A bout of nostalgia settled in around me this weekend after perusing old papers I had set aside for posterity many years ago. It dawned on me that now is the posterity I had wondered about when I was much younger. I paused to consider the changing circumstances of my family and myself.
My mother and father both grew up on farms that were negatively affected by the Great Depression of the 1930s. Their parents–my grandparents–taught the necessity of being frugal. Many of their conditions bordered on the extreme. The nature and manner of my eventual parents’ childhood and adolescence gave them a very cautious outlook on life. Later, after dad’s stint in the U.S. Army, his worries about poverty waned, yet he maintained the attitude about saving things for “just in case”. This continued and morphed into collecting memorabilia. Mom had this tendency as well, but to a lesser degree. My sister, brother, and I absorbed the habit of collecting artifacts by observing our parents’ behavior. However, we kids grew up in a middle class family and never had to worry about having enough to eat nor wear hand-me-down or second-hand clothing. Although our circumstances were much different than our parents’ circumstances, they encouraged us to have hobbies that involved collecting stuff. However, our collections were not predicated on a scarcity mentality.
Following mom’s death, most of her possessions became dad’s by default. These things were stored in the attic of the old farmhouse that dad maintained for my sister. Meantime, dad’s obsession with saving things for “just in case” resurfaced. As time passed, the inventory of collectables and miscellaneous stuff had grown to the extent that dad could no longer safely manage it. After he moved to a nursing home, it fell upon me to take charge of his property and possessions. This started the first phase of liquidating his near-hoard of stuff. Following dad’s death, it was up to me, as executor of his estate, to liquidate everything. I hired an auction company to haul away the bulk of dad’s belongings. The items filled the gymnasium of the local National Guard Armory to the brim. Most of the items brought a modest return. However, several hundred things were shunned by buyers. People did not even want them for free, so the leftovers were taken away by a salvage company. I imagined how dad would have responded to the indifference that people showed towards many of his prized possessions. It would have broken his heart.
The downsizing ordeal was not over. I was still tasked with selling the small acreage, the newer house where dad lived and the old farmhouse that my sister inhabited. This turned out to be a long, drawn-out process of coping with realtors and prospective buyers. This was complicated by my one-hour commute, once per week, in order to maintain the old farmstead and to deal with officials on a regular basis. Eventually, the real estate was sold to a neighboring farmer and the liquidation process was finished for good.
The circumstances surrounding the estate liquidation greatly changed my mind regarding the acquisition of stuff. Add to this the fact that I had placed a hundred or so of my own personal belongings onto dad’s auction event. The proceeds of my own sale were very disappointing. Thankfully all of my contributions sold so I didn’t have to haul any of it back home.
I became convinced to slowly downsize my own collections. Since I have no children there will be no next of kin to absorb my belongings. I do not want whoever must liquidate my estate to put up with the nightmare of getting rid of lots of things. I will continue the gradual process of selling or giving away the things that are not used. My circumstances have slowly shifted to the point that I fully understand the wisdom behind the saying “less is more”.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes German theologian, Jurgen Moltmann. “Personal, inner change without a change in circumstances and structures is an idealist illusion, as though man were only a soul and not a body as well.”