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When I look around my parents' house, the last thing I see is clutter.
Granted, there are a lot of memories. There's also a fair share of what I consider to be "junk",
but by "junk" I mean bills and old files from their old business. I see a lot of canned goods that
were started as an act in good preparation, but the rotation of them hasn't been exactly on point.
I see a lot of clothing.
When I see my Mom's collection of bells and trinkets, Dad's 1950's era toys and their combined
inherited Christmas decorations, what I don't think is "what are they worth". Sure, I've thought
about how much stuff they actually do have, and when they pass how much work it's going to
be in organizing all of those things, but in my opinion, that's part of what we deal with as a
family. The last thing an elderly person should be stressing about is "what should I leave for my
family?", or the emotions of feeling as though they have to eliminate their memories to make
our lives more comfortable.
A few years back, my Mom joined forces in a yard sale with a few other folks and well, honestly,
Mom's going to do what Mom's going to do. I don't know what all did get sold, but when I
looked through the boxes while trying to organize her basement, I found all sorts of things that
she had stickers on that didn't sell.
I found a wall ornament I bought for her for Mother's Day when I was in elementary school. It
was Mary and a baby Jesus plaque, and I did a lot of odd jobs to get enough money up to buy it.
she had a sticker on it for 50 cents. As I sifted through more boxes, more and more items from
my childhood started popping up. These things held great sentiment to me, and it hurt my
feelings greatly when I saw them for sale. I thought perhaps she had forgotten where
she got them, and feared that those items didn't hold meaning any longer...or maybe, they never did.
Mixed emotions turned into anger and I ended up giving away that plaque to a woman who I
knew would appreciate it. Albeit, she wasn't Catholic, like my Mom had been, however, she was
deeply tied to the Mother aspect in her own faith.
Certain pieces of jewelry that I had liked from childhood, and even wore-she gave away as "junk
jewelry", without so much as a recollection of "oh, that's right, Vicki liked this. I remember when
she would nag me about wanting to wear it."
Whole collections began to be dismantled, eliminated, and systematically poofed into
nonexistence. When asked where a certain this or that went, "Oh, I threw it away" or "I gave it
I saved what I could, reboxed them up, and labeled them. I told her about it, asked that she
didn't assume that none of us weren't interested in those "old things", and the next time she
had something she felt was of no sentimental value, to kindly ask us first. She agreed.
There are currently 13 of us; children and grandchildren. Apparently, what had happened was
she was trying to clear the clutter so she could feel better about what was and wasn't
"important". That didn't help me at all, because many of "her" memories are "our" memories.
That was years ago, we talked about it, and I healed back up. However, this morning, I came upon this article
entitled Your Top 10 Objects Your Kids Don't Want", which reopened a few of those old
wounds. When I read this, I was genuinely troubled. Here is this person who wrote an entire
book on this very thing, but I felt that she had written, not from a place of profession as much as
from a place of assumption; with her remedies or solutions, feeling less like "matter of fact"
statements, and more like a very spoiled and extremely bitter teenager.
I haven't read the book, so I'm only able to base my opinion on the articles I read on Forbes, and
Next Avenue (a PBS publication for retirees and the elderly), which excerpted the book.
Here are the top 10, and a few quotes from each of them.
10: Books. The author's remedy was to ask an antiquarian bookseller, but that most books were basically trash.
9: Paper Ephemera. The author describes this as any photos, greeting cards and postcards, and suggests that the
elderly have the photos digitized, and to donate all of the other stuff, and that unless those things have no value
unless there is a celebrity in them, which is sad.
8: Steamer Trunks, Sewing Machines and Film Projectors. "...And every family has a projector for home movies.
Thrift stores are full of these items, so, unless your family member was a professional and the item is top-notch,
yours can go there as well."
7: Porcelain Figurine Collections and Bradford Exchange “Cabinet” Plates. "they do not fit into the Zen-like tranquil
aesthetic of a 20- or 30-something’s home."
6: Silver-Plated Objects. "Your grown children will not polish silver-plate, this I can guarantee." and
"Remedy: None. Give it away to any place or person who will take it."
5: Heavy, Dark, Antique Furniture. "Unless your furniture is mid-century modern, there’s a good chance you will
have to pay someone to take it off your hands. Remedy: Donate it and take a non-cash charitable contribution."
4: Persian Rugs. "The modern tranquility aimed for in the décor of the 20- to 30-somethings does not lend itself to
a collection of multicolored (and sometimes threadbare) Persian rugs. Remedy: The high-end market is still collecting in
certain parts of the U.S. (think Martha’s Vineyard), but unless the rug is rare, it is one of the hardest things to sell these days.
