A world without artifacts.

137-HW062016I didn’t need Marie Kondo to tell me to get rid of half my stuff.

My mom is a master purger and she taught me well. Space, light, absence of clutter — these things are their own reward and it is worth sacrificing your stuff to obtain them. I routinely cull through my belongings to eliminate things that are unwanted, unused, or out of place. Living in a small apartment in a big city has taught us that minimalism has to be a lifestyle to avoid feeling suffocated by our stuff. We aren’t as sparse as some are, but we do resist having things around that aren’t useful or loved.

This means that there isn’t a lot of space in our lives for sentimental stuff. I don’t keep t-shirts because they are from some college event that I loved, and I read and love letters — and then have to throw them away. Cards are enjoyed and then tossed, momentos are studied and then abandoned. Memories are what matter, I preach. Things are just things, I practice. My phone and computer are filled with photos of the moments I want to hold onto, but I keep physical traces of these moments as trim as possible. And as a result, I feel at peace in my home, uncluttered physically and mentally.24-HW06201623-HW062016

My dad is a professor of Old Testament and has been working on establishing a center for archeological studies at the seminary where he teaches. He frequently participates in digs in the Holy Land and he can regale you with stories of pottery fragments, vases, and other old things that take on a whole new meaning when they are slowly removed from layers of sacred dirt. Artifacts, traces of another world, pieces of time that pass from one era to the next — that is what he loves.  These remnants hold stories within themselves.39-HW06201651-HW062016

We don’t have much from my dad’s childhood, no saved old clothes or childhood toys. When his mother died while I was in college, a family friend helped my mom go through some things from my grandmother’s home and she found a tiny baby bracelet. She kept it and gave it to me at my baby shower in Kentucky, a tiny beaded bracelet with his name on it, mounted in a little box. I have that box sitting on a shelf in Henry’s room, the only artifact we have from my dad’s early years. On one hand, it doesn’t matter. It isn’t valuable, not having it doesn’t change the fact that he was born, and it is just another thing to sit around. But it is just a little artifact of his childhood, and it stops me every time I walk past. 56-HW06201658-HW062016

It started towards the end of my pregnancy, this desire to save things. I couldn’t bring myself to toss out the invitations to the showers people threw for our baby, and I started folding blankets and tiny outfits  to stock the dresser and they seemed immeasurably precious even before they ever touched our little son. I started imagining the years of school projects and favorite stuffed animals and firsts that I would want to cherish forever. 15-HW062016

And now? Now I find myself grasping at all the physical traces of his birth and his life. I have a stack on my desk of his hospital bracelets, the card that was stuck in his rolling bassinet, the little cap and blanket he had when they put him in my arms. Our minimalist life has no place for these things, but my heart has no way to toss them out. I have a post-it note on the counter that just says “memory box for H,” because I am desperate not to let these early weeks disappear. I want to gather up all the physical traces from them, every remnant, and box them up in a desperate attempt to save something from the effects of time.henrynewborn

Because the truth that runs deep in our culture, in direct opposition to rampant materialism, is that things are just things. That they don’t matter, that they are replaceable. We horde digital things, but they usually don’t cross the threshold into physicality. Photos go un-printed, emails replace letters, and we are left with nothing to hold in our hands of the beautiful and real lives that we are living. Things are seen as just things and so we forget that sometimes they are so much more.101-HW06201697-HW062016113-HW062016

We are living in a world without artifacts, without relics, without a value placed on saving tokens of everyday existence and believing that they are powerful. We are both horders and purgers, but very rarely treasurers. I didn’t think about this much until I started watching the days slip by in Henry’s life and I started wondering how I can save them – what I can save of them.133-HW062016

My mom spent the past two weeks with us, and along with taking care of our every need, she brought the notebook that she filled with memories from my first year of life. She and I laughed over those entries, and cried over them too. She was able to share a part of myself with me that she knows better than I ever could.

