Just because I’m almost a senior citizen (this September) doesn’t mean I have to like all the idiocy that goes along with that moniker. I’m talking about cleaning house, down-sizing, getting rid of our furnishings and decorative pieces, moving into a senior residence – argh, no way that last one is happening any time soon.
As for now, I’m referring to getting rid of items I no longer need or want, which means my annual spring cleaning ritual. Since we recently moved back to Canada from the U.S., there’s much less to get rid of because we left a lot behind with the expectation of living in a smaller place. However, if you knew me well, you’d know it’s something I like to do regularly. Every year I comb through the house to see what I no longer want or need, sometimes it’s more, sometimes it’s less, then I pack it all up for donation to Goodwill Industries, The Salvation Army, and/or Dress for Success.
Most of us have a long history of amassing objects, some more than others. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about hoarders. That’s a whole different problem and not one that I suffer from! On the contrary, I inherited my grandmother’s anal-retentive gene for tidiness and order. I’m not sure at what point in my life it happened, but I do remember being very fastidious about my Barbie dolls, gathering up the outfits and putting them into individual plastic bags when I wasn’t playing with them. Consequently, it’s fair to say I don’t like clutter or disorder but that doesn’t mean I don’t like collecting pretty things.
Accumulating memorabilia happens throughout a lifetime. It takes a while to realize you have too much that you’re taking here and there as you move around, change jobs, get married, grow older. I moved from my childhood home in Montreal to Ottawa after college. My parents bought me a bedroom set and a kitchen table; my book shelves were wooden planks resting on concrete bricks. Very boho. I went back to Montreal with that small bit of furniture for a year, then took it with me when I migrated to a Toronto apartment. After getting married, we bought a newly built house in the suburbs. That’s probably when we started stockpiling personal effects and belongings. But wait, most of what we’d accumulated up to that point – except the book shelf bricks – got shipped to Houston, Texas, first to a house in the suburbs then one in the city. We even bought modern white lacquer bedroom furniture before we left so that went on the moving van to Texas.
Those two houses gave us plenty of opportunity to add to our supply of worldly goods. We bought more furniture for the suburban home, large Asian-themed living room pieces, marble tables, and a black lacquered dining room set. Bigger house, more lavishness. We had a pool installed so we had to have outdoor garden furniture. I went back to school, which allowed me to amass hundreds of books, both academic and recreational, and shelves to put them on. Then the Tech Age hit: bulky computers, printers, special desks, countless computer-related books, more shelves.
After 18 years in the burbs, our mid-century modern house in the city required a different look. No more Asian theme; now it was all retro, a throw-back to the 1960’s: sectional sofas, dark wood kitchen and bedroom sets, my grand-mother’s vintage side tables and giant lamps (shipped from my parent’s house in Montreal). Each phase was different, but warm and cozy to appeal to our changing tastes and lifestyles.
Our recent 2,000 mile journey back to Canada meant giving up decades of gathering furniture, artwork, kitchenware and pottery, linens, and clothing. No more buying shiny new items as our style tastes and locations changed. That’s a lot of years and lots of baggage – literally! We never had children and we’re both only children, so we didn’t have the usual option of giving everything to family members. Based on what I’d seen on House Hunters International and heard from other people, I thought I’d be able to sell what we wouldn’t be taking. Not a chance!I put pictures on private social networks like Nextdoor and Facebook; I got one inquiry about some chairs, never heard another word. Assuming that we’d be moving into a much smaller rental house in Toronto, we left a shitload of furniture, art, and household goods behind. We donated tons of stuff and also gave some pieces to friends, friends of friends, relatives of friends, etc. Driving away from Texas, parting with so much that we cherished, sentimental pieces collected and left in Houston after 41 years of changing tastes and locales and memories, made us very sad. The one thing that made me feel better about purging was taking hundreds of books and several games. like Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit, Scrabble, and Chess, to the Veteran’s Hospital; that was a donation that I knew would be put to good use.
Fast forward to 2018. Here we are now, less furniture and baggage, a bigger rental house than we’d expected but filled with what we couldn’t part with; we even bought a few pieces at resale shops to fill some decorating gaps. All of this to say that even though I have less stuff, I still like to get rid of small bits every year because it makes me feel like I’m accomplishing something. Unfortunately, what I’ve learned is that nobody wants your old crap. Even if we had kids, they wouldn’t want our fine china and silverware. Your friends still have their own overload and even the charities don’t need your donations. Turns out that what we give to shelters as a way of massaging our social conscience is goods they have in abundance. It was recently revealed that these charities throw out huge piles of donated clothing, housewares, furniture, and all kinds of other miscellanea. After Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston, the TV stations were begging people not to bring old clothes but to bring cases of water, toilet paper, and cash. Even though I know this, I can’t bear to throw out perfectly usable items, so I take them to Value Village here in Toronto. Let them pitch it all in the trash; at least I won’t know about it.