If you think the value of the rug is below $2,000, it will be a hard sell. Like antique furniture, it may be best to donate."
3: Linens."Go ahead, offer to send your daughter five boxes of hand-embroidered pillowcases, guest towels, napkins, and table linens.
She might not even own an iron or ironing board, and she definitely doesn’t set that kind of table. Remedy: Source those needlewomen who
make handmade Christening clothes, wedding dresses, and quinceañera gowns.
Also, often you can donate linens to costume shops of theaters and deduct the donation."
2: Sterling Silver Flatware and Crystal Wine Services."Unless the scrap value for silver is high enough for a meltdown, matching sets of
sterling flatware are hard to sell because they rarely go for “antique” value. Formal entertaining is not a priority these days.
And of course, sterling must be hand-washed and dried. Can you see your kids choosing to use the silver? Same goes for crystal."
1: Fine Porcelain Dinnerware. "Your grown children may not want to store four sets of fancy porcelain dinnerware, and frankly don’t
see the glory in unpacking it once a year for a holiday or event. This is the saddest story I have to tell my clients: your grown kids and
grown grandkids DO NOT want and will NEVER want five or more fine china services. They don’t even want one."
The articles state that the author "Elizabeth Stewart is the author of "No Thanks Mom: The Top 10 Objects Your Kids Do Not Want (and what to do with them).
She is a certified member of the Appraiser's Association of America and collects "no thanks" stories from her three decades of experience."
In her experience, this is what she's come up with. In my experience, everything matters.
It really is all a matter or perspective.
At first glance, I assumed that she was speaking to mid-lifers, like myself. I'm 50, and of course, legacy, value, and sentimentality are frequented
in my mind as I age. I know that everything I have collected throughout the years may not hold any monetary value and the sentiments and memories they
hold may only be "just for me", but the articles state that these suggestions are for "boomers"...so basically, folks over 70 years of age.
Keep in mind that many elderly folks can't do this kind of task alone, even if they wanted to, and many more would be hurt and ashamed if it was
brought to their attention in this manner. Older folks have too much to worry about already, with everything becoming less familiar, demands for
technological devices they don't want but are told they "need", and trying to juggle whether or not they can afford to survive on what they have.
These last years of life should be filled with the joy of a life well-lived. Photo albums of memories, knick-knacks, and tableware used for family
occasions, and yes, even that all too huge bell collection, aren't "clutter", they're lives.
Times have changed immensely and I get that. We used to make purchases on items that would have been heirlooms and used for decades.
A physical movie or book collection was "worth its weight in gold". Keeping the family information was done so religiously so that none of our
descendants would feel lost, or wonder who these names and faces were in their family history. We invested thousands of hours and dollars
in making a comfortable environment for our loved ones. We invested, so they wouldn't have to.
What was the way of doing things for generations, suddenly became "clutter" as the trend towards kando-ing, digitizing, and cloud storage was thought
to be more convenient. The old folks are seen as irrelevant, and their way of doing things, an inconvenience.
The motto for many folks has become "work smarter, not harder", which is great...however the mantra of being insightful and clever has become more of
an excuse to be a dick.
The war between boomer and millennial is just bullshit, and guess who gets to sit in the middle of this internet-based war? Us. Gen-X. The midlifers.
"Work smarter" shouldn't imply doing nothing at all. Unfortunately, it seems that between trends on "not having to do" and big companies
"not wanting you to save" has created confusion and a communication gap. Much of what is available nowadays, simply isn't fixable...but the old stuff is.
A simple $50 boombox from the 2000's is worth hundreds on Ebay. I know, we tried to buy one.
As many companies no longer want to support their "complimentary" online storage and have been downsizing, folks are pigeon-holed into buying space or
losing their documents and memories. For a lot of people who are already pretty busy with everyday life, printing 15 years worth of photos can be nightmarish.
Whether you do it yourself or have someone else print them out, it's expensive. Saving them all on C.D. or on another drive, be it flash or external,
is not only time-consuming, but it's also not reliable.
The way we have begun doing things as a society seemed as though it was a convenient ways and means to simplify our lives, and was touted as being
something reliable. It's not. What I have found to be reliable, is printing out my photos and having fun putting them into scrapbooks.
I enjoy making scrapbook things for other people. I enjoy looking at people's collections of items, after all, those china cabinets filled
with porcelain knick-knacks and macaroni art are our own personal little museums of life.
Those memories are not junk and they shouldn't become a stress factor, or be assumed an inconvenience by those with whom they meant so much.
