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The deer head and the memory card
August 25, 2010 7:56 AM   Subscribe

How to Lose A Legacy - a curator writes about the problem of what to do with stuff after death. (via.) Professional organizers give advice.

If this intrigues you, Martin Rowson wrote a book on it (I'd link to the Guardian;s review but it's written by a v.bad writer.)
posted by mippy (36 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
This piece reminds me of the fascinating article from the New York Times about this time last year, "The Self Storage Self" (Metafilter discussion).

The problem for me is so little of what people cling to is objectively worth maintaining. We all own so much stuff and most of it, to borrow from George Carlin, is shit. As an anecdote: I recently renewed my renter's insurance policy and the agent told me to put a replacement value on everything I owned in my apartment. I gave an honest answer of about $20,000. They told me the minimum is $50,000, which is the amount of my coverage.

$50,000! Are you trying to give me an impetus to burn the place down? I'd much rather have $50,000 than the stuff I own now. Think of all the great new stuff I could get for that.
posted by 2bucksplus at 8:13 AM on August 25, 2010 [7 favorites]


The secret: Your kids don’t want your stuff.

I don't want all or even most of it, but there's definitely stuff I want. I wonder sometimes if the stuff I want will be the same stuff my sisters want someday (and I've already heard that there are cousins drooling over the crystal chandelier, to which I say: helllll to the no, that thing is MINE). It's funny how this article highlights the overwhelming amount of stuff nobody wants, when you sometimes hear stories about the other side of it- the stuff that everybody wants and nobody can decide who deserves.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:17 AM on August 25, 2010


In a culture of scarcity, useful things are rarely discarded, but in a land of superabundance and incessant newness, inheriting a household packed to the windowsills with books, furniture and memories of drunken holiday infighting can be more burden than blessing.

I love that sentence.
posted by mecran01 at 8:25 AM on August 25, 2010


INCOMING RANT.

...inheriting a household packed to the windowsills with books, furniture and memories of drunken holiday infighting can be more burden than blessing.

Well this is painfully relevant. My tsotchke-loving mother recently died and left me a 2-bedroom apartment crammed to the brim of just stuff. She was a world traveler and loved picking up little things to decorate her apartment. All very nice, hand-made, expensive things

And the furniture! Furniture that is just so much better picked and matched than anything I'll ever be able to pick or match or afford any time soon. I'm moving into a space considerably smaller than the one she lived in. I'm terrified I'm going to end up living in an apartment like that in The Great Gatsby: crammed to the brim with designer furniture that I want to hold onto because it is nice and so expensive and reminds me of her, not because it matches the place well.

I'm a minimalist when it comes to decorating: clean lines, no extraneous stuff. I do not hang long-nosed Italian masks on the wall. Or small framed paintings of Flamenco dancers. I do not want to put a souvenier bottle of olive oil in the kitchen with plants inside. I have no idea what to do with plates with hand-painted vistas of Spain that are never meant to serve food. What the hell do I do with these nice things which remind me of my mother? What do I do with all this nice but worthless jewelry? I'm going to be a man living with a goddamn several-hundred-dollar vanity. You know. So I can see all my makeup and jewelry at once!

We love our library, which entombs a lifetime of fleeting interests and enduring obsessions, but we’re also oppressed by its physical and emotional weight.

Jesus, I just posted an AskMe as to what to do with her goddamn art book collection. I'm trying to get rid of my books in my upcoming move and I have stacks upon stacks of Russian pulp fiction to get rid of. Who the hell wants disposable Russian pulp fiction? I inherited an eReader because she didn't.

Seriously. Who wants leatherbound Russian classics in the original language? Who wants little decorative soaps? Fine china to serve twenty people? End tables. So many goddamn end tables and an infinite amount of vases. Agh!
posted by griphus at 8:29 AM on August 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'm with thepinksuperhero--while my parents have accumulated quite a bit of junk over the years, there are some lovely things that are MINE MINE MINE. The only catch is that no one knows this, least of all my parents.

Can anyone recommend any good ways to tell your folks, "Hey, when you're dead, I'm totally getting that deco clock and barometer, the marble tile, the scrimshaw bookends"? One parent has remarried, but I still want their stuff.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:32 AM on August 25, 2010


...and I've already heard that there are cousins drooling over the crystal chandelier...

YOU WANT ANOTHER ONE? I SWEAR TO GOD I HAVE TWO.
posted by griphus at 8:33 AM on August 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


It has been very interesting to me to compare how the two sides of my family deal with stuff; it very closely reflects each family's "personality".

Dad's side: rational, intelligent, and creative. My great uncle died late last year, shortly after he decided he'd had enough of living alone. Got rid of most of his stuff with help from my dad (along with carefully annotated journals describing every single purchase he'd ever made... but that's another story). Moved in to a long-term care facility under his own recognizance, then checked out. Total material goods that were retained could fit on a card table. Everything else was sorted through while he was moving out of his old place - either gave it to family or sold it, no bickering at all.

