Musings

Things

I have mixed feelings about this time of year.

Some call it the season of giving, but if you think about all the advertising, it’s more like the season of getting.  Of gimme, gimme gimme.

Even the commercials urging you to shop here to buy “the perfect gift” aren’t really interested in you and your gift-giving.  They just want your money.  Gimme.

And things.  It’s all about things. 

We’ve got lots of things in this house.

Things that we use, and things that decorate. 

Things that bring us joy, and things that gather dust underneath the beds or lie buried beneath other things.  Things the children were overjoyed to unwrap last year or the year before, which are now clogging shelves or access to the closet.

~~~

We have too much stuff.  Too many things.

I’m working on getting rid of the excess. 

It’s not easy.

I blame genetics.  Or the Great Depression.  Or my grandparents growing up poor in the East End of London.

They didn’t have much when they got married.  But over time, with a lot of hard work, they did well for themselves.  And they acquired things.  Lots of books.  Mementos.  Serving ware.  Things.

They lived into their eighties after living good lives and providing the world with one child – my mother.  When they died, my mother was left without her parents, but with a lot of things to sort through.  To keep, to give away, to throw away…

And before all that, my mother continued the tradition of collecting and keeping things. 

Our house – a full four stories high – was full of things.  There was a closet in the dining room, for instance, that was floor-to-ceiling dishes and glassware and salt and pepper shakers and odds and ends of serving ware.  The walls were adorned with platters…teacups and saucers…interesting plates.

I thought it was pretty cool (except when I had to wash them). 

We got lots of things for Christmas.  My mother, a depression-era baby, wanted to give us magical Christmases with lots to unwrap.  She did a great job.  I grew up thinking that was the whole point and quest of Christmas.  To give The Best Gifts Ever.  I overspent.  I drove myself crazy.  I gave people lots of things.

And I have lots of things now.

The other part of all this, is the Saving of Things. 

That spoon was given to your grandmother by her great-aunt-in-law’s cousin Matilda on her deathbed. 

That sort of thing.  The sort of thing that, while yes, it’s just a spoon, is also That Spoon, and it is this capitalized identity that gives the spoon a weight far heavier than the few ounces you see on a scale.

It becomes more than a spoon.  It is a spoon with meaning.  With history.  With great-aunt-in-law’s cousin Matilda’s very blood and soul forged into the metal.

It must be kept.

This makes it really hard to clean out the attic or to hold a yard sale. 

All those possessed things refusing to budge.

~~~

About 8 years ago lots of events took place.  (Like they do every year, I suppose.)  The ones I’m thinking of include these – my parents sold the house they’d lived in since the year before I was born.  Part of it was also my father’s business, and as a retired couple whose daughters were out of the house, it was too big.  For my father. 

My mother never wanted to move.  The house was such a possessed thing.

And I understand that.  I grew up in that house.  So many memories in those rooms.  It was my home.

But.  It was too much.  Too big and old (and drafty) to heat efficiently, too much to maintain, too many things that would need attention eventually, which would cost more than they wanted to spend.

So, with great gut-wrenching reluctance on my mother’s part (and my mother is a WHOLE ‘nother story that would need a separate blog), the house was sold, and they moved into a smaller place about 3 miles away.

And attempted to cram 40 years or more of things into a much smaller house.  It wasn’t easy.  And it’s still not really done.  The basement?  Full of boxes and boxes of things.  There are two full-sized hutches in the dining room, each filled and covered with all those dishes and glasses and things from the closet and walls of the former dining room. 

My mother won’t let go of these things.  This came from so-and-so.  That was given to me by this person who died twenty years ago.  These were the sugar decorations from your first birthday cake.  Yes, they are crumbly, but still. 

That same year, my daughter was born.  A gorgeous, healthy baby girl.  A baby sister for our son.  A girl cousin for the lone girl niece on either side of the family.  A happy occasion.