Because that’s what everyday objects, everyday memories, become if you preserve them: artifacts that can recreate the past. Yes, I want our lives to be free from the clutter of too much stuff. But watching my son change by the day also reminds me that I want a life free from clutter, but commemorated by some special stuff. A life marked by artifacts that hold these days within themselves, that allow me to touch the past once it’s gone.

Because go it will, no matter how tightly I want to hold on. Henrynewborn2

*These photos also help preserve baby Henry at 6 days old and they are by the ridiculously talented Alumbra Photography, baby whisperer extraordinaire.



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23 Responses to A world without artifacts.

  1. Tina says:

    Stunning!! The words and the photos!!

  2. Katy says:

    Beautiful pictures: I love the gorgeous light in your apartment.

    I also love your words: my husband and I plan to have babies and we have a few relics from my side of the family but nothing from his to commemorate childhoods and so on. All of a sudden it felt important to have these pieces of family history.

    • Hannah says:

      It is so important! Even the little trivial things can be precious. I know that Henry may not care about the things I save for years… but one day, maybe when he has his own kids, he will.

  3. Abigail says:

    I recently finished “The Supper of the Lamb” by Robert Farrar Capon. I loved it for so many reasons, but especially because he pokes at our modern notions of minimalism and materialism and celebrates the created world, including what man creates. As he puts it, “the road to Heaven does not run from the world but through it.”

    So three cheers for saving meaningful, beautiful artifacts that (dare I say?) spark joy.

  4. kmkersting says:

    Such a beautiful and honest reflection, Hannah. So often I find myself in awe of how much “stuff” I have that, as you said, “never makes it’s way to physicality.” It’s such a strange and novel phenomenon and I notice myself wanting to buck the trend more and more! But. These photos, they are beautiful. Thank you for sharing them and your thoughts with us!

  5. madalynmuncy says:

    Hi Hannah! I’ve been reading your blog for some time now and always look forward to your thoughts. Thank you for sharing this post in particular. Though I am not yet a mother, I understand that feeling of wanting to treasure something to hold onto the past. I appreciate you articulating this so well and interspersing it with beautiful photos…it brought me to tears!

  6. Shannon Coker says:

    I completely agree about avoiding clutter, and regularly distress both Matthew and Susanna with my routine purges of our stuff. That said, I did keep all the tiny tokens you mention: Susanna’s hospital bracelet, baby cap, cards, etc. They are just in a leftover Amazon box (still) until I magically have time to make an actual memory box (considering she is three now and only a few weeks from being a big sister to a new little one who will need their own box, that probably won’t happen until she is all grown up 😉 ), but I am so glad I kept them. You are right: we need artifacts in our lives. We need tangible anchors for our most precious memories.

    And, your little family is beautiful!!! I am so happy for all three of you 🙂

  7. Between his momma’s writing and photography skills, Henry will have the best of all artifacts and documentation of his wonderful life with two abundantly intelligent, interesting, and wise parents. I love the joy and wonder (and early Henry personality) captured in these photos!

  8. Kenz says:

    I recently tired to purge my home of sentimental things before a move. And I found myself crying before letters I have tucked in boxes because I believed I was hoarding them and they NEEDED to go. But how could I toss away the last birthday card my grandmother signed before passing away? Thank you for reminding me that TREASURING is okay. That keeping artifacts, books passed through generations, and last notes that are tangible when nothing else is. Your words have touched my heart deeply. Best wishes to dear little Henry! May he be a treasurer too…

  9. angie stone says:

    Hannah…the pink blankie, the yellow dress, the drawings……..SO many things boxed up and in your closet at home. Some day little hands will rumage thru treasures and be reminded that his mother was once a treasured babe herself.

  10. Pingback: Babes at the beach. | The Art in Life

  11. loganhahn says:

    Stumbled across this post via your most recent post and realized that I just had a meeting about your dad’s archeology exhibit yesterday! Crazy small world.

  12. Pingback: The things he loves. | The Art in Life

  13. Pingback: Memory-making, photo-taking, and artifact-creating. | The Art in Life

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