When Mom and I merged households, we found ourselves surrounded by extra plates, pots, and candlesticks. Mom has always been a shopper and as hard as I pushed for practicality, she brought far too much stuff to my place. She tends to hold on to things under the best of circumstances. When I packed up her house, I was shocked by how many boxes from my childhood and teenage years remained in her garage, untouched. After so much loss, this tendency became all the stronger. For the first year together, few statements from me elicited a reaction as negative as her response any time I brought up the idea of making some donations or cleaning up her closet.
One weekend I managed to purge a significant set of dishes with her full agreement. We sorted and agreed which sets to keep and which to give away. It was a tough couple of hours but we made fair decisions. When we got to the donations center, Mom had forgotten the agreement and fought to keep a portion of the dishes sorted to go out the door. Exhausting. A pile of dishes moved right back to a box in our kitchen.
After a year of tripping over those dishes and far too many linens, pillows, framed photos, and excess clothes relative to our modest apartment, I committed to purging in spite of her protestations. I got started with sorting in earnest when she went through a hospitalization a few months ago. It so successful and I see every time I better clean out and organize something, the Mom functions a bit more easily.
Now, it’s a silent ongoing battle waged hourly in our house. I move four kitchen items to the donations zone. Mom stealthily removes one without comment. A few hours later, she brings another item over to me to explain its virtues. I agree. Ten minutes later, I move it back to the pile. When donation trucks arrive, she usually fights for one or two items. Last time she salvaged a huge box of notecards– a fascinating choice for a woman who no longer writes letters.
And yet, eager as I am to purge, I know there will come a day that I will be grateful for what remains. Some items I hold on to claiming they matter to her. I realize as I do, that they mattered more to the woman that Mom used to be and it makes them a bit more worth holding on to now.
August 19, 2014 at 9:24 am
Years ago, during a move, half of our possessions were lost. They were things we needed, used, had to replace – so it was very hard. I knew it even then but time has proven it even more, that we are so much more than the things we possess. Holding our material possessions loosely can lessen a lot of life’s anxiety. But it’s hard. Good that you are not letting “stuff” be your master.
August 19, 2014 at 10:00 am
I am the family historian. I have the green and white woven blanket from my grandfather who fought in the Spanish American war. I have his huge family Bible. I have my mother’s Christmas china. I have wine glasses from her crystal. I have a silver coffee and tea service from my aunt and her Blue Danube china, matching glassware and flatware. I have the Gorham Chantilly flatware from two aunts and my mother. My mom and an aunt had gorgeous clothes which I was fortunate enough to be able to wear, and along with the clothes there were lovely pieces of jewelry and beautiful scarves. That’s just the tip of the iceberg and it’s in addition to the full household of things I already had when I started receiving these items. I gave away and sold more than I kept, but I still have so much more than I need.
I love each item in this rich legacy I inherited. What makes me sad is that I have no children. Someday all these lovely things I have treasured will be junk in an estate sale. At the end of the estate sale, some relation from a younger generation that I barely know will shake their head and say something like, “That stuff was barely worth the effort it took to get rid of it.”
What that unknown representative of the future will not realize is how dear that junk was to people I loved. They won’t appreciate how hard my loved ones worked to pay for each and every piece. They won’t know that my aunt bought each item in that silver service one at a time, on layaway, from the jewelry store in her small town. They won’t know how my mom and my two aunts chose the same silver pattern for their wedding registries, so that together they’d have enough matching flatware for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners with the whole family. They won’t know how poor my mom and her sisters were in the Great Depression, which made them long to be able to dress with style and elegance. They won’t know which of my knick-knacks were lovingly selected on a 32-countries-in-16-day trip my mom and aunt took together – and then enjoyed together to the end of their days.
I’ve tried to tell them. I invited a family member over to decorate my Christmas tree with me. As each item was hung, I told it’s story. Who made it or bought it. If it was bought, where. I told the stories of the half-price sales we’d laugh our way through, long before there was anything called Black Friday. After the tree was decorated, my companion pointed out that she had bought her tree “brand-new at Macy’s” and that everything matched. That’s when I knew that I was not just the family historian. I was also our history’s final stop.
August 19, 2014 at 12:24 pm
Consider stipulating gifts to the historical society when you downsize or when you pass.