Decluttering and downsizing: People are looking at the collections of stuff in their homes these days with a new eye toward simplifying their lives, or more practically, gaining space to reclaim a shelf, closet, room or even a garage.
But for those of us who have attachments to much of this stuff, decluttering is a difficult process to consider starting. The memories and nostalgia intertwine across each piece, so it’s almost like abandoning a family member or disrespecting your heritage to get rid of it.
And what I’m going to say next isn’t going to make it any easier: Your kids don’t want it. Specifically, my kids are not going to want it.
OK, I’m Generation X, raised by parents who cut across the “Greatest” and “Boomer” generations, so I was brought up with parents, grandparents, and assorted relatives who were surrounded by their stuff: Hummel figurines, souvenir collections of decades of vacations, china and silverplate, and so on. Neither side of the family had any hoarders, so as these family members passed on, the amount of stuff that was left behind was not a Herculean task to sort through.
But it’s not the quantity of stuff; it’s the intrinsic value. For example, that bronze plaque of President Lincoln greeted us each time we came into grandma’s house; how can you give up that old friend?
Ah, and then it gets worse; you get married. And with her comes an addition of her family’s treasures and trinkets. Depression glass, wedding silverware, a well-worn Disney porcelain cookie jar, and shelves full of dollmaking parts and supplies.
Oh, and this is in addition to the stuff you are collecting on your own: teacups, quilts, antique Christmas ornaments, Star Trek memorabilia, G.I. Joe action figures, obsolete video game consoles, and books.
I’ve often kidded my wife on the mass of stuff we have pile across our home, that it is reaching critical mass to the point it will collapse in upon itself and create a black hole. She says I watch too much Star Trek, but I’m just concerned for the safety of my community. And, yeah, I’d like to clear out some piles, too; honestly, mine as much as hers.
The experts these days tell us our kids, those darn millennials, just don’t have the same attachments to stuff, nor do they have the kinds of formality for certain items – silverware and crystal bowls, for example – that their parents and grandparents did. And if we’re being honest, it’s old people stuff that doesn’t fit their lifestyles, ideas of fashion or décor. It doesn’t have the same meaning, if any, to them, as it does to us.
So, what to do?
A good place to start is at least establishing who wants what, before you die. My mother long ago established the dot system: You like it? Each kid and grandkid gets an assigned color dot (those garage sale sticker things) and you put it on the back of what you want. If it’s not dotted, that goes up for sale with the estate, or off to the thrift store.
“Oh, but this is a collectible and so valuable.” Um, yeah. I have a box of collector plates from the Franklin Mint and the first issue of The Punisher comic book … let’s just say these won’t fund the kids’ college education (I believe I even heard hysterical laughter from Ebay when I looked up their value.) Realistically, most of us around here will have no “Antiques Roadshow” hidden treasures, no first issue of Action Comic’s Superman. However, some items will have more than garage sale value, and the Internet is our friend to find places to determine value and perhaps sell them.
Two sites I found in a short search: for books (Biblio.com); and for china, crystal, silver and collectibles (replacements.com). Do the homework so you know what is worth the effort to preserve and what should be just enjoyed and then let go of.
Photographs? Oh, that is a killer. Just my mom alone has dozens of photo albums, several boxes of slides, and a drawer full of unsorted photos – and the negatives! – staring guilty eyes at her kids, saying: “What ya gonna do with us?” A hard pill to swallow, but if we want that legacy passed down, we’re going to have to do the hard work and get all that converted to digital (ourselves, or check out myheritagebox.com), which includes putting dates and names and information to those photos. Because otherwise, we all know, deep down, within a generation, all those photographed moments of unknown people in weird clothes enjoying an uncertain celebration in an undetermined century will be headed for the trash.
Excess furniture? Likely it’s store-bought, so those pieces are easy to dump. Antiques? Again, determine value so the collectible pieces are identified and not let go for cheap. Grandpa made that chair or desk? Hard call, but if you make room for this, make the concession to let another space filler go. Sometimes, we hold on to pieces as “I’m not going to let this go for cheap,” but really, no one is going to pay you anything to its original retail; let it go for cheap and reclaim some square footage.
And the list goes on: kids stuff (toys, books, baby clothes), crafting supplies (such as a basement full of fabric… yes, wife, what are you planning with all this?), old coats, sports equipment, tools, trophies and awards. Just look around and you realize, man, we have a lot of stuff in this house!
Henry David Thoreau is quoted, “Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify, simplify.” Reducing our clutter also reduces the hold these items have over us and our lives. Let’s find value in investing in experiences and relationships, in using objects (such as Free Press community editor Lorie Palmer wrote in her 2017 column, “Don’t wait, use the good china”) and not worshiping them behind glass. And let’s be sparing in what we attach significance to that we intend to pass on to