The Cupboard under the stairs


I have always been a keeper of things…

Photographs from the lost years of my twenties, ticket stubs from moments passed, books and songs and songs and books. For years I collected little pieces of my life and placed them gently in a box.

But once I had children, my one stuffed sentimental items box became four. Baby hats and blankets, first hats, first shoes, first everything. All bundled safely together, in a box, in a cupboard - a halfway house between what I had before and what I had now.

The boxes would go untouched for months, years even because even though I rarely opened the lids and peeked inside, I took comfort from the fact that these precious moments of my life, were tucked away for future use. Everything was there, just waiting to transport me to forgotten memories. My very own type of time travel, in the cupboard under the stairs.

It felt like some kind of magic and so I collected more. Surely the older I got, the more I would forget. It started getting out of hand, I squirrelled away everything, from the children’s favourite array of toys, to pairs of porridge stained pyjamas. Suddenly everything felt important. But instead of getting that warm kind of nostalgia when I opened these boxes, they now made me feel sad. Like a heavy weight had been pressed upon my chest and it made me gasp for air. And so I stopped looking. I couldn’t understand why these most precious of things were making me miserable. It wasn’t even as if I was looking at them often but I felt the sadness, just the same.

When I started simplifying, I couldn’t face the sentimental items until last of all. Luckily by then, I was use to asking myself questions about why I was keeping certain thing that didn’t bring me joy. I knew that I was overwhelmed by these boxes and all that they had held but I had never felt ready to delve into why I felt this way.

One day however, after months of false starts, I got brave. I threw away the photos of my youth, only keeping one or two. I got rid of faded ticket stubs, knowing that I didn’t need the originals, to remind me of where I had been. But I stalled when It finally came to the boxes that were the hardest, the ones that had been weighing me down the most.

The baby boxes and the children’s things. Memories of past seasons, past times and what sometimes felt, like another life. As I sat sifting through all of these memories, I wondered why I had held onto them all so tightly. Deep down I had always known the answer and it had messily intertwined itself, between all of these things.

Not long ago I had a dream, one of those dreams so vivid and real, that when I woke up I felt bereft. We were all sat around a long table, my family and I. It was a long summer’s night and the fairy lights were twinkling, along with the breeze of the trees. The children were running barefoot, their laughter as soft as honey straight from the spoon. I had a lavish meal placed in front of me but I barely noticed or ate a thing, for I was too busy staring down at the baby cradled close to my chest. He smelt of sweet milk and heaven and I finally felt complete.

I felt sad for days and weeks afterwards. It still makes me upset, when I talk of it now. It may only have been a dream but that feeling of being complete haunts me to this day. But that dream was my longing and the missing piece of the puzzle. It was my answer as to why, I couldn’t let these things go.

Both of my births had been complicated but with my second, I nearly died. Those times was such a blur of heartbreak for what had happened and euphoria, for what I had gained. I had birthed two beautiful children, who had defied all odds. It should have felt enough. And so I blocked out the truth for such a long time, I hid it under baby boxes and behind cupboard doors. Because it had been too much to comprehend and why go through it, when it was just as easy to ignore.

I have never been told that I can’t have more children but I have been warned - that what happened with my last, will more than likely happen again. And as much as I longed for a final child, the risk, for me, was too great to try. It was a boxed weight that I held close to me and it got heavier and heavier, the longer I held it .

I realised, through simplifying, that I needed to deal with it and let it go because I couldn’t enjoy the children that I did have, if I didn’t open and empty the box. I would always be hanging onto the what if’s instead of giving my all, to what was. And I didn’t want to live in the ‘what may never be’ anymore, or a halfway house, unsure of where I fit. I wanted to feel that what I had, was enough, more than enough - it was pretty much a miracle.

I realised when digging deeper, that I held onto all of these things in the cupboard under the stairs because I wasn’t ready to admit, that that was it. That my baby days were over and all I had left were these memories, that didn’t seem enough. A constant reminder of what I’d once had but wouldn’t have again. And even though these items was stored in a box, it was a box that I carried regardless of whether it was in my arms, or under the stairs. I honestly hadn’t realised, until I started looking, that I could simply put it down.

After a lot of heartache and can’t do’s, I decided to let most of it go. I held onto the children’s things that were special, such as the blanket that had first swaddled them, first shoes and their very favourite toy’s. The things that genuinely made me smile when I held them in my hands. I then put together the excess. The things that I had kept because they had once belonged to babies that I had loved and held onto for the baby that I would never have. I carefully and shakily packaged them up, held them once more and then gave them to someone who would.

It felt good, hard but good. Like I had tentatively put one foot in front of the other and was walking toward a more contented life. A life where I focused on what I had and not what I had lost. As for the weight, it didn’t go completely. I still carry it with me but I feel it easing, little by little, day by day. And I’m finally learning two important lessons on holding onto the things that I do. When everything is important, nothing is. And when it is heavy, put it down.