Photo: Groom strums a plaintive ballad on a balalaika my mom purchased in Russia in 1961; the ditty is entitled “I’ve Been Hauling Other People’s Boxes in 103 Degree Heat for Days, and It Sucks”

“Hummels for Sale”

Holy crap.

And I when I type crap, I mean stuff and stuff and puffin’-more-stuff–a veritable excess of possessions. Buying, arranging, and eventually shedding stuff, it would seem, is my genetic legacy; indeed, I have the innate tendency to hoard and collect roaring through my veins.

Actually, I’ve realized in the last two weeks that my hoarding inclinations are pale and watered-down compared to those of my sister and mother–both of whom we helped move/unpack during our big road trip around The West.

There are upsides to helping someone else deal with crap; I mean, there is no emotional attachment to the items, so it’s easy to declare, “You really don’t need those fake silk flowers. Like, REALLY don’t. Ain’t no one who do. Let me just trot them to the Goodwill bin for you, all righty? And that copy of Macbeth you had to read your freshman year of college, in 1953? Yea, we can get that damn spot out, too. To the bin with it all!”

The downsides, of course, are readily apparent: you’re spending your hours going through someone else’s accumulations, through dozens and dozens of boxes that represent the physical manifestation of someone else’s needs and desires. Invariably, these hours also tick away during a heat wave and/or when your young children just want to be at the pool instead of being good sports about understanding that their auntie or grandma has a hoarding pathology that requires she be talked gently and at length out of owning 15 wooden spoons, when, in fact, she doesn’t cook at all and has absolutely no stew to stir.

In sum, while it’s always a pleasure to spend time with loved ones, Groom and I are plain tapped out right now when it comes to handling other people’s crap. Seeing what my sister and mother, individually, were going through, in terms of panic attacks and tears and sheer overwhelmage, well, it was an object lesson for me, and I have now returned to Minnesota with a new resolved to de-stuff-ify, inasmuch as I can while basking in the full sunshine of the Little Kid Years, a time of Transformers and baby dolls and puzzles and Candyland under every footstep.

Here, now, on my honor, I resolve to engage actively in a war against my innate genetic programming. I promise to be a tiny bit less of a hoarder. No, reawwy. I pwomise.

And I’ve already taken steps in that direction. Two days ago, Groom and I returned from our Western trip followed by a U-Haul of family heirloom furniture and even a few knicknacks, which I am generally against on principle (*sigh*…but it was Baccarat crystal purchased almost fifty years ago in France, and it gives good hand when I pick it up and let it nestle in my palm, so what could I do? Say no?). We’re trying to consider the new influx of crap into our house as more of an upgrade than an invasion. And to our credit, we no sooner had carried the new things into the house than we excreted an admirable amount of old junk out the back door–good-bye, old box springs in the basement; arrivederci, stack of rusty trunks; au revoir, old, stained garage sale chairs; sayonara, college textbooks.

Yup, the household has undergone a physical and karmic balancing in the last 36 hours, since we got home. I have the smelly armpits to prove it. Balancing is not delicate work.

And at this moment of half-past-midnight, when I’m not caught up in carrying boxes or muttering about materialism and the sheer mental toll exacted by *things*, I can afford a little sentimentality. I think about the furniture that we just drove across North Dakota from Montana, and I realize it’s come home, in its way. My mother, her father, her grandparents, all of them spent major chunks of their lives in southern Minnesota, and after the older generations passed away, my mom inherited some fine pieces of furniture, moving them then to Montana, where she lived after marrying.

As the seasons continue to turn, my mom now finds herself living in a small seniors apartment in California, no longer craving the comfort of things. And so it has fallen to us, her children, to inherit the table our great-grandfather read at, the china cabinet dusted by our grandmother, the claw-foot table that held a Christmas cactus in the 1880’s, a splitting from which I still water every week. In coming back to Minnesota, the furniture has completed a loop of generations and locales and eras. Even though it’s just stuff, I feel something for it and for the sense of continuity and connectedness it gives me to people I never knew.

Ultimately, I have the opportunity to know them through their possessions and through the awareness that I am touching what they touched, that my children are running their hands along the surfaces that Minerva and Orange Scott touched 120 years ago, that Julian and Mildred touched 70 years ago, that Maxine and Donald touched 35 years ago.

