A new year! More resolutions! And more stuff!
Over the last month, I have been downsizing my mom’s home since the passing of my father. This month, my mother left her sprawling brick rancher to move into a compact townhouse, half the size of her previous home. She has started the process of simplifying her life to approach her aging years. As the children and grandchildren walked through the memories at the old house during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, we discovered treasures that my parents had stashed away – maybe one day for us to find and ogle.
Our finds included my dad’s Argus camera from when he served as a surveyor in the Army in Alaska, his business plane ticket and invitation to the Ambassador of Ireland’s residence in the late 1960s, and the most amazing thing – Neil Armstrong’s autograph before he landed on the Moon in 1969 (we don’t know how my dad got that!). There were Life Magazines talking about Kennedy’s death and yellowed, brittle newspapers announcing the moon landings, Lady Diana’s wedding and death, and the tragedies of 911. My brother and I, who grew up in the 1960s, we were able to reminisce about where we were and what we were doing during each of these landmark moments. It was a bonding experience for both of us and fun to share them with our own children.
Savoring the memorabilia was the fun part of the downsizing process. Next came the culling process – scrutinizing the family china, crystal, silver, and formal housewares that my parents had accumulated over their 57 years of marriage. This was the difficult part of downsizing. The questions were the same – who needed another set of china, who even used crystal anymore, what was that item even used for anyway, and finally, where are we going to put this in our own homes? The grandchildren were born in an IKEA and Pottery Barn age and had little interest in the family heirlooms. I recently read an article in the Washington Post about passing along family heirlooms which explored the issue that many Millennials don’t even cook anymore, let alone eat on china.
We were able to find homes for a few of the heirlooms among the family members, but a large amount of the china, crystal and silver went to be sold in the local consignment store and thrift shop or was sold to antique dealers. I watched as my mother said good-bye to some of her favorite things. She was strong and determined as she let go of item after item, knowing that most of them would not fit into the next chapter of her life. I was so proud that she could take these steps. She is much stronger than I am right now when it comes to getting rid of “stuff.”
This fall, I read both Spark Joy and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo in preparation for these days. As I have reached my 50s, I am feeling the need to purge the things that no longer bring me joy and which are cluttering my own home and life. I think Kondo’s statement, “A dramatic reorganization of the home causes correspondingly dramatic changes in lifestyle and perspective.” I am taking a lesson from my mother and starting with my own home this month. We rented a small storage unit in December while the Christmas boxes merged with my mother’s moving boxes and on weekends we go and sort and purge the things from our attic and closets. Of course, this was incited by my two twenty-something sons, who told me as I was moving my mom, that they were just going to take all our “stuff” and have a bonfire in their backyard when we moved next, instead of going through it all as we had so painstakingly done with my mother.
Throughout this process, before I let items go that no longer serve me in my life, however, I am taking photographs and journaling about them. We did the same thing in my mom’s house, so she now has a record of the life she and my dad built together. I am realizing that the things we collect are just that – “things.” What is important about them are the memories we form because of them.
In her parting remarks in her book, Spark Joy, Marie Kondo’s states, “Our things form a part of us, and when they’re gone, they leave behind them eternal memories.”
I have realized that the memories linger and so do we as we close the lid on each box.
Amelia Blades Steward is founder of Steward Writing and Communications, a public relations firm in Easton, MD. Her company focuses on copy writing, editing services, and communications plans for nonprofit and for profit companies, small businesses, and local governments. She has written nonfiction articles for national, regional, and local publications for over 33 years. A lifelong storyteller, Steward published her first book in the spring of 2014, a memoir which she co-authored with Charles H. Thornton, entitled “Charles H. Thornton: A Life of Elegant Solutions.”