Minimalism: Sentimentality and gold watches

To sentimentalise something is to look only at the emotion in it and at the emotion it stirs in us rather than at the reality of it, which we are always tempted not to look at …

– Frederick Buechner

I’ve adopted a minimalist attitude towards life: pare down my goals, pare down my relationships, and of course, pare down the things I own.

I’ve systematically worked through my room, first gingerly clearing out a drawer, then working up to sorting out (and throwing out) my clothes, and now I’m working on clearing out those meddlesome sentimental items. They rarely have a function, often being trinkets to put on display, littering shelves, tables, and barren corners. With no physical characteristic differentiating them from other pieces of clutter, they somehow pass under the radar in clear out sessions because they’ve been deemed ‘sentimental’.

In yesterday’s clear out, I decided to go through my jewellery box which doesn’t close because it’s crammed full, despite my only ever wearing a single necklace, ring, and bracelet, all of which I wear constantly, never taking them off to put in the full jewellery box in the first place.

“Do I even need a jewellery box?” I think to myself. I seem to have collected these items over the years, jewellery being the most common gift idea people have for girls.

Among many items are:

  • a chain from my best friend at the time for our school graduation, engraved with our names and the date.
  • a colourful, gold chunky necklace, given to me by my friends on my 21st birthday. I don’t recall ever wearing it.

I have a number of other bracelets and necklaces, all given as lovely presents from people who are dear to me. I lift up the top compartment of the jewellery box and underneath I see a gold watch. It instantly triggers memories.

The watch belonged to my ex-boyfriend. I guess I had kept it as a memory of him, though I’d completely forgotten it was there. I don’t really need anything to help me think of that relationship, in fact, I’d love to own something that could do the opposite.

I remember wearing it everyday in that last year of our relationship as a way of feeling connected to him, a symbol of our unity since both of us (well me, and he agreed) shunned the doctrine of the ring.

I start to remember more fully:

That’s right, I used to wear the watch. His friend, who was also my best friend, had bought it for him as a birthday present. It’s one of those retro looking watches and I instantly loved it.

I remember gushing over it when my boyfriend had first unwrapped it. I can’t quite remember his reaction. I think he had like it too.

He wore it the next day to university, showed it to his friends and my best friend was pleased. I kept looking at it and remarking how lovely it was, how great it looked, really suited him.

I’m not sure how it happened, but I think he offered to let me wear it after that first day. And I did. I really loved it. Turning it over in my hands, thinking back, it really was a strange thing for our friend to have bought. I doubt he knew what to buy. He and I were the closer of friends and perhaps he saw it, knew I would like it, and since my boyfriend and I were one entity, never seen separately, never referred to individually, he must have assumed my boyfriend would like it too.

Given that I had been the one to love the watch and wear it, I wonder now if it had ever really been his watch. Or was it my watch that he had been given? Did this watch really have any connection to him at all? Did he ever cherish it? Or was I cherishing our memories in a rather superfluous object? Does he ever think about the watch now and then think of me and wonder if I still wear it? Does he even remember the watch at all?

I realise this watch I’ve been holding onto, in memory of our love, doesn’t really symbolise our love at all. If anything, it’s a symbol of our separation, how each of us wanted different things and never noticed that the other person didn’t want to go down the same life path we’d chosen for ourselves.

Had I not noticed that he didn’t value the watch as much as I cherished it in the same way that he hadn’t noticed I didn’t value a domesticated life as much as him?

I had applied an emotion that just wasn’t there. This watch didn’t contain any special sentimental value, it was just a watch. A watch I used to wear, much the same as  those chunky gothic, ghastly boots I used to wear that were so en vogue at the time.

Definitely didn’t have a problem throwing those out. Why such drama over the watch? Because it held some tenuous link to him? And why do I still want that link?

“Into the charity bag you go watch. Thanks for helping me keep the time and looking pretty on my wrist. Go and fulfil that same purpose for someone else.”

I went through the same process with my other jewellery items, sorting through things to keep and things to donate:

KEEP:

Bracelet from high school best friend. I like it and still wear it. Despite not being as close as we once were, we are still friends and the bracelet truly reminds me of those great school days we spent together.

DONATE:

Chunky necklace from my friends which I’ve never worn and don’t really like. My friends have given me plenty of other wonderful gifts that I do like, such as the bracelet I wear constantly, given to me as a farewell present.

I can now close my jewellery box and each item sits neatly in its own cubicle. I know now that when I open that box I will see only beautiful items that I love, and luckily they have wonderful stories and memories to go with them. For the other items, I still have the wonderful stories and memories they represented, even if they are not physically there to represent them anymore.

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