And, at the very end of that year – this was 2004 – a tsunami struck a lot of the Asian coastal countries, destroying homes and families, drowning lives and memories and dragging them out to sea.

My mother did not look on 2004 fondly.  She was focused on the sale of her home, and oh, yeah, she also broke her hip.  That, at the end of the year, was all she could focus on.

I pointed out that a granddaughter was also born that year.  Oh, yeah.

That didn’t sit well with me.  But again – I need a separate blog for all that.

Anyway, those three events – house, daughter, tsunami – have become intertwined in my mind.  I think about them like this: 

I love my home, I love my stuff in my home. 

I love my daughter.

What if a tsunami came and dragged it all out to sea?

I wouldn’t care about the home or the stuff.

I can’t imagine losing my daughter.  Or, rather, I can, but I choose not to because it is too painful to even contemplate.

But it has changed something in me. 

My feeling about things.

I care less about them.  Instead, I feel as though they are looming over me sometimes, crowding me with all their history and meaning.

Yes, some things are meaningful to me.  Some things I cannot part with.  Or, rather, I could, but choose not to, at least for now.  Some things – habits are hard to break – I will keep for my kids.  Pieces of furniture.  Sets of dishes.  These are functional things.  They will be used.

I think I’m tired of things that just sit there.  That aren’t used.  That, okay, I can look at them and feel time shift and remember something significant, or a certain person…but…I don’t find it quite as hard to let go any more.

I don’t want to be crowded. 

I don’t want to be haunted by these things, or by the…the familial obligation to keep things because great-aunt-somebody-or-other left them behind after she died and now I’ve got to dust it.

Yes, I have items that mean a lot to me; that have some kind of significance.  But how many of these special things do I need or want to keep?  Do I need to keep EVERYTHING I’ve ever been given?  EVERYTHING passed down from a passed-away relative?  I feel things clutching at my arms and legs, and clinging to me with whispers that trigger all my guilt reflexes.  I don’t want that.  I don’t need that. 

They are things.  Sure, they bring me a smile or a memory.

But if a tsunami were to strike?

