When my Great Aunt, who was an antiques dealer for more years than I was alive, died, we did what we could to help go through her house and discover just what was in the mountain of boxes and crates, what was hidden in desk drawers and dusty cabinets, and what had survived the mice in her old shop. It was overwhelming. In the end, we stopped really looking through things and trying to attach some sort of sentimental value to it all and decided, outside of useful objects we actually needed (I don’t really own much by the way of furniture), we would each choose one object that brought back good memories.
I chose an inch tall, bright pink, plastic mouse that does backflips when wound up. In the grand scheme of things, it is probably worth about $0.25, and I promise she didn’t pay that much for it. But, when I was a child and we would visit, I would get that mouse down from the cabinet and play with it for hours on end. They had never had kids, thus didn’t have toys to play with, other than this mouse and a little train that played music from little plastic disks. I’m not sure where that went. Perhaps my sister took it. I hope so.
Anyway, that little mouse represented my Great Aunt to me. She loved mice, and loved when we visited, something we didn’t do often enough. I couldn’t bear the thought of that piece of her going on some auction, so it came home with me, where it sits next to my Tibetan singing bowl and my miniature Stonehenge.
The point is, I could have brought home crate after crate of “sentimental” objects. But they wouldn’t mean as much as that mouse, and would have taken huge amounts of room. After awhile, I would probably forget what they were supposed to mean to me and forget them in the bottom of a plastic storage box.
We grow attached to objects, and assign all sorts of meaning to them. But, it can all become too much after a while. I am currently taking care of a house that is packed to the brim with sentimental objects. If I remember correctly, the owners have both of their parents’ sets of wedding china, along with their own, none of which is used. But, and understandably so, they are reluctant to dispose of any of those things, because of what they meant.
I am not sure why this phenomena occurs. Do we feel that disposing of something valued by a loved one would be a slap in their face when they’re gone? Do we want to caretake, in the off-chance that a future generation might want the objects? If this trend continues, our houses will become unlivable museums of past generations, where no one remembers why they are saving things.
Fighting this trend can be very personally difficult. We don’t want to dispose of our memories, particularly when a death is involved. But, there is a way to fight this, which is easier with modern technology. What you will need is a digital camera and a computer (or notebook if you feel like going old-school). The purpose is to preserve the memories. So, do that. Take pictures of the objects, then write out the memories they invoke. Create a memory document of the photos and stories. Print it out, or save it to a jump-drive (or both). If you feel fancy, bind the document into a book and put it on your bookshelf. Then choose the one or two objects that you have the greatest attachment to and keep them.
I cannot say that this is an easy process. But, in a few years, when you aren’t buried under a pile of other people’s things, you will be thankful.
Next: Guilt and Gifts