So we hauled

the pastor’s chair, and

the library table, and

the music bureau, and

the claw-foot table, and

the humpback chest, cursing the effort all the way. But now that they’re settled in and have had their midnight snack, I find myself looking upon them with fondness and appreciation.
Should these things ever leave my life, that’s okay. On a certain level, it would be a relief. They’re just things, and, moreover, I can’t be too burdened by the weight of responsibility for other people’s memories.

On the other hand, they come from My People, my posse, my ancestral homies, and this physical reminder of who they were is powerful and affirming.

But if I ever try to convince you that fake silk flowers are a necessary part of my decorating, you are hereby invited to grab me by the shouders and administer a firm shake. Better yet, grab one of my 15 wooden spoons and whack me silly.





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32 responses to “”

  1. Claire Avatar

    I was cured of any tendency to hoard stuff when I had to sort through my MIL’s house and 2 full storage units when she passed away. She was a lovely woman in life, her junk mail, old sticky tupperware and moldy 1950’s clothes were not so grand however at the point of her death. It took me Two and a Half Years to get through it all. Main problem? -good and/or cool stuff was randomly mixed with pure junk. Actual money was interspersed with empty envelopes and old check registers.
    I definitely love having certain family heirlooms. I love imagining how my ancestors lived. (Do you hear me talking antique Lamoges china, I love you!)
    Beautiful furniture you picked up Jocelyn…

  2. Hammer Avatar

    Looks like you have some nice stuff there. I was much the same way, now I don’t go to auctions, estate sales, garage sales etc..

    Now to clear up my own “collection”

  3. Glamourpuss Avatar

    Gawd, it’s the human paradox – all that nesting instinct and desire for a home competing with the desire to be free.

    There’s so much stuff in my house I simply can’t face unpacking it.

    One day.


  4. choochoo Avatar


  5. yinyang Avatar

    We’re hoarders, too. My parents keep saying “let’s do a clean sweep,” but they’re weak, and have laundry and dishes to clean. Heehee.

  6. Diana Avatar

    Funny. I used to hoard, too, and am now rather brutal with the ‘crap’ that collects and clean things out a couple of times a year, when no one else is around to stop me.

    Hey, if you don’t see me toss it, you probably won’t know it’s gone.

    The few pieces of family heirlooms, though, I treasure and look forward to passing down.

  7. Jeannie Avatar

    I am a hoarder. I hate myself. But I shall have to do a cleansing very soon.

    I love the stuff you got. I would cherish it just because it’s old.

  8. My Reflecting Pool Avatar
    My Reflecting Pool

    I have no problem getting rid of the old. Poor Bill hates getting rid of anything.

  9. Jazz Avatar

    Get rid of the wooden spoons…

    Actually I’m in the throes of purging myself. Books. Tons of books… and it’s all a nerve wracking effort. I can get rid of anything without a qualm, but giving away my books freaks me right out.

  10. velvet Avatar

    This post is really inspiring me to go sort stuff, but I’m in far too good of a mood to do it at the moment. I need to be truly irritated to effectively get rid of my “stuff”.

    Excellent job, btw!

  11. Diesel Avatar

    It gave good hand?

    I’m so using that line.

  12. Naughty Avatar

    Beautiful post, full of striking chords that echo my life. Probably all our lives.

    The thing with mere ‘things’ is that no matter how much we try to convince ourselves otherwise, we do need them. Want them. Hoard them. Miss them.

    The emotion and history that are intertwined in objects is incredible and I have been known to get teary in charity and junk shops when I look at old stuff – old, battered stuff. Well-loved with a history, yet forgotten and thrown out for whatever reason. I always wonder how an object ends up in a sad dreary destination; who loved them , when, where, for how long, why did they stop, did they stop……and so it goes on.

    And then I realise I probably need to stop hanging around in junk shops.

  13. Logophile Avatar

    My honey and I tend to be rather utilitarian about hanging onto things.Having to pack up and move every three years with the military encourages practicality in these matters. Helping my mom sort her piles periodically has also encouraged evaluation of what we choose to keep.
    One of the most puzzling things to me was mom’s PILES of magazine articles and recipes, so many you couldn’t sort them, NONE of them referred to again or the recipe used and yet saved for decades!
    What is THAT about??

  14. furiousBall Avatar

    that chest is really cool. are there any doubloons in it?


  15. susan Avatar

    About 5 years ago my parents sold prety much everything and now live full time in an RV. I’m thinking we should do the same thing to get rid of all our junk.

