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What to keep

When my husband and I purchased our home in Farmville, it immediately offered many things we loved. The open floor plan felt spacious. The windows let in bright sunshine and — when the temperature was just right — gentle breezes. The porch let us relax, and the yard invited us to wander into nature.

Everything wasn’t completely perfect, however. Before the ink was even dry on the closing documents, I informed my husband that the interior needed to be repainted. Every room. The entire house had previously been decorated with a monochromatic, neutral color. The official name for the hue probably featured some warm-sounding welcoming words, but I dubbed the color “day-old mustard.” To my eyes, it seemed leftover, dried out, and unappealing. He agreed. Absolutely. The house needed to be painted.

Then the alignment of real estate transactions proceeded more smoothly and more quickly then we imagined. I’m not complaining. We took it as an omen that we were meant to be here. But it did rush our moving timeline along faster than the initial plan. A pause for painting never happened.

As we settled into the community and began getting connected with groups and activities, our calendar bulged. Painting still didn’t happen. We lived with the color we had and just made the best of it.

Now, eight years and 11 months later, I can report that the painting is finally done. We have three refreshing shades of blue, two lush shades of green and a gentle grey. No mustard.

As it turns out, a project of this nature involves more than applying paint to walls. It involves more than tape and tarps, or brushes and rollers. Furniture had to be moved, and that led to the discovery of nooks and crannies that hadn’t been exposed for nearly a decade. There were floorboards to clean and backs of bookshelves to dust. Dragging dressers and desks away from walls led to questions about why they were so heavy. That inspired an evaluation of stuffed drawers and overflowing closets.

Almost before we realized where these impulses were taking us, my husband and I found ourselves immersed in the task of sorting out decades of accumulated detritus. It turned out to be hard. Everything that could be parted with easily had long since been given a new home. What was left presented difficult choices about what to keep.

A favorite book. Keep. A book I didn’t enjoy that much. Donate to the library’s book sale. But what about a book I didn’t like that was gifted to me by someone who occupies a special place in my heart? One theory says I should let it go and simply keep the memory. But keeping the physical book jogs my memory in a way that an empty space on a bookshelf doesn’t. I kept it.

And the papers. I decided I didn’t need article assignment letters from 30 years ago, old birthday cards, or souvenir brochures from past vacation spots. On the other hand, when I unearthed a “crime report” my husband had drafted reporting our dog’s misbehavior one Christmas season, tossing the paper away was out of the question. It read in part: “An intruder was apprehended at the Gingerbread House on Dec. 28 at approximately 6:30 p.m. The vandal had consumed two snowmen, a Christmas tree, some fencing and a small amount of snow. Cleanup commended immediately.”

After detailing the cleanup and reconstruction, the report concluded, “In the opinion of this inspector, all contamination has been removed and the Gingerbread House is ready for human consumption. The dog has been banned from all further Gingerbread House activities.”

I suppose someday this piece of paper may end up in a landfill, but it isn’t going there on my watch. I set up a special file folder for it.

Sorting through these collected treasures and deciding what to keep and what to let go has helped me reflect on my journey through life to this point. Like the old paint that’s now covered over, some things no longer play a role in my future. But, like the new paint, some things add color and bring a sparkle to my days.

KAREN BELLENIR has been writing for The Farmville Herald since 2009. Her book, Happy to Be Here: A Transplant Takes Root in Farmville, Virginia features a compilation of her columns. It is available from PierPress.com. You can contact Karen at kbellenir@PierPress. com.