Grandfather died recently as well, and similar story. Few possessions to begin with (grandpa and -ma had moved into a small apartment a few years ago, so they had already gotten rid of most of their things), and literally immediately after the funeral my grandmother had us all come over and take what we wanted. It was a little uncomfortable for me, but I suppose it was better than sending it all to the landfill.

Mom's side: much more emotional. My grandfather died when I was a teenager. The house was filled with stuff - old electronics, closets full of clothes. Since he grew up in the Depression, there was cash hidden everywhere. We had to go through every pocket in every article of clothing after I found a wad of about 10 grand in a leather coat. Bottles of old liquor needed to be disposed of. Similar purging (much to her stern objections) when my grandmother needed to go to a long-term care facility.

The biggest difference, in my opinion - the stuff my mom's parents were clinging to was junk. My dad's family, who sold most of their stuff before they even passed on, was what any "normal" family would be fighting over - antique Chinese rugs, really well made dining sets from the 60s, other heirloom-y type stuff.

Nobody seemed to care much either way once all of it was gone, though.
posted by backseatpilot at 8:34 AM on August 25, 2010


It's been twenty years now since my mother died, and I can STILL, upon reading griphus's excellent rant, feel the anxiety-spasms of this stuff this stuff OMG whatthehell to do with all her STUFF??

I often tell friends my age and older that the very kindest thing they can do for their kids, the very best legacy to leave, is to do the big stuff-culling before they die.
posted by Kat Allison at 8:39 AM on August 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


In reply to Admiral Haddock, I don't think that there is any tasteful way to tell one's parents that one wishes to inherit a particular possession of theirs, since this is going to inevitably suggest that you are impatiently waiting for them to die, so you can inherit things from them. The only way this ever works is if they actually ask you if there is something of theirs that you want to have. Then you can tell them, and they may even give it to you as a gift while they are still alive. But they have to be the ones to bring up that subject, otherwise you will appear to be callous and greedy.
posted by grizzled at 8:41 AM on August 25, 2010


griphus,

I'm in a vaguely similar situation and I'd like to offer a modest suggestion: Take those few things you really do want on display in your apartment and put the rest in a storage unit somewhere. Yes, it costs money but my experience is suggesting that in 3 to 5 years you'll have a better sense of what you want to keep and what you're willing to put back into circulation so that other people can enjoy it. It might help to take good pictures of everything so that, even if the physical item goes away, you can still treasure the memory.

Frankly, it's been a bit over three years now and while it has always been true logically, I'm just now accepting emotionally that I don't have to hold onto all his stuff as if my father is going to suddenly walk through the door and want it all back so that he can pick up where he left off. You know what I mean? It's starting to feel like my stuff that used to be his stuff, not his stuff.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 8:42 AM on August 25, 2010


Thoreau tells us that the indians yearly burn all their "stuff" and begin and begin anew.
posted by Postroad at 8:44 AM on August 25, 2010


One parent has remarried, but I still want their stuff.

When my grandfather remarried shortly after my grandmother died, his new wife took all of her jewelry. Took it with her after they divorced, too. Sad. I never knew my grandmother, and would've like to have had some of it- I'm sure her daughter (my aunt) feels the same way x 1000.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:50 AM on August 25, 2010


In my more morbid moments I've thought about this a bit. I remember the day my dad died. My mother, who copes with things by cleaning, spent the afternoon hoovering, packing, decanting wardrobe into charity bag, medicines back to the chemist, toiletries in the bin. He owned little other than tools that was 'worth' anything, and I think figuring that out would have been more difficult for my mother. Three days before the funeral, the house looked as though he'd died three years ago. She needed to get that stuff out of sight just to hold it together and carry on.

The Liverpool T-shirt I bought him went to the charity shop (I was glad he'd enjoyed and worn it) but I swiped a tie that reminded me of the summer holidays when I was a kid - him coming home from work in this shiny green and blue tie. The first present I bought for him with my own money was a yellow sunflower-print tie, but it was this one I kept. I had a difficult relationship with my dad as I got older (to the point where it's difficult to say if I even miss him) but that tie reminds me of birthday parties and trips to Hadrian's Wall.

Of course, we couldn't have got him out of the house if we'd tried, really - he was a heavy smoker, and the celing stain and smell of smoke lingers like a ghost. Maybe that's what ghosts really are, after all - things that won't go away. I brought a computer back from the house and my friend opened it up to fix something - it absolutely stunk of smoke. Four years since we had a smoker in the house, and books and clothing brought back from what is now my mum's place have that distinctive eau d'Senior Service smell.

I have no idea what will happen to my things when I've gone. I went through years of hoarding - I owned literally twice as much stuff as I could fit into my house - and have had to purge a lot of it. The thing you learn is that no matter how much money spent over the years, what you have isn't really worth that much anymore. If someone broke into my house, they'd take my laptop and my radio - but I've spent far more on my clothing, something that will more than likely go to the charity shop.