    Um…can I have those spoons??

  16. Jill Avatar

    Looks like you came home with some beautiful furniture. I have my great-greatgrandmother’s sewing machine and cabinet. Her sewing notions are still in the little drawers. I don’t have a clue how to use a treadle machine, but I like having it. It makes me feel connected to the past.

  17. Voyager Avatar

    I so agree with you about the pleasure of having family treasures around you. I love that I can serve Thanksgiving dinner on the same china my Grandma used to serve her family. And that I put my socks away in the same dresser my grandpa put his in.
    But when I look at B’s stack of 15 year old water skiing magazines, the ones he has never looked at since I’ve known him, but clutches his heart over when I suggest tossing them out, I want to scream. Actually I do scream.

  18. JeanneB Avatar

    However did you persevere to continue the purging upon your arrival home? Oh, how I envy you.

    Since your visit, I have been working on my own version of downsizing and boy oh boy, has it been a slow and steady process. I have, on more than one ocassion, stolen your assessment of your sister and told others that I have an issue with paper. The current stacks of paper that litter my living room prove it.

  19. Fresh Hell Avatar
    Fresh Hell

    My mother was beyond a horder. She was a flat out pack rat. Every day in so many ways I resist becoming her, but more than any in the collecting of things unnecessary. At times it’s hard to let go, but in the end, I don’t miss much and feel liberated after the purge. I still have way more crap than is prudent for an aging spinster, but I resist… Oh, how I resist.

    Welcome back home to you and your new/old belongings.

  20. chelle Avatar

    We move every two years. I hoard nothing.

    What an amazing piece of history you have.

  21. urban-urchin Avatar

    the antiques are beautiful. that’s a little different than mom’s collection of Jon and Ponch from Chips glasses that she’s been ‘saving’ for you because you made her buy them in the first place (actually in my case my mother is always trying to pass off towels to me- to the point now that when she mails a gift for the kids she ‘wraps it for safe keeping’ in an old towel. sigh

  22. Dorky Dad Avatar
    Dorky Dad

    I’m going to take your word for it that you did all that work. I have no desire to smell your armpits.

  23. frannie Avatar

    I love that you have these old family pieces. and I love that they connect you to you past.

    what a beautiful post!

  24. Em Avatar

    The old family pieces are awesome. But yeah, toss the fake florals. LOL

  25. Pendullum Avatar

    I can feel the memories in each piece… amay they be passed on to your children’s children…

  26. lime Avatar

    ah, balancing is most assuredly not delicate work but it seems yo uhave acheived it well by holding onto things that really do matter and have significant family and shitoric value.

    btw, you didn’t tell ME about those excess wooden sppons! i NEED them. mine all broke and i haven’t found new ones i like. ya know…a properly broken in wooden sppon is a good thing to have….and thsoe silk flowers well, we need the place to look bright inthe winter when nothign grows…and come one don’t you want a few more hummels to have to dust and to worry about the kids knocking over?

  27. CS Avatar

    I am not a hoarder – I actually take an obscene delight in getting rid of stuff. When my grandmother died about 5 years ago, my mother and several sibs started going through her big house room by room trying to sort, distribute and get rid of years of accumulated carp. And yes, there was a display case packed w huithmmel figurines. Finally we threw up our hands and had an estate sale guy take over. I never want to do that to my own children.

  28. Mother of Invention Avatar
    Mother of Invention

    I have to admit that I like stuff and I really like my grandparents’ and great grandparents’ stuff. It is net that we can connect to them in that way. I love antiques and I can see that you have some really nice pieces to enjoy and perhaps pass on to your own kids.

  29. urban-urchin Avatar

    back to ask is the groom playing ‘fly high duluth’ on that little madolin thingee? or a song about having a song in your heart and a big ass bug in your ear?

  30. Jazz Avatar

    I love the music bureau and the clawfoot table. If ever you get sick of them, let me know.

  31. Shari Avatar

    I am already trying to simplify my life. Anything I don’t use, I throw out or it’s rummaged or it’s taken to Goodwill/Salvation Army.

    Only thing is, I have a hard time trying to shrink my closet. If I manage to donate some, I end up replacing them. (Shopping.)

    The furniture you acquired look really sharp, though. 🙂

  32. Steve Avatar

    Hey! When can I get a crack at your mom’s balalaika?

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