The topic of conversation this morning between Chris and I is clutter. In a house of 14 people, clutter is more of a problem for him than it is for me. One advantage I have is that when I get rid of something, there isn’t someone behind me bringing in more stuff. But that problem is directly related to the stage of his family life.

I realized as we talked that my clutter problem has a different dimension than his. When I look at an item, I ask myself whether it would be of any value to my descendents. I am not talking about things like lamps or dishes that could get a grandchild started with setting up housekeeping. I am talking about things that tell part of mine or Bernie’s life stories.

As I sit here in my living room I can look around at three areas above my head, shelves deliberately built into this house to hold memorabilia that I have been hanging on to for years. They are above my head  because they can be seen, but no one can see the dust that they are accumulating. Clever, huh?

What Chris and I were talking about this morning is the problem that my family may have to face when I kick the bucket. First of all, they won’t be able to tell where these items came from or why I saved them. In other words, do they actually say something about Bernie or about me?  I have a rocking chair that my grandmother rocked me in when I was a little girl, for example.

I pointed out to Chris a small bronze statue of two children on a teeter-tauter, which he could see from where he sat on the couch. “I was given that as a gift when I retired from parenting education,” I said. There is really no way of knowing whether that would have meaning to a grandchild in the future but they certainly wouldn’t know what it meant to me if I don’t make some effort to communicate. So, I think, one thing I need to do is go through my stuff and make labels. My mother-in-law did some of that. It was useful when we later had to decide what to do with all of the stuff that came into our house when she moved into the nursing home.

I’d be interested in knowing how others have dealt with all of their stuff accumulated over the years. The kids are gone. At least I can count on the idea that if something goes out the front door,  something else isn’t coming in the back door.


7 thoughts on “Clutter”

  1. Does anyone have anything that was passed down from great grandparents? Or great-great grandparents? We have some photos; but my sister, husband and I are organizing them and have scanned them all. Most need photo shop repair. My children like to look at them and are interested to hear the stories from the past; but they don’t hold any sentimental feelings for them. I have the harmonica my dad was playing in a artist’s drawing from his funeral. I have the prayer book that my sister, Carole used when she was living. And I have a few things from my brother, Mike, that has also passed. I have some of his cremains. Are these things that mean anything to anyone but me? Like your other comments, these things will be worthless when I pass on as well. I say, take a picture and write down the memory and then donate items to someone that is in need. Those items then come alive and of value again….even if only to someone else in need.

    1. Marie, I think there is a lot of things that can be passed on that are special…to a point. My grandmother made me a quilt and I will always treasure that. There is also a picture of my great great grandfather on the job in NYC. My grandmother also scanned in pictures of her grandparents and made it into a quilt handing. These are the things I tend to treasure along with kitchen gadgets and Christmas ornaments. I think it becomes too much when you are talking about passing on full antique dining furniture sets, 3-5 china wear sets and so on…

  2. Ma’am-
    I really appreciated your post. Your son, Chris, passed it along. One thing my ex-wife’s grandparents did was ask everyone in the family what was special to them. There was a piece of masking tape on the bottom of everything that was treasured with that person’s name on it. It really did make dealing with things much easier when they passed. No bickering, no questions, everyone had what meant the most to them. I know it may come up, but there was no instance of two people wanting the same thing, that I know of. This would also give those passing the item on a good opportunity to pass along the story of the item, too.

  3. Thanks for writing about this “seldom-discussed” topic, Judy. A couple of thoughts:
    1) My parents saved EVERYTHING–way too much. So many things from their parents & grandparents, I do not know the meaning of. Bob & I were the ones who were left with the monstrous task of going through my parents’ belongings — sorting, donating, trashing and saving.
    I decided then that I would NEVER leave any junk or anything unorganized to my daughter or whomever. The more time goes on, the more strongly I feel about that.
    2) My paternal grandmother saved, labeled by person and DATE, each item of sentimental value. When I was young and then older, she gradually gave these items to each grandchild, explaining it and the ancestor as she gave it. Each became a special treasure to me. Although the younger generation(s) do not seem interested in “old stuff,” I am offering things anyhow. If not wanted, my intent is to donate or sell.
    3) Label, label, label. Memories (names & dates) fade, but my grandmother’s labels are still there.
    Thanks again, Judy.
    Nancy K.

    1. Nancy, thank you for your commentary. When I speak on this topic what I am describing is what you experienced in your first point. When there is so much stuff that is never dealt with or passed on it drowns out the stuff that is special. I love my mom and she means well but she wants me to take more and more stuff from my grandmother. I want stuff from my family but only if it’s meaningful and special, not because it’s too hard for them to get rid of. I also want the stories written down! It’s such a hard thing and I try to respect that. But I guess what I’m saying is why do I have to be the one to handle the guilt and emotional baggage of getting rid of the stuff my family could not? I aim to focus on it as it comes! Thanks for the comment.

  4. Wow! What a great post. How courageous of you to be thinking of this difficult stuff, mortality and the impermanency of all things. I have been thinking and talking on this for quite awhile. My grandparents are going through this process, what to donate and what to pass on? In my family, we really struggle with being overly sentimental and therefore hold onto far too much stuff. I think we are all fearful that a memory or a person will be forgotten if we don’t hold into the item that provides the reminder. There are feelings of guilt when any of us consider donating an item. My mom has been slowly bringing me stuff from my grandmothers – the implication is for me to keep this stuff forever, to treasure it. But I fear it is given more out of an inability (guilt, fear) of anyone to sell or donate it. I think this makes the items less special – as you said, where are these items from and what meaning do they have? As the frequency of stuff coming into my apartment is increasing, I’ve asked my mother what meaning does this stuff have but she is unsure. The fact that you are thinking on which items are special to pass on and to write little notes describing their meaning is amazing. In my case, I continue to take the stuff out of respect for my family and the difficult emotions that come with being at end of life. However, I fear there will come a day when I can no longer carry all this stuff (5 chin swear sets?) throughout my entire life and will have to let some go. Thank you again for your words.

  5. Donate, donate, donate. When I moved to England, I had so much stuff that I gave most of it to charity. You can never go wrong with paying it forward and helping others in need at the same time. School libraries are happy to have books. Also ebay selling is good too. My daughters sell things on their facebook and have had some success. And simplifying my life by un-cluttering was such a blessing. By un-cluttering ‘stuff’ you can also un-clutter other junk that affects your physical, emotional and mental well being also.

    Good luck with your new venture.

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