And you can’t make other people take it, either
The Resale Evangelista
“I am not done with my things. I love them, in fact, more and more each year, as I recollect the journey that brought us together. … I am also fantasizing about how I am going to pass my things on to my children. Who, I insist, must take them.”
Dominique Browning, 2015
We possess–for a while–and then let go. Things, places. Memories, sometimes. Emotional baggage, if we’re lucky.
I’m at the stage of life, mostly, of letting go. Or trying. (Historically, I’m much better at acquisition, you may not be surprised to learn.) It’s a long process, this letting go. That’s why, as regular readers know, my mantra is “If you think you are ever going to move–or die–start getting rid of your stuff now!
My mother is much further along in the process. She is disassembling her home bit by bit–a chair here, a painting there. It’s a painful process and it’s complicated. In part, it’s sad that she is old and frail, coming nearer to the end of her life. In part, it’s sad because family turmoil has prompted her to take apart her house before she really needs to. And it’s sad because some of the things she wants her children to take are her treasures–the first good sofa and coffee table she bought, her china that is rarely used except at holidays. Like Dominique Browning, she wants to pass along her belongings to her children. The problem is, we don’t want them.
In the meantime, my son is not yet 30. He and his wife don’t know where they will settle. He’s always been a minimalist. (Is that in spite of me, or because of me?). They don’t want to be burdened by belongings. I can understand that but still, when I see a great walnut dresser at a fabulous price and he’s said they need a dresser, I want to buy it for them. (Okay, I did buy it for them.) My mother gave them her sterling silver as a wedding present. I gave them the Rosenthal china she gave me when I married. Do you see a pattern here? (I did ask if they wanted the china before giving it to them.)
Our material lives–mine, my mother’s, my son’s–have come to a curious junction. My son and daughter-in-law are building their lives; I am focusing and clarifying mine, and my mother is bringing hers to a close. These generational passages are reflected in the disposition and dispersal of our household belongings.
Who will adopt the family Christmas ornaments?
I just mailed a Santa Claus and an Ebenezer Scrooge stocking to my son and daughter-in-law. The stockings belonged to my parents. We hung Ebenezer over the fireplace every Christmas, while the Santa stocking sat nearby in a chair. The joke was, my father was Scrooge; the stocking did resemble him a little in it’s fluffy white hair. My mother was the interface between his supposed stinginess and the largesse of Santa Claus. Family history and mythology, writ decoratively.
Did my son want the stockings? Does he even remember them, or are they meaningful only to me? I don’t know and I didn’t ask. The stockings are family history, and it’s his burden to carry them. I, in the meantime, have agreed to take the sofa my mother once had in her formal living room, just as I once accepted the round oak dining table from the house of her great aunt, who raised her. Not my style, but my burden to carry. (Until I passed it to a brother–now it’s his burden.)
How many of us are at this passage, recognizing that life is finite, possessions are ephemeral and yet, some hold meaning we yearn to pass along to future generations?
Let me be clear. Nothing I have is intrinsically valuable. I might have a few good paintings and a couple of pieces of moderately distinctive furniture. I understand my son may want just a few of my belongings, or maybe none at all. My approach has been to tell him what’s worth selling and what could be appropriately trashed or given to Goodwill. I collect the names of good estate sale agents, should he need one. Luckily, my son did instruct me to keep paintings by a particular artist–he has grown to appreciate her talent.
That’s not the approach of Dominique Browning, former editor-in-chief of House and Garden magazine. “Why on earth would we get rid of our wonderful things?,” she wrote in a blogpost. “I am not done with living. I am not done with my things. I love them, in fact, more and more each year … I will cherish them, till death do us part.”
Browning fantasizes–rather aggressively–about passing her belongings to her sons.
“That tchotchke you think you’re going to put out on a tag sale table for $10? … That’s Nymphenburg. It is worth hundreds of dollars. I found it at a tag sale for $10, and pounced.” She imagines herself transmogrified into her stuff, watching over her grown children in perpetuity. “The cells from my sweaty palms, or the eye beams from my covetous gaze, will reside in my things forever.”
To be continued…