let go

Throw Away Your Old Car Keys

I recently listened to Bryan Cranston’s memoir, Life in Parts, on audiobook. Not only does he have an incredible reading voice, but his stories are fun and fascinating and consistently engaging. I loved the book and would recommend it to anyone looking for an easy read (or listen).

One particular story that stuck out in my mind was that of the passing of his aunt Sunday and uncle Eddie, and the process of his family going through their belongings afterwards. He noted how they found a box marked “keys to the old cars”, which turned out to be exactly that: keys for cars they previously owned.

As someone who is very sentimental, I can understand the act of keeping things that hold a special place in your heart. But as Cranston went onto explain, this box was one of many. The couple were definitely hoarders, finding value in keeping absolutely everything. As someone who hates clutter, I can’t really relate to this notion.

Or at least I thought I couldn’t.

Cranston noted, “None of the keys fit the car in the garage or the abandoned vehicles parked on the dead grass in the backyard. So. They kept keys to cars they hadn’t owned in years.”

That’s when I thought to myself: isn’t that kind of like holding on to grudges/pain/anger/etc. from the past?

When I thought about it like that, I realized we all probably have a “keys to the old cars box.” We are all holding onto things that will never do us any good. We are all keeping keys that belong to cars we’ve long stopped driving.

For me personally, I know I tend to hold onto things because in a way it makes me feel safe. Tangible things, like pictures or ticket stubs or knick knacks, make me feel like I’m keeping good memories safe, preserving everything I loved about that day or days in a single object that I can always go back to. Going off of this, my mind likes to pretend that holding onto anger and sadness and pain has the same benefit. It promises that remembering these things, these moments that still sting, will help keep me safe in the future. They will keep me from getting hurt or from failing or from making a fool out of myself. They will help me trust the right people and love the right people and stay away from the wrong people.

While this is good, as it’s important to constantly learn and grow and mature, there comes a point when this “protection” becomes clutter. Learning from failures is different than holding onto them. And working through pain is different than pushing it aside. For Cranston’s aunt and uncle, they were always going to have the memories of those old cars, even after they left their driveway. So while those keys might have promised to further those memories, in reality they were just reminders of the past taking up space in the present. And the same goes for all that anger and pain and sadness that is bogging us down.

It’s never easy to let go, but it’s necessary. I know for me, it might take a while. It might even be a one key at a time process, but that’s okay. As the saying goes, “the first step is admitting you have a box of old car keys.” After that, it’s just making room for the good things.