They are just things.

~~~

I know – this has been long and rambling.  And unedited.  And not thought out entirely.  I just sat down and started typing, with a vague idea of what I wanted to say, and this is what came out.

Years ago I would definitely have disagreed with these words.

Tomorrow I might disagree with myself.

But somehow, I don’t think so.

8 thoughts on “Things

  1. I really really relate to this. I have been getting rid of a lot of stuff in the last 3, 4 years … stuff I never would have thought possible even recently. Then of course, there were the books – I recently donated 7 boxes – 7 BOXES – of books to a local 2nd hand store. It’s not that I don’t have room (I actually do) … it’s that the possessions were weighing me down. All of that became crystal clear to me during Sandy (interesting that you mentioned the tsunami and how that affected you). I just wanted to pare down, let go, have more space for … not sure what. When the time comes to let something go for real, you’ll know.

  2. My family is from England also. We are pretty much the only ones in this country and my one cousin, her husband and daughter decided last year that instead of buying lots of presents for each other they were going to donate to their favorite charity instead. They each spent I think it was 20 pounds on each other and it had to be something useful. For her daughther they got her the pasta that she loves. I thought it was a great idea as buying things certainly has become the focus of Christmas. I am not a big buyer of gifts as we dont have much spare income. My sister-in-laws get a basket of homemade jams and jellies, with an ornament I cross stitch them and I buy up the notepads, and odds and ends at work when they go on clearance for 25 cents to use as fillers in the baskets. At work I made the other managers all loaves of homemade bread a couple of years ago and it was well received. I love homemade gifts that someone has thought about me and spent the time to make me something they thought I would like. Ok I am rambling so I will stop. 🙂

  3. I agree, my parents were children of the Depression Era and then did very well for themselves later on. They came from a generation that thought they couldn’t get rid of anything. Hoarders in the making, and then they pass this on to their kids. We have so much stuff that we don’t touch, much less use. I should learn how to get rid of things on Ebay and Craigs list, I think I’ll make that a summer project. Or I can just mail things off to people I meet through blogs…. 😉

  4. ::hugs:: I too went through a phase where everything was sentimental… I was even at the point where I didn’t want to buy anything new for myself with fear that one day I’d “lose it”.

    I actually loved reading this post, it touched on a lot of things that I believe in too… that, and my father is what you would call a “pack-rat”… so my mother is going through that dilemma right now with him. Tiny house filled with too much stuff – and she’s a minimalist. He was in the military, so there’s a lot of paraphernalia around.

    The only thing I fight with is computer things. My boyfriend and myself are what you would call… nerds. We like our computers. But I swear… with all of the extra random computer components I have in my attic we could build an army’s worth of computers… but it’s hard to let go of USEFUL *things*… I only want to purchase functional items for the home, things that I can use. Kitchen items are always functional, since I love the cook – but *things*… those are kept to a minimum.

  5. We used to have a house full of things too but I was slowly starting to realize that I felt a bit bogged down by the very things I thought I needed – even a little suffocated at times.

    After much coaxing and persuading I convinced my husband that we should rid our selves of all that stuff. So we gave away or sold 95% of our stuff (we even sold our house) and moved to South America with 13 suitcases and 2 teenagers in tow. And it was so liberating! Since we’ve moved we’ve met so many people here who have done the same thing and not one of them have ever expressed any regret.

    I think letting go of things can difficult at first but it’s really not as hard as many people think. Our memories can be SO tied to our stuff, can’t they? Or in some cases – chained! But stuff is just…. stuff and memories are there whether you have your things or not. And I’ve found that the more I give away the easier it becomes. There’s a great feeling of lightness and freedom that comes with it. I’d recommend it to anyone.

  6. I have always prided myself on not being focused on things. Then we had my 1- and 2- y.o. grandsons stay with us for two weeks and I was amazed at my reaction when they were throwing our coasters at the coffee table. No, I don’t really care about the things but must they be so hard on everything?!

    My parents are packrats and I live in denial that I will ever have to clean out my mom’s attic of teaching supplies from 40 years ago.

    For gift giving, we’ve started to lean toward experiences (themed dinners at our house for my DMIL and DFIL; subscription to the local museum for my DBIL and DSIL’s family) or consumables (fancy spices for a friend who cooks).

    I like the wrapping and opening better than the shopping anyway!

  7. Having just moved and come face to face with virtually every THING we own, I so relate to this as well, Jayne. MB grew up with kind of a hoarding mom and I grew up with pretty much a non-hoarding mom. It makes it hard for us to be on the same page when it comes to getting rid of things. I tend toward the attitude of “They’re just things.” His is more “Never know when I might wear that ratty t-shirt from 1987 again.”

    I find I kind of dread getting more THINGS at Christmastime, particularly from my mom. I hate to say it, but for the last 20 years-ish, she’s never given me anything useful. I end up giving away most everything she gives me and — I know I sound ungrateful — but ….. well, her gifts become more of a burden.

    Okay. I sound hideous. I know. But we’ve tried to convince my parents over the years to STOP giving us presents and focus on the grandkids, but they just don’t listen. So basically December 26th is “Pack Up the Stuff Mom Gave Us and Give it Away” Day.

    I don’t need more THINGS.

  8. I enjoyed reading your perspective. I have moved 51 times and still have a few family things I treasure- my fifth-grade social studies report, my great-grandmother’s salt shakers, my mother’s report card, etc. I also have a collection of 100+ elephants (long story). But other things are just that– things. I don’t like a lot of clutter. I clean out closets and shelves and give things away quite often. I try not to accumulate in the first place, but as you say there are gifts and such. I would suggest to you and your readers that taking photos of things that are only somewhat sentimental is a good way to “keep them” in a simpler form. Enjoyed stumbling onto your blog. I was searching for a cookie recipe. 🙂

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