Speaking of Stuff

I’ll let the GG deal with Karen about television sets. I’m overwhelmed by that *stuff*. But what *do* you do with *stuff*? What kind of *stuff* is worth keeping? What kind of *stuff* is worth passing on to the next generation? Do the members of the next generation really want any of that old *stuff*?

Yesterday, The Commander and I drove over to Royal Oak to have lunch with her sister Roberta and the conversation frequently touched on what to do with *stuff*. You know, old books and dishes and heaven knows what else. All of us have *stuff*. Or know someone who does. Or have had to clean it out of someone else’s house.

So what *do* you do with old *stuff*? Let’s narrow it down to old china and silver and glassware for the moment. *Stuff* that belonged to great-grandparents that you never knew. *Stuff* that was used in an old farmhouse you saw the inside of once, long after your ancestors had moved away. A place that was eventually razed and replaced with a Burger King. Life and bulldozers do go on.

*Is* it important to pass down old family china and *stuff*? Do you really think your great-grandparents cared what might happen to all of their *stuff*? I dunno. We had some of Uncle Harry’s highball glasses in the basement for a long time. Not my own Dear Uncle Harry of canoe galumphing fame, Grandma Sally’s (my mother-in-law) uncle by marriage. He lived with the GG’s family for a while when the Twinz of Terror were very small, helped with the kids and once saved the family from a fire. I have a lot of *stuff* in my basement and it gets harder and harder to clean the place all the time because I have to move mountains of *stuff* to be able to do it. Actually, I have more or less given up. Yeah, that’s right. Spider city.

Before I more or less gave up, every time I would have to move Uncle Harry’s highball glasses around to clean, I would think, “Why are we keeping these?” We didn’t use them. We don’t have room for them in the kitchen. We have our own *stuff*. But I couldn’t quite get rid of them. He didn’t have any kids to pass *stuff* on to and Grandma Sally was dead and I just sort of felt like they were a little reminder that he had lived.

On the other hand, I find that I really don’t give a rat’s you-know-what about what happens to my own dishes and *stuff*. In fact, I’m tired of all my *stuff*. If I ever get around to cleaning out and remodeling my kitchen/dining area, I will definitely buy new dishes. I don’t think there’s any law that you have to use the same dishes your entire adult life and if there is, I intend to break it.

There is a happy ending for Uncle Harry’s highball glasses. They now reside in the Courtois Group Home at Houghton Lake, where members of Uncle Harry’s family can use them. I have mixed feelings about the whole subject though. Honestly, what I would much rather have from my ancestors is some glimpse of what their life was like, their thoughts and interests, friends, likes and dislikes. Who were you? How am I like you? How am I different? I just do not think I can learn that kind of thing from a bunch of old dishes and *stuff*. Honestly, if I died and left all the *stuff* that’s in my house behind, people might actually think I *valued* all of it. In fact, the exact opposite is the truth. I am desperately trying to downsize and get rid of it all.

What *is* important? Is there *stuff* you want to inherit from your ancestors? Do you have *stuff* you want to leave to future generations? What do you think?

11 Responses to “Speaking of Stuff”

  1. isa Says:

    i think the important thing to remember about “stuff”, is that the significance of that “stuff” changes over time. i don’t have any figures, or otherwise citable evidence, but i believe that today in the united states we *produce* a lot more “stuff” than was produced during the generations of our (well, my) great-grandparents, or even grandparents. now, this may not apply to something like uncle harry’s high-ball glasses (i don’t know when they were made), but in a very real way, things like china dishes or old telephones are a glimpse into what their lives were like – less of those things were created in the past, so the ones that survive or more precious. and they’re much more valuable than some (certainly not all) of the stuff that my generation, or my parents generation will accumulate in their lifetimes, simply because it wasn’t mass-produced. my cell phone doesn’t really mean anything, but an old rotary dialing telephone from my grandparents’ young adulthood might… and maybe i shouldn’t say that because my cell phone might mean a lot 75 years from now. they aren’t letters or conversations, but those objects are important. there is also a great sense of communion that comes from using objects that your ancestors used, and i think it’s important not to be too quick to lose that when so much “stuff” made now is so disposable. that said, things like photographs and letters (e-mails are messing this up) are arguably much more important.

    i clearly inherited a little more of the courtois tendency to accumulate “stuff” than i did of the finlayson tendency not to accumulate “stuff.” and leave something behind for those darn archaeologists, anyway.

  2. isa Says:

    the ones that survive *are* more precious, not or.

  3. Sam Says:

    “Stuff” is the (professional) stuff of life to us archaeologist-types, as isa notes, so on that basis, I applaud it…. Personally, I’m overwhelmed by “stuff.” My SIL, however, is capable of paring down accumulated “stuff” without any angst whatsoever (as near as I can tell). She amazes me.

  4. garbage woman Says:

    Interesting stuff from the archaeology/anthropology camp. Keep it comin’, y’all.