A blogger I follow, Time Goes By, recently did a similar piece on this issue. I was just putting my thoughts together when I saw her post entitled “How Old Is Your Stuff?” She rightly pointed out that Gen X, Y, and Z “don’t have the emotional connection to things” that we Boomers have. So true. Our long distance move forced us to “accept the things I cannot change” but I was lucky enough to find a few friends who actually wanted some of our stuff. One took my grandmother’s silver flatware, another took the Queen Anne chair that I’d had for decades, and my grandmother’s numerous needlepoint pictures were happily scooped up by another friend. We always enjoyed finding unique pieces of art that we’d pick up here and there. Looking back at old photos of where we’ve lived reminds me how eclectic our design style was but how happy it made us feel and how downhearted I am about leaving so much behind in Texas. Sentimental objects can be hard to part with, no matter how cheap or inconsequential they might seem to others. And while I still like to window shop or wander around Bed Bath and Beyond and Pier 1 Imports, browsing for tchotchkes (small baubles or items, for those of you who don’t have eastern European relatives), I know I can’t buy more than a trinket anymore.
Given our recent experience with moving on, I’ve noticed an up-and-coming trend. For those of you who chuckled over my penchant for purging, however minimal the under-taking, I have a surprise for you. Be ready to get on the latest bandwagon because it’s become de rigueur for everyone, young and old. We are now being instructed to divest even more to make our lives simpler, more meaningful. There is suddenly a proliferation of blogs, websites, and magazines promulgating the “less is more” existence. Trained “advisors” are telling us, actually urging us to “live simply.” This helpful advice is being directed toward your adult children who are being coached in how to get rid of your stuff whether you’re dead or alive. Suggestions like “start mobilizing while your parents are around” and “advice for boomers desperate to unload family heirlooms” or more convincing, “sorry, nobody wants your parent’s stuff.” It’s also all about making money off of your parent’s fine crystal and silverware – sell now then take a vacation with the cash. These interventions assume we no longer have a say in our own lives.
This current zeitgeist really pisses me off. As long as I’m alive and kicking, I decide when things get tossed. Easy for me to say; I have no drooling kids or relatives ready to undercut my independence. But it could be a problem if your children try to force you into getting rid of your belongings. I’ve battled over this with my 86 year old mother. She moved into a senior residence and had to get rid of some furniture and clothing due to space limitations but she still has way too much. I’ve tried to get her to purge but she gets very anxious and we end up screaming at each other. I’ve decided to stop the battle. When she’s gone, I’ll take everything to the resale shop or the dumpster.
I found this interesting quote on Next Avenue, an e-newsletter and social media site that claims they are the only national journalism service for America’s booming older population (Really?!).
“For the first time in history of the world, two generations are downsizing simultaneously,” says Mary KayBuysse, talking about the boomers’ parents (sometimes, the final downsizing) and the boomers themselves. “I have a 90-year-old parent who wants to give me stuff or, if she passes away, my siblings and I will have to clean up the house. And my siblings and I are 60 to 70 and we’re downsizing.”
I had never thought about this reality, that our parents and we Boomers are going through similar life changes, sort of. It does put things into perspective. I’ll stop bugging my mom about getting rid of her surplus and I’ll relax about my current possessions since I have no children to pester me. But there’s something that bothers me about the second half of the commentary about our parent’s possessions.
According to Richard Eisenberg, managing editor of this site, “Nobody wants the prized possessions of your parents — not even you or your kids… that’s an exaggeration. But it’s not far off…” This, it seems, is 21st-century life – and death. “I don’t think there is a future for the possessions of our parents’ generation,” says Carol Eppel. “It’s a different world.”
This attitude seems rather myopic, given that our children (if you have any) have to deal with getting rid of our stuff. Shouldn’t there be a bit more empathy between the Greatest Generation and Boomers? Do these people not realize that they’re also talking about themselves – the Baby Boomers? I find it hypocritical to be complaining about dealing with our parents’ stuff when we’re doing the same thing, holding onto cherished belongings and letting the Alphabet generations get rid of our junk after we’re gone. Maybe we should let everyone keep whatever they want of their own possessions and whoever is left to clean up can just get the Goodwill truck to haul it all off. That way, everyone stays happy with their own clutter!
Postscript: Good grief! Now that I’ve spent time looking at several “declutter” websites, I’m being inundated with Facebook posts and links. Oy, make it stop!!! While I respect these bloggers’ desire to make their lives perfectly peaceful, I’d rather have a little chaos in my life, so leave me alone with my stuff. Here are just a few that seem particularly zealous:
Be More with Less – “Simplicity is the way back to love.” Blog author, Courtney Carver, has so many suggestions for decluttering that you’ll be frantically purging for the rest of your life. My favorite: Decluttering Burst: let go of one hundred things in less than an hour. She also has a book, Soulful Simplicity, and several courses to help you attain minimalist nirvana.
DailyOm – “Be Happy.” Site founders Madisyn Taylor and Scott Blum “years of study, deep inquiry, and personal experience” will make you want to grab several of your favorite possessions and never let them go. My fav: A Year to Clear What Is Holding you Back.
Simplify Magazine – This quarterly publication “helping families focus on the things that matter most” requires a subscription for you to achieve uncluttered enlightenment. My fav: Issue #4, Declutter Your Life.