Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Burden of Sentimental Items

An antique doll that was my fathers' that I used to play with as a little girl.

My father is a saver.  Born in 1935 in the midst of the Great Depression he was brought up learning frugal ways, saving being high on the list.  He was an only child thus the beneficiary of all his parents belongings upon their passing.  He has saved many of these possessions, along with items from his grandfather and even great grandfather.  It's very cool in its' way.  Everything has a history, a story that comes along with it enriching its' value.  I can see how this practice of passing on furniture and other belongings was popular and actually really needed many years ago.  Things cost more a century ago as they for the most part were made by hand and not mass produced.  What a blessing it would have been for the older generation to share furniture and goods with a newly married couple in need of everything to set up a household.  On both sides of my family my grandparents received some of their parents furniture as wedding gifts to furnish their new homes.  My parents too upon getting married in 1965 received passed down furniture and dishes as wedding gifts.  

When my husband and I bought our house my dad gave us a table that was his great grandfathers' as well as a piano, his mothers' dishes, vases and tchotchkes.  He also brought over the 2 antique dolls that were his and his mothers' that I very gently played with as a child.  Then when my maternal grandmother died I inherited some of her furniture, dishes and jewelry as well.  At first I was happy to receive all these items as I felt blessed to be entrusted with family heirlooms.  But then something happened.  After being on my own for some years, having my own job with money to spend I wanted my house to reflex me and my husband and not be a mini museum to my father and mothers' childhoods.  This desire of mine was met with conflict.

I have a theory that passing down belongings is a way for the older generation to let go of items they no longer want, but are low to get rid of themselves.  My father had no use or desire for all the pieces he gave us, but his sentimentality for these items was fierce.  He wanted to "visit" them, but not live with them as they no longer suited his tastes.  When I started selling a few of the items I had no space to display or no use for my dad was very hurt saying I was heartless.  My first reaction was "ouch" my next was anger.  I explained that when you give someone a gift it is no longer yours.  You have given up ownership.  It is now the recipients' right to do with the gift as they please.  He didn't see it that way.  He saw our house as an extension of his own feeling ownership over everything he had "given" us.  

What do you do when you no longer want (or maybe even never wanted) these sentimental items?  Well, in the beginning I simply packed them away putting the boxes in our basement, but that didn't sit well with trying to downsize.  Then, I started selling items on the sly not telling my father.  Which made me feel guilty and somehow wrong.   Now, I am simply giving these gifts back.  Yup, I have given back gifts saying "Thank you Dad, but I no longer want these things.  Since I know they are important to you I am returning them."  He chafes a bit at this, but when I explain that I'm either selling it or he can have it back, he always takes it.  I know it's disappointing to him that I do not desire these treasures, but that is his issue to solve not mine.  Sounds harsh huh?  It is and it isn't.  My dad is an old dog and teaching him the new trick that stuff is only stuff; that the memories are really in us and not in the object is probably not going to happen which is a bit harsh.  Why it isn't harsh though is that wanting to live my life by my values is a good thing and not at all unreasonable.  

If you have items that are sentimental to you, but you would like to live with less I would suggest that you simply take a photo of the item and let it go.  Photos can trigger our memories just as well as the item itself.  In the end it really is the memory that you want to hang onto.  For us one of the benefits of downsizing is the realization that the things you own are really only stuff and they have no power over you unless you let them.  If we lost our home and belongings to a fire, tornado what have you, while I would be sad of course, I now know that everything can be replaced.  Things are not the important part of life.  Living and really experiencing your life, that's what's important.

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