My cupboard runneth over
There is a burden in the custom of handing things down, generation to generation.
As an early believer in the "less is best for a simple life" movement, I've spent a year sorting through inherited family possessions with the intention of getting rid of most of them. When they're gone I won't have to care for them, feel obligated to use them, or resent their uselessness as they take up valuable space. Noble goals. Noble, but decidedly difficult.Skip to next paragraph
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Supposedly simple criteria such as "Have I used it in the past year? Will I use it in the next?" don't apply when it's your mother's embroidered honeymoon gloves dangling over the "out" box.
At that moment, gloves are not just old leather and stitching. They're the intimate history of a woman in love with her high school sweetheart. Forget that their marriage later ended in divorce. On that day the gloves represented hopes, dreams, plans, and joy.
You can see why my progress has been slow.
I realize that there is a fundamental conflict in this custom of handing things down from generation to generation. When parents and family members give family possessions to children and relatives, they are saying "This is important to me, and so are you. If I am important to you, you will cherish what I am giving you."
Translation: Keep it forever and care for it as I would.
What does it mean then, if we don't polish the silver or oil the antique music box, or worse yet, get rid of them? That we don't care? That we're untrustworthy? How can we justify to Mom and Dad that Grandma's prized bowl is now a thrift-shop special?
When families lived in one community or the same house all their lives, they could keep everything received from everybody - especially since a woman's role was then defined by maintaining it all in order.
But our lives and culture have changed in ways our parents never imagined. I've lived in 10 places on two continents since graduating from college. How many sets of silverware must I haul around to how many locations to prove that I honor my heritage? Is maintaining material possessions the best way to do that anyway? What's wrong with trading in high-maintenance stuff for more free time? Shouldn't I spend more time living life and less time taking care of useless things?
It's a fundamental conflict that neither side thinks of when giving or receiving. Saying "No, thanks" to something generously offered is a slap few of us can deliver without remorse.
As an only child, I have not only what my mother wanted me to have from her, but also the mementos she kept from people important to her. What do I do with the wooden step stool her father made that is not useful, being narrow and somewhat tippy? I don't use it. I just keep it. Stay or go?
Mother-daughter aprons sewn by my maternal grandmother in the 1950s? Pinafore-style, white rickrack trim, all cotton, need ironing. I have no daughter. My Generation-X son has no significant other, let alone children. Stay or go?
Yards of Chinese fabric from the house my determined mother struggled to buy in the days when single women were not welcome at the mortgage-lending table. I've moved it to closets in three houses in the past 20 years. Thumbs up or down?