Photographs & Memories: Spring Cleaning Edition

Back before Frances Bourque had a vision of what could be.

We are deep in the midst of a massive Spring Cleaning at my house.

The task: cleaning out a garage that contains 50 plus years of memories.

The reward: I’m making room for a long coveted “mancave,” you know a place where I can disappear with my music, my books and my two four-legged companions, Emmitt and Gracie.

The prospect of getting a space of my own has finally prompted me to go through box after box of things I have saved since childhood.

Class pictures—I still got them.

Old Sports Illustrated magazines—there they are.

Letters from friends—I have a collection.

There are baseball cards, greeting cards from my late mom (I’m keeping those), yearbooks, stray photos from back when used film and old work evaluations where I would advocate for a 35-cent raise (I kid you not, journalism was not a lucrative field, especially when I was in the biz.)

I also have a slew of plaques, newspaper clips—those that have my byline and stories that covered my brief foray into local politics and some business ventures I’ve had over the years.

It’s a lot.

My much better half has been after me for years to throw stuff out. Saying no to Diane takes effort, but that’s a request I’ve managed to dodge since 2003. Until now.

I’m not saying it’s easy to toss memorabilia away, but I’ve come to the realization that nobody is going to want my…what’s a nice word for….oh I got it… detritus.

And besides there’s a reward coming—that mancave which I imagine will include a comfy recliner, great speakers and a mini-fridge stocked with cold craft beer. If some of that beer includes the words grapefruit it will be even better because nobody will be around to poke fun at my taste. For the record, the beer I like does not come with a little umbrella in the mug.

Now, rest assured I’m not throwing away everything. I am keeping the meaningful stuff…Yankee and Met autographs from Spring Trainings gone by, ticket stubs to E Street Band shows and a letter I got from Libby Wesley, one of my civic heroines.

The rest is going to the recycle bin—I wonder if the good people at the Solid Waste Authority are puzzled as to why newspapers from the 1980s are suddenly showing up at their facility. P.S. Those old Monday-Thursday Papers were so good. I worked with talented people. (We were making $8 an hour, but we did good work and had lots of fun.)

Anyway, every box I open is a trip back in time.

For instance, my friends wrote me letters in college. Can you imagine that!? These were 18 and19-year-old guys and gals putting pen to paper, finding a stamp and an address and putting their thoughts in the mail because it was cheaper than a long distance call.

I miss those days.

The boxes mark distinct parts of my life: childhood, the teenage years, college, first real job, first marriage, kids, newspaper writing, my first business, my adventure in local politics, a new start with Diane, more kids, trips, Atlantic Ave magazine, my time at Celsius, my life now at CDS International Holdings and more. Every box I open comes with a heavy dose of memory, a sense of place and time, people who have come and gone from my life and lessons learned—often the hard way through the years.

Yes, it’s just stuff. But it’s also something more. It’s the reminders of a life, a story told in chapters still being written.
It has been fun to visit, and I’ve learned a lot about who I used to be and where I’ve been.

Recently, I had a wonderful lunch and conversation with my friend Pastor Bill Mitchell of Boca Community Church. Bill is the creator of City Lead and now World Lead and he has become a touchstone, someone I enjoy learning from.

We met just after he took a recent trip to Africa and I hung on every word that he shared about his experience, especially the stories about Zimbabwe and his amazing efforts to work with emerging leaders in places like Malawi and Zambia.

I, of course, shared my saga of cleaning the garage.

(I said we were friends, not equals).

Anyway, I shared that every box I open seems to contain a gift aimed at making sense of my life, where I am as I approach age 60.

This upcoming birthday is a poignant one for me and many of my friends who are also turning the big 6-0.

One on hand, we are better than we’ve ever been, able to access decades of experience as we navigate life’s challenges. But on the other hand, we are getting older. I feel it when I get up from my desk and I need a few steps to loosen up and I see it when I’m on Zoom calls and I’m looking at guys I grew up with who have lost their hair if not their youthful sense of humor. When I see myself in the mirror, I often cringe and wonder who that old guy is staring back at me. Resting Jeff face is a thing.

