Tuesday, March 10, 2015

It's Just Stuff

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.

All of which make me wonder: will we know when it is time to move from this fairly remote place into somewhere easier to take care of? Will we be able to correctly assess our abilities and project how long we'll be able to continue to live independently? Or will we slowly be overcome by all we have accumulated, like so many of the places we see? Will we, like one lady I know, refuse to move closer to where family can care for us because we don't want to give up our stuff?

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.


Susan Atkinson said...

I've been thinking about this too, Sue. I describe myself as a maximalist when it comes to my "things". I'm hoping as long as I'm aware of the possibilities of what could happen, I'll be able to make the decisions for myself, in a timely manner.


Terrific post, Susanna. I visited with a friend today who is in the middle of the final downsizing and its scary to see. Hard decisions that hurt. How can you let go of your babydoll baby buggy that your mother kept for you and your daughter used.Scared me I hope into action with my own accumulation of stuff. Thanks for reflecting on the problem.

Jenny said...

This is such a hard thing for some of us. I've been working on getting rid of stuff for years now. I inherited all of my mamma's treasure, which I loved making it so much harder to get rid of things. But going through her house & watching things go into disrepair in in my mother-in-law's house because she will not let us help with it - has convinced me to purge hard & purge now. I think the older we get the harder it becomes to let go. So I keep the rule that one thing in means two things out & constantly fill boxes to donate. I really don't want my one child to have to deal with it all alone so I'm doing as much as I can now. (I'm 48 by the way but my experiences with this at a young age have convinced me to deal with sooner rather than later)

Judy said...

Interesting post and something to think about. I sure hope we're still spry years from now, but.....we never know.

Tipper said...

Wonderful thoughtful post. Miss Cindy recently moved to Brasstown. Before coming she 'down-sized' her home till there was barely anything left. She kept telling me by the time she had rid her life of unnecessary stuff the details of the move would work themselves out...and they did. Granny-now she's a different story. Pap says as long as you leave me a trail to my chair, the bed, and the bathroom I'll be alright LOL! Sometimes I think about encouraging her to get rid of it all but then I think why cause a fuss about it now? I'm more like you-I collect and keep-then one day I get a wild hair and want to give it all away and I do!

Granny Sue said...

A friend pointed out recently that memories generally are only "remembered" by three generations. After that memory fades away from descendants, unless they are lucky enough to be a storytelling family that preserves those memories. Even then, will those who never knew my mother find her bedside table as endearing as I do? Probably not. Will they feel the same attachment to the cracked teapot I have saved because I remember waiting a whole day at a farm auction for the auctioneer to finally get to it? I almost hope they do not, because then they may feel obligated to keep these things, when really they will not need them at all.

Joy@aVintageGreen said...

Oh Yes Sue. I have been the family member who dealt with my parent's home starting last October. Mom died two years ago and Dad is now in an independent living/with support suite. Winnowing what to put in his new home with the most meaning for him as well as making sure that there is wheelchair space everywhere took a lot of careful planning with no input from Dad.

That left everything else. I divided things up with minimal input between the 'kids (me included)' and was still left with so much volume of personal belongings.

I am still dealing with the things I brought home to deal with later. Dad's old condo is empty, the renovations are complete and it is now on the slow market for reselling (another time hog story).

I DO NOT want to leave such a huge job behind when I can no longer do the work/make the decisions). I still have a great amount of my MIL's stuff to deal with too, all in our little home.

This week is another sort / donate / sell / recycle / purge. I have a friend coming for 4 days and that will help (the stuff isn't personal for her). So far 3 large garbage bags are full and the 'free stuff put on the curb has gotten rid of 2 items. Not even a dent.

I guess you can tell your post hit me right where I am. Thank you Sue.


Granny Sue said...

Joy, you are in the most difficult stages because not only are you dealing with all of the decisions that need to be made, you're also dealing with the grief of knowing that you are facing the end of an important part of your life as your parents pass on. Add to that the stress of dealing with so many things at once--the house, your Dad, all that stuff, probably medical decisions--and it's just overwhelming to contemplate. Sending a hug that you will be well and still strong at end of this difficult path.

Granny Sue said...

It seems, my friends, as if we are all on some level contemplating these issues. Jenny, you have a while yet but you're wise to start thinking about it now. I have told my sons to take whatever they want from our stuff when we're gone, let the grandchildren choose what they want, and then hire an auction company to deal with the rest because much of it will have no personal memories for them. I do not ever want them to think they "must" keep anything we leave behind--they can sell it all if they like. I will not be here to care, and they don't need the worry and guilt!

storytellermary said...

I still have too much, but did manage to pass along most of my teaching "stuff" after hearing Dovie talk about the concept of Wopila or give-away. (I also had help tossing by accepting the help of some of my ESOL students, ruthless in discarding. Dovie further explained that Wopila is not the same as discarding. Rather, a treasured item is passed on because one had enjoyed it long enough, and now it's someone else's turn. That helped me during my move from the condo, not rejecting items, but allowing them to move on and be appreciated by someone else.

Nance said...

I too have been thinking about this and wondering if now is the time to start downsizing -- or to just leave it for the children to auction off, when we are gone. I have accumulated a LOT of stuff from auctions and garage sales. Mixed all together in this home of mine are 'stuff' beloved by strangers and 'stuff' beloved by my folks and my in-laws. I want my children to know which is which . . . but they are all busy so I may have to pass this information on to my grandchildren. My granddaughters seem to want my house after I'm gone (8 yr old asked me to leave it to her in 'that thing when you die' lol -- a will). I'm wondering if these young girls want the house so much as all the memories and love and family time that they have had here.

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