Here for the long haul?


When my kids bury me, I hope they bury my crap, too.

I’m serious. I hope they have no sentimentality at all. I hope they take my belongings and trash them… or sell them… or give them to poor people with execrable taste. I just don’t want them to spend the rest of their lives hauling around the detritus of my existence, and cursing me through their tears for having burdened them with piles and piles of sentimentally onerous junk.

My husband and I have spent a lifetime lugging around the flotsam and jetsam of our family’s belongings. Shortly after we were married, we bought a little house that was every newlywed’s dream… a tiny two-bedroom cottage which we proceeded to furnish according to our tastes, which were neither mid-century modern, like his mothers’, or French Provincial, like my parents’.

This house had lovely shelves, which I had hoped to fill with books and fine belongings, like my mother’s beautiful collection of Lladró, or my mother-in-law’s treasured porcelain plates.

A few days after we’d moved in, my mother showed up with a box. It held two ugly brass rococo lamps and four bas relief angels made from soapstone, each emerging from a red velvet oval set off by an ornate gold frame. “They were your grandfather’s,” she told me, eyes brimming with tears. “It would have brought him such joy to see them welcomed into your home.”

I asked her why she hadn’t kept them, since they were so special.

“Oh, I can’t display them at home, dear,” she explained in a guilty whisper. “Your father thinks they’re tacky.”

They were!

But they were Grandpa’s… so the lamps went into the spare bedroom, and the angels were hung in the bathroom.

Two years later, while I was pregnant with our first child, Mom passed away. We wanted my dad to come live with us, but our house was not built to accommodate a couple with a baby and a frail older man. That’s when we made the stupidest move of our lives: we sold our little home and bought my parents’ big old house.

Did we get their lovely belongings, like the Lladrós and their mahogany breakfront?

Yes. Yes we did.

And did we get rid of their crap?

No… No we did not.

We brought in our own stuff and hoped all our belongings would coexist organically.

That was unlikely enough, and then, we were dealt an unexpected blow.

My mother-in-law sold her house.

“You kids don’t mind holding on to a few things for me, do you? My living room set is too new to get rid of, and we have daddy’s beautiful shelves with all his old books…”

We spent the next thirty years tripping through three households’ worth of garbage.

Oh, we gave away a few roomfuls worth of furniture, and a lot of stuff disintegrated with normal wear and tear, but we kept many things that took up a lot of room and provided very little practical value: suitcases filled with artificial flowers, with which my grandfather made ornate arrangements… wall after wall of my father’s framed Goya prints, featuring black-eyed Spaniards with really unkempt teeth… bolt after bolt of light-weight flowery fabrics, with which my mother endlessly sewed housedresses of her own design… thousands of Kodachrome slides taken by my father-in-law, none identifying the landscapes they depicted.

Of course, we acquired and held on to our own crap, and as the years went by, our kids did too. My husband’s collection of rock music on vinyl was only rivaled by my own collection of show tunes and soundtracks; my daughter’s snow globe collection grew so large and heavy that it knocked shelves right off the wall.  My son amassed all kinds of garbage; Legos, cars, maps, instruments and sheet music, lacrosse sticks, trophies… need I go on?

And we all collected books… lots and lots of books… books that eventually overflowed the shelves, and crawled up the sides of our armchairs, books that stacked up and became night tables, books that lived like Hobbits under every burrow. Every book was a treasure trove, and each one was indispensable, whether anyone had read it or not. Books were not to be thrown away.

Five years ago, my mother-in-law passed away, leaving a beautifully furnished condo.

“How are we going to fit all her stuff into our house, Mom?” asked my children, who treasured their grandmother’s belongings.

“We’re not,” I replied. “We are going to pack up all of her stuff, put it in a storage unit, and leave it there until you two have homes of your own, where you can take her things and use them to your heart’s delight.” We packed away her towels, sheets and pillowcases, her collection of Vermont Teddy Bears, her china, silver and crystal, her commemorative plates, her vases, her 14,312 pairs of brand new shoes (Size 9, narrow, if you know anyone who can use them), and her two vintage mah jongg sets, and hauled them off to big air conditioned storage unit, which costs $200 a month, but doesn’t take up valuable living space.

Shortly thereafter, we sold the big house and bought a nice little condo of our own.

Did we haul all our stuff here?

Hell, no!

You’ll be proud to know we left about half our crap right in the house, which was going to be torn down by developers. But we couldn’t throw away everything… we simply couldn’t. We couldn’t get rid of Grandpa’s goblets, or Mom’s Lladró, or Dad’s medical texts, or my crystal, or Jeff’s tools, or the many albums, or the hardcover books…

So you guessed it. We got another storage unit and are now paying about $400 a month to house our junk.

But at least we didn’t bring it with us.

And I kind of hope my kids won’t bring it with them, either, when their father and I have shuffled off our mortal coils.

Let them not think of us every time they trip over our garbage, or every time they agonize over discarding some old relic.

I’d rather leave them with more ephemeral memories.

I want them to remember how much we love them… how frequently we hug and kiss them… how fervently we laugh at their jokes… how proud we are of their accomplishments.

They’ll remember how tacky and foolish we were as well… but they needn’t drag around a bunch of old artifacts to prove it.

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