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Things




Until I was 35, I moved every year or two, packing up those same old boxes and moving them myself. Among the things I carried around was an item similar to the photograph above, only pink,, white and gold, a china toast holder that had been my grandmother's, given to my by my mother with some ceremony. Not a big toast person, and certainly not cold toast, as the English prefer it, I'd unpack that bloody thing, look at it, wrap it up in fresh newspaper, put it back in its box and put the box with other things of similar utility in a closet or basement. Then move it again.


When I finally got my own place, without thinking much about it, I threw it out. Didn't even try to give it away, put it on the curb in the trash. It was the beginning of a new relationship with things.



About five years ago, my siblings and I had to move my mom into a nursing home, she was no longer able to participate in any of the decision-making. We only had a few days to clear her out and were unsentimental, calling in the trash hauler, giving things away, keeping a minimal amount. It was shocking how quickly all traces of a life could be erased.


Among them were things she had treasured, ok, not the shower caps she got from hotels that kept her leftovers fresh in the fridge, or the gently used paper napkins she'd hide from me so I wouldn't throw them away, but possessions that to her were part of a family legacy she had either created or contributed to. One was a collection of cranberry glass that had been in our home growing up, displayed on an ancient, oak hanging shelf, adding color and contrast to the white wall and dark wood. But when we were moving her, we looked at each other and shrugged, none of us wanting this collection she'd treasured. As we didn't have the heart to get rid of it, into my brother's barn it all went. "Maybe one of the grandkids will want it", we half-heartedly rationalized.


It pushed me to think about how much our things do or don't define us and reminded me of the toast holder. All those objects we look at every day, things we hold and use and love, that are the scenery and props of our lives. If something is harder to get hold of, either because it's expensive or hard to find, do we love it more than an item found on the curb?How much memory is infused in things? And how unmoored would we feel if these objects disappeared and there was only us without any of our stuff?


When I knew I'd be moving to a smaller, temporary place a few years ago, I was merciless about de-accessioning. But...... while I might not immediately need my perfect-size-for-me shovel with a handle that has dug many deep holes and has always been one of my favorite things, there was no question about whether I'd keep it or not. And there were dressers, hard copy photographs, mirrors, lamps, my father's diaries, pictures, love letters and brand new ski boots that never fit right.


So, I took a storage space nearby as a temporary measure and when the rent increased by 20%, was pushed to make a decision. I realized that there were objects that had replacement values that were below what I was paying to store them, and then other things that didn't have a mathematical formula. Out went the former, and as it turns out, a fair amount of the latter. I had been using the space as both a facility to put my things and a holding place that allowed me to exist between lives, and it was time to move on.

There are friends who are still perturbed that I left the Tiffany place settings from my first marriage on the sidewalk in Allston. But doing so freed me of ties and any dreary sense that I should mitigate a soured relationship by receiving some kind of financial recompense. Instead, I imagine with glee an older, stiff hipped Russian lady wobbling from side to side, on her way to the shops, seeing the Tiffany blue peeking out of the box, checking it out, looking to the left and the right, and then picking everything up, stowing it carefully in her zebra motif shopping buggy and toddling off to the farmer's market in her beige orthopedic sandals. Maybe that didn't happen, but maybe it did. Doesn't matter.



Lest you think that all my mental and physical closets are cleaned out, let me introduce you to the "sports closet" Inherited, as it was an old and pleasing piece that was an active participant in our lives growing up, I was happy to have it. Costing a significant amount to restore, it then had to be craned into the house because it was too wide to fit up winding stairs. It also has a tendency to overpower a room with its bulk and gravity. When it was time for me to move a few years ago, I decided it was a ball and chain I no longer wanted to carry, so researched who might want to buy this many hundreds of years old armoire in good condition. The answer was no one, sigh, antiques are out. My brother said he'd be happy to break it apart and use the wood, but I couldn't let it go, it seemed somehow wrong. So these poor guys had to hoist it down off a second floor porch and then carry it up five flights of stairs on a very hot day. I tipped them well.


I'm in service to this behemoth, it owns me.


Anyone?









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