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The Life-Changing Magic of Nostalgia

It was Cowboy Woody (from Toy Story) that did it. I’d been clearing out some of my children’s old toys to give away. It felt good getting rid of things my kids no longer used, and which could now go to other children who could love them again...

I gleefully chucked the bright yellow tractors that used to zoom through our house. The superhero figures were a little harder. Oh, how my son loved Iron Man, I thought, as I placed him lovingly in the box. And then I got to Woody. My son hasn’t played with Woody in ages. He probably wouldn’t even notice if it went missing. And yet… I tried placing Woody in the box. But as I did, a thousand memories jumped out at me. My son, with his brown curly hair and big dark eyes, toddling down the hallway, Woody in tow. Sneaking a peek at my boy while my husband drove, Woody nestled on his lap. Going to the park, Woody flopped on the bench, near enough that he could ‘watch’ my son play. Of course, I’m not nostalgic about Woody, per se. Rather, it’s the memories of all the times Woody has shared with us. Plus, there’s the love. I can’t tell you how much of my son’s three-year-old heart went into that inanimate object. But it was love, real love. I knew how precious that love was at the time, but looking at it now, it feels even more brilliant. So I sat there, hovering. I could place Woody in the box and still carry those memories. Having an old toy isn’t the only way to keep such moments alive. Besides, Woody wasn’t my son’s only favourite toy. He just happened to be his favourite for a certain period of time. It makes no sense to hold on to every single item my children once cherished, does it? I know what Marie Kondo (author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up) would ask: Does it spark joy? The answer is no, holding Woody doesn’t really do anything for me. But oh, the joy it gave my three-year-old son at the time is indescribable. As I sat there deliberating, my son, who’s now six, sauntered in. He walked up to me and sat down. “What are you doing mum?” he asked. “Giving some old toys away,” I said. “Is that okay with you?” “Sure,” he said. “I’ve got more in my room if you want.” “What about Woody?” I asked. I looked at my six-year-old boy, searching his eyes for his three-year-old self. “Yeah, I don’t need Woody anymore. You can give it away,” he said without skipping a beat. “You sure? Won’t you miss him?” “Nah, he can go to someone else.” They say one of the hardest parts of parenting is learning to let go. Our kids keep leaping forwards and, as their parents, we have to somehow keep up, despite having the past constantly pulling at our sleeves, beckoning us to forever look back. My son popped Woody into the box of old toys like it was no big deal, then went to his room to gather some more stuff to donate. I’d love to say I needed my son’s advice. But as I slid back Woody into the cupboard (far away from the box of stuff we were giving away), I justified my actions to myself. I’m not keeping Woody for my six-year-old son. I’m keeping it for his three-year-old version, whose big, brown eyes would be bereft without his favourite toy. It might sound crazy – I know logically my three-year-old boy is well and truly gone, nor is he ever coming back – but in some way, I feel like keeping Woody for him lets me hold on to him, just a bit. Holding Woody doesn’t spark joy for me, not in the traditional sense. Instead, it ignites powerful (some might say ‘life-changing’?) nostalgia. And that’s a feeling I don’t want to give up. Words: Evelyn Lewin