Senti-mental

There’s been a lot of de-cluttering going on at our house lately. Some of the stuff we sell, a lot of it we donate, and tons of it we just throw away. It is quite. a liberating feeling.

There are also things that we decide to get rid of, but we aren’t quite ready to get rid of. In those instances, we try to pawn them off on our kids. We will post a pic of whatever it is on our family group messaging thread, and see if one of the kids wants it.

A couple of weeks ago, I was minding my own business at work, when a series of message came through from my EC. “Does any want any of these?”

Attached were photos of curios we have collected over the years, and a picture that clearly didn’t belong: My Mountain Dew truck. I had to go find Chrissie and say, “Hang on a second – why are you trying to give. away my Mountain Dew truck?”

“You want to keep it?”

“I do.”

“Okay, I’ll put it back on the shelf. Didn’t realize you would want it.”

And so, my Mountain Dew truck is back in the curio cabinet where it rightfully belongs. Here’s the thing: The toy isn’t anything that special, or valuable, it was’t bequeathed to me in someone’s final wishes. I didn’t buy it from an eccentric hillbilly in Appalachia. It was just a funny little gift from my EC decades ago. No big deal – right?

This insignificant little exchange caused me to think about what being sentimental means, and why I am sentimental about some things, and not others.

To learn more, I turned to the internet. Apparently, a lot of people have very strong feelings about what it means to be sentimental:

On one extreme, people say that being sentimental is a positive trait and means that you are more of an “empath,”. Sentimentality means you associated meaning and emotion to people, things and experiences. It makes life richer and more meaningful.

On the other end of the spectrum, some advocate that being sentimental is a bad thing, because it links you to the past, and inhibits progress and the search for new things, new ideas, and new connections.

Basically, the internet proved – once again – that you can find support for whatever position you take, rendering the info pretty useless in instances like this.

I am sentimental. I am oftentimes nostalgic. There is a difference between the two. In this case, Google was helpful in helping me see the subtle differences.

Sentimentality relishes the pure recollection of good times, whereas nostalgia is tainted by a belief that everything would be better if the person could just go back to those good times. Nostalgia is the act of recollection; sentimentality is the character trait of one who often engages in nostalgia” (link)

When we travel, we always try and bring back a Christmas ornament, or some other thing to remind us of the trip. When I was little, it was giant pencils and post-cards. My tastes have definitely upscaled since then. (I collected letter openers from countries all across the globe until the TSA decided that it wasn’t such a good idea to let them on planes.)

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I have been going through a lot of old family photos to preserve them digitally, and it has been very cool to see and learn more of my parents younger lives.

So yes, I am sentimental, and nostalgic. I am also romantic. All of these things work together to make it hard to throw away dumb things like a Mountain Dew truck that was given to me by my wife years ago.

While going through clutter, many other sentimental things have been rediscovered. The sentimentality isn’t just about stuff, it is about experiences that have ceased to exist, or currently not happening because of the pandemic: I am nostalgic for simple things, like going to movies and concerts, traveling, watching legit sports, etc. I also long for people who are no longer in my life. The myriad changes in church policies leaves me with more nostalgia than I care to admit.

I am even nostalgic about the good old days of being able to go somewhere without a mask on, and to actually see people smile. It is a tough time to be sentimental or nostalgic right now.

Which camp do you fall into? I know people who are very sentimental, and I know people who don’t have a sentimental bone in their body. While some people cling to dumb things like Mountain Dew trucks, and pine for the “good old days,” others are seem to be untethered by any emotional attachment to the past, and don’t tether any kind of sentimentality to “stuff.” Some see others as stuck in the past, others see it as being unattached to material possessions. I Imagine there is a sweet-spot between being a hoarder and being heartless.

Which are you? Do you consider yourself sentimental, or are you a “what’s in the past is in the past,” kind of person? (I don’t think there is a correct answer on this one.)

Good old Billy Joel caught the anti-nostalgia sentiment in his song, “Keeping the Faith.” (Link)

You can get just so much
From a good thing
You can linger too long
In your dreams
Say goodbye to the
Oldies but goodies
‘Cause the good ole days weren’t
Always good
And tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems

One of the things I’ve noticed about getting older is that I often embrace the old trope about “The good old days.” Thanks to selective memory and time, the past is coated with a warm patina of nostalgia – not all of which is healthy.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell touched on the negative aspects of nostalgia more than once:

Dutiful discipleship creates many happy memories, but it does not make nostalgia a substitute for fresh achievement.” (link)

“He is a realist and will not succumb to the narcotic of nostalgia, but will lean enrichingly into the present.” (link)

It seems to me that nostalgia can get in the way when it inhibits our embrace of the “now,” because we are busy polishing the past in our memories, instead. A quick example:

Years back, when my father passed away, there was a bunch of stuff that we just weren’t ready to part with. We rented a small storage unit, which I dutifully rented for about 8 years. We finally decided to sort through the stuff and see if we could get rid of some. As we were sorting though, the most common comment was, “Why in the world did we think we wanted to keep this?” and into the trash it went.

It was fascinating how sentimental we were for those things when my dad’s passing was fresh in our minds. Later, with some distance, that “nostalglia” had faded. The process was expensive, but instructive.

Christmas is the time of traditions, and we have a lot of them in our family. It is a very sentimental and nostalgic season for me. That said, times change, things evolve, and the family grows. Not all traditions still add to our enjoyment of the season. Some need to be discarded and new ones adopted.

But we need to be careful as we discard, as those traditions are the glue that binds families. Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof might be construed as refusing to adapt to the times, yet his attitude towards tradition pre-dates what sociologists are now proving: Established traditions create strong families across generations. (great article here.)

Personally, I need to work at making sure the nostalgia for “the good old days” does not cause me to ignore the good parts about right now. I want both. I want to hang on to the good stuff from my past, and attach meaning to it that can keep me grounded. I also want to jettison those things that are unrealistic and serve more as baggage than enrichment in life.

As I sit here typing, I can see an ornament on our tree that my mom gave Chrissie and me on our first Christmas together.

I’m gonna keep it. And my Mountain Dew Truck.

Wait! There’s MORE!

Watch here on Wednesday for a special announcement. I’ll give you a hint: X

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Comments

  1. Sentimental and nostalgic.
    Last week I made some Christmas popcorn balls with my grandkids. We used my great grandfathers recipie. When I was much younger, he would have the grand kids over every Monday in December for a Christmas family night with him and grandma. My grandkids liked them but the overall attitude was —- meh. I took some to my recently made single cousin. She saw them, got a hint of the scent…. and tears came to her eyes, she knew exactly what they were.

    3 days ago, I made a bunch of press out spritz Christmas cookies with some other grand kids.
    I took some home and my other daughter asked if she could have some. After eating a few she commented… I don’t think I have eaten one of these in 10 years. I don’t know if I actually like them or is it just nostalgia? They really don’t taste that great it is 100% nostalgia from my mom making them. Pass the milk.

  2. What a great piece you wrote. This time of year definitely brings out the sentimentality and nostalgia in me as well. Your article was affirming that it is OK to be both sentimental and nostalgic as long as it doesn’t prevent us from being present in the now.

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