Yet, I’m thankful for it all. Every line, every gray hair.

And I’m grateful  because my spring cleaning is helping me figure things out. One week, I found a letter—unsigned—from someone I met with at The Village Academy who predicted a bright future for me.

“Someday you’ll do important things,” the author wrote. For the life of me, I can’t remember who wrote this beautiful letter, but I thought enough to save it.  I rediscovered the letter at a time when I have contemplated whether I should slow down and retire or continue a path that is leading me toward important philanthropic work.

I saw the letter as a sign and Pastor Mitchell agreed. And he shared with me how you can both slow down and smell the roses and do the most important work of your life.

At this age, we have knowledge, he explained. We will give that knowledge away—and our choice is to give it to the wind or to share it with others doing meaningful work.

Put that way, it’s a no-brainer to stay engaged but to focus on the signal and cut out the noise.

Similarly, I shared with my friend that on what would have been my mother’s 85th birthday, I happened to pick out a box that contained a whole lot of mom—photos, letters, cards, all of which reminded me of this remarkable person that I was lucky to have in my life for 34 years.

I think of my mother all the time. Every single day, multiple times a day.

But I thought it interesting that of all the boxes remaining to be sorted through, it was her box that I found by happenstance on her birthday.

I thought the “find” was pure poetry.  I look for serendipity and it’s gratifying when I find it.

My lunch companion, so wise and so wonderful, enjoyed the story but quoted T.S. Eliot to remind me of the real meaning of what may be at work in this instance.

Everyone cleans out boxes from their garage at one point or another, but not everyone may be present enough to appreciate what they discover.

As Eliot put it: “We had the experience but missed the meaning.”

I think it’s important to have both, to be present in our day to day because if we are—if we pay attention– we will find meaning each day.

So, clean your garage and travel back in time. Experience the meaning. Eat lunch with those who can quote Eliot and tell you about their amazing work all over the world.

And please never stop making more memories. Let’s find the meaning in our experience.


  1. Charlie Byrne says

    I also have boxes of memorabilia from my teens onward. I have a copy of the 1969 NY Daily News: “Man Lands on the Moon”. Every now and then, I will take a photo of one interesting object and post it to Facebook… but I still have trouble throwing out the physical letter / ticket stub / program etc !
    BTW I sent you an invite the FB’s Ticket Stub Club, where like-minded hoarders compare notes on concerts they attended years back – it’s kind fun to “meet” someone who was also at some obscure concert in 1983.

  2. Kathy Wallace says

    All I can suggest is
    The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter
    Book by Margareta Magnusson

    I moved from 4500 ft home to 600 sq ft.
    My children are very proud of me.

  3. I have down-sized a few times, and as I approach 85, I am still cleaning out. Now we’re getting down to the nitty gritty! I, too, have recently read the Swedish Art of Death Cleaning and just cleaned out an old file cabinet, but keeping my plans for my book on having a healthy financial life that I originally created for a graduating class at Northeastern University. Think it might be the next thing for me since I believe in being actively engaged to the end, making a contribution and having fun. In the meantime, still active with the nonprofit I created back in 2016 to help people 50+ find new work and volunteer opportunities.

  4. Andrea Knibbs says

    This resonated so deeply, Jeff. ❤️ It’s like time travel –
    and a chance to put things into perspective. You captured the experience — and gifts – of going through this process perfectly! Perhaps downline we can all gather over cocktails, each bringing an “artifact”or two we’ve unearthed?

    (To deal with the fear of letting go, quick pics of meaningful items that surface during my digs, now wind up in the cloud and on a flash drive.)

  5. Right there with you! Not easy and it takes hours but that “mancave” will be epic!

    • Jeff Perlman says

      Noreen, I want to be able to drink flavored beer and not listen to Scott’s critique. 😉

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