  5. Webmomster Says:

    What I feel I’ve missed out on is the Oral History of my family…I know so little about any of my ancestors before my grandparents – and not enough even about them.

    There’s bits of DATA, but almost nothing of LIFE. There’s a couple of pieces of “this and that”, but where’s the story behind them? I think the VALUE of inheriting the bits of “this & that” is supposed to be more in the oral history that is attached to it than the item itself…and that’s what makes the heirlooms desirable, not the supposed $ value it can pull in at a flea market.

  6. isa Says:

    I think you have a point… and that might be one of hte inherent troubles with archaeology when looking at ancient cultures, and anthropology in general. you miss out on the personal stories. sam ought to weigh in on that one. but i would still argue that there is value in this stuff, and that simply being passed down with the phrase “this was your grandmother’s” “this was your great-grandmother’s” “this was your great-great-grandmother’s” gives it more meaning, even if you don’t know all of the more personal details behind it.

    good luck in tv land today…

  7. Pooh Says:

    I am a keeper, not a pitcher, by nature. (One of three in our household, so pity the fourth! Or NOT, since he has the evil habit of throwing out stuff that is not his to throw out!!!) Yet I don’t have a whole lot of “stuff” that is old AND sentimental.

    Stuff that I have from my grandparents’ generation that means something to me:
    -The floral teapot that Fran gave to me when I was in my early twenties. I believe it was my grandmother’s, or possibly one of my great-aunts’. Anne got the other one, which was solid pink w/ a decorated border.
    -A pie pan that was my grandmother’s, I believe. Oversize, by today’s standards, and w/ a very nice wide rim for crusts.
    -The gold locket that I received as a young girl. My sister broke the chain once, so it’s shorter now than it was. I believe this was my grandmother’s, but possibly it was Betty’s.
    -The stag pin from Grandma Finlayson that I chose when the granddaughters took turns choosing pieces from her costume jewelry after she died.
    -Pictures of my Grandma Regenstreif as a young woman, plus copies of birth and wedding certificates for her and Grandpa Joe.
    -I have a glass jar, ~8″ on each side, with a lion’s head on one side. I no longer remember where or who I got this from.
    -A quilt that was Mark’s great-aunt Alice’s. Also two jackets from her time as a Navy nurse in WWII. We also have two swords that she picked up in Japan – during the US occupation period, I believe.
    -I almost forgot that one of our tall dressers was originally Aunt Anna’s, although I don’t know how old it is. Does furniture count?

    On the other hand, I was trying to organize my jewelry, and realized that I have tons of earrings and other jewelry that I no longer wear, so I am planning on offering it to anyone who would wear it. I was going to bring it to the cabin, and may still do so, but since we will miss Liz, maybe I’ll take pictures of it, and send those out first.

  8. isa Says:

    please do, i’m notorious for taking my mom’s old jewelry…

  9. kayak woman Says:

    Grandma Fin’s Betty Crocker cookbook. Duct-taped together. Phew, it wasn’t left in Kalamazoo after all. Safe here in my cookbook nook. In spite of myself.

  10. Webmomster Says:

    A pretty “beaded-finish” blue glass cream pitcher and a patterned English china cream pitcher, both of which my Grammy gave to me when we were helping move Grammy & Gramps to the Presbyterian Home from their house in Greensburg, PA. Cobalt glassware from my Mom (because she knows I *love* the color of cobalt glass) – from her collection of a variety of stemmed glassware she’d gathered over a number of years…when Jim & I helped Mom & Dad move out of their home in June 2005 (about 2.5 weeks before Jim died). Janet was given the fish-shaped copper gelatin mold from Mom’s kitchen – from Mom’s collection of various-shaped copper gelatin molds, as well as a couple of Mom’s stemmed glasses. My Dad’s guns – hand- and long guns (rifles & shotguns). And his gun rack (for the wall – he never drove a pickup truck!!). The girls each have a piece of furniture (dressers) that came from my Mom’s bedroom furniture from when she was a teenager (which also used to be in my bedroom). One of Fran’s Picasso prints that Jim had liked (personally, I think it’s just plain strange/weird, but that’s me). Val has Fran’s Electrolux vacuum from the Cabin for use at MSU. Etc. My parents’ photo albums and some framed photos. As you may see, these are all relatively recent “heirlooms” and therefore have a known history attached.

  11. jane Says:

    Banana (and others) there’s a book I’m in the midst of reading by Ciji Ware called Rightsizing Your Life. I wish I had read it 6 months before I moved, but better late than never. Some of the real life examples are not applicable, but others are and there are some interesting points on how to decide what to keep and what not to keep. Like your grandparents china set. I found many of the examples of HOW to make the decision very insightful. She definitely includes the emotional part of decision making – again, I recognized myself at different points, which allowed clarity of thought that can get obscured when facing shambling piles. I recommend it!

    from the web – In this practical guide for “rightsizing”–the buzzword for streamlining possessions and making time for things that matter most in middle age–Ware offers tips for people in their 50s to pursue their passions and hobbies without the responsibilities of a big house weighing them down.