I’ve been told that my family surname means, loosely translated, a weed you can’t kill. I know my Gmom wasn’t born with the same surname so it might not truly apply to her, but my paternal grandparents are still thriving. Well, maybe not thriving, but they are doing much better than most people their age, since most people never make it to their age (both are over 90). However, they seem to have reached the end of one major stage in their life and the start of another; it’s time for them to move out of their own home and into the home of my Aunt and Uncle.
I was fortunate to be able to visit with the two of them a few weeks ago in their home. Part of the reason I went to visit them was to help start the packing process. I do not envy my Aunt, Uncle, or Dad, over the next few weeks. Gpop is mentally sharp. Gmom’s thinking, however, has dulled. Honestly, I’m not sure how much she understands about the move. And that is one of the main factors in their need to move closer to family.
Now here’s the thing, my Gmom was a smart, savvy, working woman in the 1940’s through the 1970’s! During those years, and the ones that followed, she acquired quite a collection of personal stuff. Beautiful stuff. Memorable stuff related to her trips and life events. Unusual stuff. Useful stuff. Not so useful stuff. Seasonal stuff. Classical stuff. Modern stuff. Family stuff. Stuff from friends. Stuff from the children in her life. Stuff for the house. Stuff for vacation. Stuff for others. Stuff from others.
And what did she do with all this stuff? She sorted, kept, and curated her collection. I use the term “curate” instead of hoard here, because she is not a hoarder. I need to make that distinction. Mostly because she has purchased each piece intentionally. She saved up for those dishes and figurines. She purchased some items to commemorate something – often a promotion or grandchild’s birthday. And there, in her motives, is the fine line between curating and hoarding. To most people, it looks like a china cabinet, but to my Gmom, it’s a cabinet full of cherished memories. Most of those memories she may be unable to remember or can’t accurately recall now. Many of the memories may be fading away in her mind. Which I imagine, makes her quite melancholy.
They lived in that house for somewhere around 60 years, so of course they are going to have a lot of stuff. Gpop knows he needs to move, he may not be thrilled about it, but he is able to sort and pack, with some physical help, of course. But it must have been terribly confusing for Gmom to watch as we packed up the chinaware, stemware, and pottery.
As we wrapped the fragile items in newspaper, opened the next drawer, and sorted her collections, I started to wonder how much she remembered and what everything meant to her. Not because my grandmother is materialistic (based on the definition of putting material goods ahead of spiritual and mental well being), but because over the years she has poured her memories into material items the way some people pour them into scrapbooks, photo albums or even YouTube videos. Do these physical reminders trigger memories in her mind? Or at this stage, is it just the idea of the memories that mean something to her?
That got me to think about my own collection of stuff, because I’m currently trying to de-clutter our home as part of my attempt at living more simply. And I’m having a very difficult time of it right now because there are extra Christmas decorations everywhere, along with Christmas gifts for the family. And then I keep bringing home items from our Grands. (FYI- The Goat still has one Grand too.)
In many of the articles about purging or de-cluttering, one of the most common and repeated suggestions is to determine which pile or box the item should go into: keep, keep and store,donate/give away, or trash. It always sounds so simple. But have you every tried to determine which category to put your Great Grandmother’s cookbook, with handwritten notes? Or how about your Gpop’s mess kit from WWII? I don’t think the clutter experts have tried sorting this type of stuff, and if they have, those aren’t the stories that make it into the articles they write.
I also wonder about my mental faculties when, and if, I reach 90. Considering that just 50% of my Grands were able to maintain their mental state well into their “Golden Years”, I wonder how I will fare. That spurs me on to sort my treasures and de-clutter now, while I can remember what everything means to me – where it came from, who’s it was, or why I thought to keep it, even if it was for a utilitarian purpose. I’ve even started labeling a few of the family heirlooms so that when I can’t recall who’s great-great relative it came from, at least there will be a tag to remind us (The Goat comes from a much larger family, and I simply can’t remember all the names and relationships).
I realize many people start the de-cluttering processes when they downsize, the kids move out (or back in), or when the aging parents need moved. I may have arrived early to the de-clutter life stage, but while I can still think about it, maybe I should. Besides, I find it a lot easier to live a simpler life when I’m not feeling overburdened by my possessions. That may be the core tenet of minimalism, but I doubt I’ll ever get to the stage where I can call my self a minimalist. But maybe I can approach the point of being able to say that I curated a great, simple, but meaningful collection.