Last week we moved Mom into an assisted living facility. Of necessity, she’s traveling light: She could take only a few treasured things and a few familiar items of furniture to make it feel more like home.
I now have the opposite problem. I need to clear out Mom’s house so that it can be rented. She lived in that house for 45 years, accumulating stuff. Some of the stuff goes back even further, to the 1940s and beyond. My unenviable task is to go through everything, deciding item by item what to keep and what to dispose of. Whatever I keep, I have to find space for in my own home.
The family Bible, for instance. It’s a huge leather-bound tome that, according to the inscription on the first page, was acquired by C. M. Aikin in 1872, at a cost of $20. That was a lot of money in those days! I have no kids and no personal interest in the Bible as a book … but this is not the sort of thing you can put in a garage sale.
I already have plenty of my own paraphernalia — art work on the walls, hundreds of books, treasured bits of this and that. As I go through Mom’s house, I’ll be acquiring more. The heaviness of it all is almost unbearable. I embrace it, and wish I didn’t. I would like to lighten the load sooner rather than later, but I doubt I will do so.
The reason we keep things — photos, souvenirs, antiques, books, old shoes — is because they give our lives meaning. In a sense, our possessions anchor our identities. I am a person who owns books by Cervantes, Dickens, and James Thurber. That figurine was carved by my high-school English teacher; he passed away some years ago. These LPs? Oh, yes — I saw Jefferson Airplane at the Fillmore West in 1970.
Most of this stuff will end up in a landfill someday. But maybe with a few of the things, when I’m gone, someone will buy it in the estate sale, take it home, and say, “Look what I found!” It will become part of their collection of meaningful stuff.
The wheel turns.