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Kittredge: Christmas Cleaning

12/13/12 5:55PM By Susan Cooke Kittredge
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(Host) Many people find their houses cluttering up this time of year and make an effort to eliminate some of it. Commentator and minister Susan Cooke Kittredge has found that getting ready for the holidays has raised some questions about what to save and what to let go.

(Kittredge) I am trying to neaten our house for Christmas; this essentially means moving stuff from full view to a more hidden location. All I’m doing, of course, is making room for more things: crèches, poinsettias, decorations and gifts.

But I can’t blame the clutter on the holidays, things just seem to accumulate around me and it makes me anxious; I long for a minimalist environment.

For most of my life my idea of a peaceful room was one with a lot of books in it, but that has changed in the past 15 years. Anatole Broyard, writer, editor and literary critic for the NYT, was one of the first people to suggest that culling books was a good idea. It was almost blasphemous for someone of his literary pedigree. Even before the internet, e books and audio books, he got me thinking about why we keep books and where we want them: not in the dining room, maybe not in the bedroom…How often, after all, do we take down that old copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance?

When my husband and I moved some years ago, we recycled many books. I kept my treasured favorites: poetry, fiction, theology, reference, history, gardening, cooking. Okay, we still have a lot of books.

I think the next sacred cow to go will be the framed photographs. There are so many photographs on my desk that I can barely find space for my laptop. Don’t get me wrong, I love the pictures of my family from years ago. But that’s just it, all my current photos are on my computer or my phone. We take pictures so we will be reminded of good times and people, to hold on to the past.

Last Saturday I happened to be in Burlington Square Mall when a flashmob broke out. Members of the Vermont Symphony started playing their instruments in the atrium while on the balcony above members of the VSO chorus started singing. It was fun and exciting and delightful to watch the startled shoppers’ reactions. But looking around it became clear that more people were looking at their phones than at the musicians, recording the event for later.

There is something to be said for not preserving an event for another time, but rather being fully present in the moment and trusting ourselves to remember what happened and how we felt about it. Our memories of events are always embellished with what they meant to us, with emotion and feeling, an essential narrative no video can supply.

Perhaps what I will do is digitize my old photos and make them into an iBook. I know that I will take a lot of pictures of my grandchildren during Christmas, just to have them on my phone in my pocket wherever I go. The framed photographs that will stay on my desk will be of people whose pictures I can no longer take, people I miss every day, especially during the holidays.


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