Whether it is an “I love NYC” t-shirt or a particular shell picked up off the beach during a family getaway, humans seem to be almost preprogrammed for the collection of souvenirs. Our memories are weak and without some tangible link to the physical world, they tend to fade. Unfortunately the mass production of souvenirs doesn’t particular make our memories stronger, it actually dilutes the keepsakes like a form mental inflation. When we take a photo of every moment and everyone has the same souvenir that you do, it takes away the reason behind picking up those artifacts in the first place. Our minds may not know what’s truly special when we have so many pictures and trinkets.
It’s not an easy thing to decipher what moments are going to be really important. A baseball cap doesn’t appear out of thin air when you meet your best friend for the first time, although I’m sure someone somewhere is working on it. We sometimes have no indication whatsoever that a moment is going to change us forever. So we have nothing to carry with us. The reverse is also true that utterly meaningless events have gotten reinforced either intentionally or unintentionally. It’s not a perfect system and if we just go with the flow, McDonalds and Instagram are going to own the lion’s share of who we think we are.
I used to be so much more deliberate about collecting memories. For decades, I’ve had a box with pictures, cards and keepsakes. Some of it is trash at this point because the memories represented by the items weren’t worth keeping. However, some of them are simple and priceless. The shell that reminds me of a friend who has stood the test of time despite distance and turmoil. Ribbons from events that proved my friend’s theory that being “aggressively mediocre” can get you to the cusp of being great! Others that I won’t mention because it’s just too much.
The question that we may want to ask ourselves is two-fold. Do I have any simple souvenirs that can instantly bring me to the verge of tears? The second question is: If not, did I truly live? The items are far less important than the memories. So if you’ve got a storage unit full of items and your heart is empty, then I’d say you’re out of balance. However, if you have recollections of people, places and events that leave you in awe of the past, then maybe you don’t need the t-shirt!