People like Ms. Stewart are looking for a payout, and I understand that. That is her job. If it helps certain folks, great, however, people who tell
you to oversimplify and make you feel ashamed of your collections are ridiculous.
We've collected so many wondrous artifacts over our all too short years of life. Whether an item is one of simplicity or not, is not up to some
collector to summarize the true value. They appraise the cash dollar value and their time is money. What I feel people who write things like this
really mean is "don't waste my time with junk I can't sell." Perhaps that's not her intention at all, I don't know her. All I know is how the article made me feel.
It made me feel like after I die, my life had no value other than what I left behind that had a cash value.
I know, in part, that is true. Some of my things, if they "worth money", will get sold...but it's her vibe. Its the sentiment between the wrod.
This article said to me "It's not about you. It's not about your children or grandchildren. It's not about legacy. It's what we can sell you for."
It's about how little you and your loved ones have left, in a world that uses catch-phrases like "simplicity" and "zen" as a means to leave you
with nothing...not even the knowledge of who you are and where your family comes from.
In a growing world of wonderfully helpful and lifesaving technology, are the scoundrels who use those things for control, and they love to make
lots of money on our loss. They charge us for updates and new force tech when our old reliable things work just fine. They hold our photos hostage
and demand pay to relinquish them. They want us to look at our old stuff as junk so they can sell us real junk we can't fix.
They want us to be dependent, controlled, sick, and confused because contentment isn't profitable; distress is.
We shouldn't be stressing out our old-timers over how much stuff they have collected. We should be sitting with them going through stuff and listening
to their old stories. We need to teach our kiddos how to appreciate the lives that were well-lived and to take heed in the lessons they learned.
We need to look at where we came from so we can remember what did and didn't work, so we don't waste our time or theirs on repeating some bullshit pattern.
Our aging loved ones took care of us when we needed them, and the least we can do when they've passed away is sort through their precious memories in a
reflective and respectful way. I assure you, that memories are everything. It might not seem like much when you are very young, but as you get older,
those little knick-knacks mean the world. These are our traditions.
Some people don't want to be bothered, or don't like the idea of having to wade through boxes and maybe they do feel inconvenienced. That's them, and that's fine,
but please don't assume that everyone feels that way. Most of us, don't.
If you're an aging person and considering downsizing for whatever reason, be it to make your life more convenient or because you feel that doing so will
relieve some stress from your family when you're gone, kindly don't make assumptions. If you feel as though something won't be appreciated, talk with them.
If you're not on speaking terms, send a letter. If that's not an option, confide in a neighbor or friend and put everything in writing.
I have a rough relationship with one of my children, but I love her dearly. I know that she loves me, but life has been challenging and created a bit of a
communication issue. The assumption that many have is that relationships like that mean that feelings of devaluation and contempt will remain after our death,
but that's when all of those memories and little things will really matter.
They will say all of the things left unsaid. They will show the story that was misunderstood.
An old teapot will still whistle, while the smells of fresh flowers will still be fragrant in memory.
The smells of old pipe tobacco and the sounds of those old slippers scooting across the floor will bring a loved one back to a place of comfort when they need it.
Old books will hold stories read to us when we were little, discussed as adults, and bookmarked as clues into what someone's interests were, somewhere in time.
As a midlifer, to my elders, I want you to know I appreciate you. I appreciate everything you did for me.
I appreciate all of the things you invested in, experienced, and invented so that my life wouldn't have to be as difficult as yours.
I appreciate the memories and the stories.
I honor every hand-made granny blanket as much as every dried flower arrangement that is currently dusty because you can no longer reach it,
and I want you to know that I can't reach so well anymore either.
Every tool represents a thing you built or fixed out of concern and love.
Every dish, a memory of family, with one always set aside for those who can no longer be with us.
Shoes well worn to capacity, bloodstains on the pillowcases, old pill bottles labeled with the letter "X" or placed in small groups so that
you could keep up. Old things....all new and fresh because "I just bought that!" -even though it's been 10 years.
All of this is okay. It is not a burden. It is not an inconvenience, so thanks Mom... it is an honor to be entrusted with the memories of an entire life.
I apologize in advance to my children, who upon my death, may come upon an immense amount of stuff that they may consider to be "junk", but each thing
was a love, a smile, and a memory of you. It was a seashell, one sock, a broken snowman that the cat ate. A card, a scrawled picture, a macaroni art.
A sweater that kept me warm, a book that held the things sacred to me, and photos of happy times.
Each thing, a moment in time that I wanted to hold still.
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