We all talk to ourselves, sometimes even out loud, and especially when an issue is important. Studies consistently show that three life changes that may most seriously affect one’s emotional state are the death of a loved one, divorce and moving from a home where one has lived for a long time. Each can prompt vital discussions with oneself.

Selling one’s house is hard, forcing us, in many cases, to confront decluttering and downsizing. The former, some real estate agents practically order by rote, going from room to room saying, “This has to go. That can’t stay there. Change out that carpet.” (This actually happened to me when my husband and I put our house of 28 years on the market last month.) After picking up oneself from feeling like an intern to Meryl Streep’s Devil Wears Prada character, one faces the even tougher job of throwing stuff out; except to oneself, it’s not just stuff.

Downsizing requires letting go of part of one’s personal history, forcing one to constantly ask oneself, “Is this part of my life worth keeping, and if so, how much of it?” It basically divides the accumulations of life between a moving box, a donation and a trash bag. The more emotional one is, the longer the process takes because every little memory can come flooding back.

For example, I found our son’s fifth grade English paper – his first “A.” He and I had struggled through “learning style differences” diagnosed when he was in third grade, then tutors, then working together on homework every night and weekend. The word because was becuz for three years – then he finally got it. Today, at 35, he is in his office as a pricing executive at Walmart headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. Can I throw that out? No way.

But I also have to ask myself, what will I ever do with it? And if I keep this one, am I starting a snowball effect that will continue until I’m on my 10th box, including his final 36-page treatise for his MBA? Good thing my husband and I had only one child, rather than three or four, or I’d be paying a storage unit rental bill rivaling our food budget!

Keepsakes can enhance a new life or keep it focused on the past. The combination will be unique for each of us and, I am finding, certainly complex. On the one hand, one would like to be remembered positively by what is saved, yet not be perceived as a pack rat. On the other hand, gone is gone forever.

I decided to keep that fifth grade paper. Someday, far off, when our son discovers it among our things, he’ll remember the struggle on his own. But realizing I kept it? In my mind, there should always be room in the box for that.

Janis Murray is president of Murray Prep LLC, providing communication training for individuals seeking college admission and career advancement. She works with students and professionals, creating successful strategies, résumés, cover letters, essays, and image and interview/presentation performances. Contact her at jmurray@murrayprep.com.

Janis Murray is president and owner of Murray Prep LLC, providing communication training for students and professionals seeking success since 1999. Based in St. Louis, she currently works with clients in nine states, Europe and Asia.

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