Since we got into the buying and selling vintage and antique things, we've seen a lot of stuff. Piles and piles of stuff. Boxes, totes, and bags of stuff. Rooms stuffed with stuff. And it's made me really ponder the meaning of it all.
I am the first to admit that I like interesting and beautiful things. Yes I do, and my house is full of them. From gorgeous glass to funky, beat-up kitchenware to soft, worn linens, I am surrounded daily with the results of my quest for cool things. Many of the items in my home have a story to go with them--a platter that a lady I never met used to put her sausages on in the mornings, a wool and crochet afghan made lovingly by a stranger, a table made by some man years ago for his wife, a lamp that hung over someone's grandmother's table. Some things carry stories of my own past--my parents' huge dining table, my mother's bedside table, the book of fairy tales that was mine when I was young, my bedroom dresser lovingly restored by my husband, a vase given to me by a sister, a stained glass window made for me as a retirement gift...the list goes on and on.
And yet there is a stopping point to what I can and will keep, because after all we can't keep everything. So I have periodic purges, and the local thrift stores (and my booths) benefit from my determination to downsize at least a little bit. The choices can be difficult since as we age we collect memories and mementos, and those mementos take up space.
Sometimes Larry and I are approached by people who need to get rid of some things, or are trying to clear out an estate. Often the places we visit are neat, tidy and clean, everything well organized. This seems to be particularly true of older people who moved to smaller homes and downsized when they moved. They seem to stick with their determination to reduce their belongings--a wise decision since aging often causes the need for walkers, canes and the like. It also seems to be true of people whose grown children take an active interest and involvement in their parents' lives as they age. When the time comes, or the parent dies, these estate sales are orderly with well-taken-care-of things that attract buyers like flies to honey.
But then there are the others who become unwell and unable to take care of themselves, much less a home. As time passes the stuff grows--it's easier to toss it in a building or into boxes and bags to be dealt with "later" when good health returns. Unfortunately, the situation gets worse instead of better, the piles grow and with it, I would guess, the despair of being overwhelmed by so much work, so many decisions to make about what to keep and what to toss. Their children live away or are estranged for some reason and seldom if ever come to visit. Eventually the old ones pass away or must be put into a care facility and then the task of dealing with the accumulation of years falls to the hapless family. And they call people like us, often hoping there is a treasure trove of riches hidden somewhere in the mess. Usually anything of value has been carried off long ago, sold, or gotten into such poor condition its value is lost.
I hope that by thinking about all of this now, I will remember and face reality as it comes. Perhaps we'll be hale and hearty when we're 80 and 90 years old. I hope so! But I'm realistic enough to admit that it is more likely that we will have some physical issues that will mean a simpler lifestyle in a place that is easier to maintain. I do not want to end up in a house full of plastic garbage bags and boxes full of clothes that don't fit, old bills and magazines, chipped dishes and moldy books.
So, it's just stuff, right? The trick is to never let stuff overcome us and suffocate us with its ownership. It is one lesson I have learned in this buying and selling business: there is a time to get, and a time to let go. And the older we get, the more we better be prepared to let go.
Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.