I was talking to a girlfriend the other night, and she was complaining about the amount of stuff she’d managed to collect over the years, including, most recently, all the stuff out of her mother’s house, which she had just sold when her mother went to live with her brother.
“I feel like I’m drowning in this stuff, and yet it’s hard to part with,” she said.
I knew exactly what she meant. I have been drowning in stuff for years, and my husband is no better. We are savers and pack rats by nature, sentimentalists as well. And, to top it off, we love going to tag sales and auctions, where we buy still more stuff.
This stuff can become baggage, emotional and otherwise. But it also can be comforting. Old family photos, favorite Christmas ornaments, kids’ school projects and art work, heirloom china, trophies, books — the list can be endless.
So often, memories are attached to the things we keep. Over there, on the sideboard, are grandmother’s bone china teacups. In the living room is her favorite drum table. Mom’s vintage ceramic angels grace the mantel at Christmas, and the library is crammed with photo albums: us, the kids, our friends, our immediate and extended family. We can review every major event and major and minor vacation by flipping through those pages.
I could hear, in my girlfriend’s voice, the stress of the last year as her mother drifted into Alzheimer’s and she had to take control. Her mother is still there physically, but emotionally she is gone. All that is left, really, are her things. No wonder she can’t bear to part with them yet, and why should she?
My mother-in-law, when her husband died, got rid of practically everything and sold their house, their car and most of their furniture. She reduced all of her worldly goods to just enough to fill a studio apartment.
“I don’t want to be tied down by things,” she said at the time. And she never was. She traveled the world, took courses, stayed at elder hostels and never missed a knickknack as far as I could tell.
My mother, on the other hand, likes her things and parts with them most reluctantly. Then she collects some more to replace that with which she has most recently parted. I guess I inherited those pack-rat tendencies from her.
But perhaps a sea change is coming. I’ve had a few days now when I long to just toss so much of the stuff away, end the clutter and be, well, free. And then I think: How free could I possibly be, with a husband, three teen-agers, a dog and six cats at home, and my mother living across the driveway?
Or maybe I’ll finally get rid of the stuff when I don’t feel I need it anymore. That’s what my girlfriend has decided to do.