Saturday, July 17, 2010

Things Left Behind

My cousins are cleaning house: the house their parents have lived in for decades. The task is daunting.

It makes me think of personal artifacts, of all the "essential" things we pull toward us and store attentively. Should archeologists profile us for feature stories in Intergalactic Geographic, what would they find? What "things" are we leaving for those who follow?

My cousin told me of finding sugar and creamer packets in her dad's travel bag. I found plastic toothpicks, scores of them, in my late husband's road case. I wondered "How many of these gadgets does a guy need?" and then sobbed. His office mates brought me seven boxes of his work possessions. One box was populated with ten years of biweekly pay stubs (that's 260 of them!) arranged, of course, chronologically. I was told that such an accummulation was common in the desks of that unit (left-brain scientist types).

My mom warns me of the impending chores we will have sorting through her belongings. I remind her that I may beat her to it, impudently causing her to go through my things! All the dolls, the pottery, the paper memorabilia, the other antiques, the fabric, and, oh yeah, the yarn! What, indeed, would archeologists make of the miles and miles and miles of spun fiber I have? Wool, alpaca, camel, linen, cotton, tencel, rayon, seaweed and even dog hair fibers are in my yarn stash. What does that all mean? And then there are the folds of fabric! Will future generations understand how darling that brown fake fur vest, lined with perfectly matched brown/black brocade would have been? To them, it may just look like some fuzzy and shiny brown stuff. And the beads! The tiny dogwood blossom necklace being made of freshwater pearls and delicate sable-colored seed beads, following directions in Japanese with (thank goodness) excellent diagrams; will it mean anything to anyone? Sea glass, shells, dried seed pods: these are all destined to be incredible artistic creations! Honestly!

The garage hosts even more artifacts, clutched close in a decade of prowling antique stores and shows, as well as flea markets and yard sales. Tools, dolls, books, pottery: will these priceless items land my estate administrator daughter on the Antiques Roadshow or the terrifying show about hoarders? And what about all the outdoor equipment that no longer gets outside the garage: the snowshoes, backpacks, skis, canoe paddles. What about those? And what about the books? Seinfeld said there's no reason to keep a book once you've read it. Wish I could be that way. I'd have thirteen fewer boxes in my garage. And what about the boxes labeled "Misc?" Scary, what could be in those. May be precious scrapbook spawn or incredibly insignificant brochures. A miasma. So hazy. I don't like thinking about this one bit.

The advice to simplify, to shed ourselves of possessions, is so sensible and so very difficult to follow. And yet, when I listen to my cousins, when I talk to my mom, when I look in my garage and my sewing room, I think that the counsel to rid ourselves of things is very wise. Not just so we can focus on what is truly important to us on this particular day, but so we can spare those who follow the gargantuan task of sorting through all the things left behind.

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