Sentiment makes us hold on to ‘stuff’

Published 1:09 am Wednesday, May 25, 2016

There is so much “stuff” left behind. That is what I thought as I looked at pictures from an estate sale recently.

I started getting emails notifying me of upcoming sales when I signed in to a site with photos from a family member’s estate. Now, I get a list and pictures from estate sales happening within 100 miles or so.

Mostly I delete them, but sometimes I click and watch a slide show unfold. It is kind of an internet album of a stranger’s life, all he or she accumulated during a lifetime.

As I looked at the counters piled high with every kind of plastic container, kitchen utensils, cups, saucers, plates, pots, pans etc., it amazed me how much we need, or at least think we need, to get through life. I also thought about the task of dispersing what we think it takes to get through life.

Wow, we collect a lot of knickknacks as we pass through the world. I saw tables full of every kind of critter, creature, angel, bowl, candleholders, and decorative box. There were a few I called “mystery” items because what they were or what they were for was a mystery.

And there was furniture — lots of furniture. Sofas and chairs upholstered in 1960s’ and 70s’ colors and patterns. Dining tables with scars from hundreds of family dinners sat beside beds with sunken mattresses.

As I looked at things some person once treasured, I thought about how we hold on to material things that mean nothing to anyone but us. Then one day when we depart this world, people sort through our belongings with no idea why we held on to some of them.

Why is there a chipped coffee cup with a faded picture of a flower still in a kitchen cabinet? What was the significance of a piece of paper tucked into a book with words or names that make no sense to anyone stumbling upon it as they ready a house for clearing?

Maybe that cup was a gift from a child or grandchild. Perhaps that slip of paper was a reminder of another time and place that once held much meaning.

After looking at these pictures, I saw things in my house with a different eye. I have my own faded cups and slips of paper, things that will mean nothing to anyone when I’m gone.

I asked myself why I’m holding on to that stuff. I know it’s because I’ve assigned some sentimental value to a cracked vase and that childhood book with the scribbled and torn pages. They take my mind back to places and experience that stir feelings.

Still, after more than a few years of living and collecting and holding onto, we can start to live with what appears to be more clutter than useful things. But oh, sorting through clutter takes commitment and letting go.

The sensible part of me realizes I won’t lose the memories if I say goodbye to old books, half-burned candles and about a million Mother’s Day and Christmas cards. Still, something in me struggles every time I attempt to purge a stuffed cabinet or over-full junk drawer.

“I might need this,” I think. “I can’t throw this away; my child gave it to me 30 years ago.”

I’m betting that is exactly how these houses I see on the estate sale site got so full of stuff. The people living there probably planned to sort it all out someday, but simply ran out of time and, perhaps, energy.

So now, a company is rummaging through the remnants of their lives, putting price tags on what they left behind. Maybe that’s sad, but maybe it’s just how life works out.

We are here for a while. We have our personal treasures to enjoy while we make our journeys. Then we go, leaving it all for others to hang on to for a while.

So, is this inspiring me to de-clutter for future generations? Nope.



Nancy Blackmon is a former newspaper editor and a yoga teacher.