One of the most sobering things that occured when decluttering was when I went to the 40sq ft storage locker holding my stuff. I didn't have a car or space, so I'd 'visit' it from time to time and bring a few things home. In there was a green tweed skirt which I'd bought when unemployed and stuck at home, imagining a future where I would wear tweed skirts and have somewhere to wear them to. Clearly, it was a future where I was half a size smaller, too, and could afford dry-cleaning, because it never got worn, but it got packed away for 'someday'. And I took this skirt out from a pile, smiled, shook it out, and saw a hole. Then another. Then more. The pretty skirt was now no good to anyone. And as I go through my piles of stuff again, reminding myself 'have less of better', I think about that skirt and wonder if being taught to save certain things for best was a false denial. Everything rots and fades and eventually becomes junk.
posted by mippy at 8:51 AM on August 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


YOU WANT ANOTHER ONE? I SWEAR TO GOD I HAVE TWO.

Meetup time! Chandeliers for everyone!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:51 AM on August 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'm just now accepting emotionally that I don't have to hold onto all his stuff as if my father is going to suddenly walk through the door and want it all back so that he can pick up where he left off.

Yeah, I'm still at that stage. Somewhere in the irrational part of the brain I've got a vague dread she's going to show up at my door wondering where the fuck her jewelry is. I still walk into her my inherited apartment and feel weird about rifling through her things even though they're all my things and there is no privacy to invade any longer. I guess the hardest part is that I have to clear all the shit out long before I get adjusted. I genuinely understand why Bruce Wayne would always refer to Wayne Manor as "my father's house."
posted by griphus at 8:52 AM on August 25, 2010


Every person over 60 saving all their old Readers Digest Condensed Editions is a lot different than one place in Iowa preserving biological heritage. The former is ridiculous precisely because Moby Dick will be there for future generations whether or not you personally own a copy. The latter is essential because without it, the natural world as we know it will begin to disappear.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 9:01 AM on August 25, 2010


2bucksplus: "I gave an honest answer of about $20,000. They told me the minimum is $50,000, which is the amount of my coverage.

$50,000! Are you trying to give me an impetus to burn the place down? I'd much rather have $50,000 than the stuff I own now. Think of all the great new stuff I could get for that.
"

Not having bought too much stuff is its own insurance policy.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 9:03 AM on August 25, 2010


Oh, we discuss who gets what (my aunt and I are fighting over my grandparents' grandmother clock, and I suspect I am going to lose that fight, but I've called my favourite 2 pieces of art; all I really want from my parents is a single piece of art, which they know, though I hope not to get that soon) at many family dinners. This has been helped because my grandmother's mother lived in a different province when she died, and one child+kids went in and took everything before the other child+kids (my grandmother, mother, aunt, uncle) could choose anything at all. So everyone knows that discussing things beforehand just avoids unhappiness later.

Make up a story about a friend or coworker who had a huge family fight about things if you have to, but -- assuming your relationship with your family is good -- tell them in so many words that item X reminds you of them, or of some story, and you want them to know so that before they sell it/give it away, you'd like it.
posted by jeather at 9:15 AM on August 25, 2010


My friends tease me about this need I have to keep things. And boy do I.

One of the strangest things I have kept is a haircut from 1927. That's right: a haircut.

My grandma had super conservative parents who wouldn't let her cut her waist-length auburn hair into a bob when she was in high school. No way no how. Since she went to school in town and only went home on the weekends, she hit on a plan:

She got her hair bobbed, but saved her long banana curls. She took these home, sewed them to a long length of fabric, and when she had to go home would wrap this around her head and then put a hat on top. Her mother would never have seen her in her bedroom when she removed it, much less without a hat or headscarf during the day, and so her ruse worked. For an entire year she did this.

So I have this ribbon-wig-extension of the most beautiful auburn hair with a great story of flapper rebellion behind it. BUT! What do I do with it?

When she died, I took a lock of it and bound it with the flowers from a party dress she wore in 1928 and buried that with her, but I still have this damn wiglet. I kept it in the bookshelves for a while, but people got weird. I am a Victorian at heart, so to me it was charming and romantic. To everyone else it was super-creepy and not-quite-right.

So it moved into the cigar box she had kept it in since the cut. And there it sits. But what happens when I am gone?

Similarly, but more normal, she was an only child form a large extended family of no children. This means whenever someone died everything she inherited went into barns, basements, sheds, and attics. All of the stuff I have now is stuff I used to play with in the barnloft - someday imagining my grand apartment and all of its trappings. As an adult, I fix a few things a year from this massive stash and document its story. The sad part is that I am not sure anyone else will care. All of this work and energy to preserve and restore and my concern is it will get sent to the antique store because whoever gets it "already has a bookshelf". I try not to think about it too much, but it really bothers me - this lack of continuity we seem to culture. Sigh.
posted by Tchad at 9:32 AM on August 25, 2010 [7 favorites]


I wrote about my experience with a family home and all the "stuff" on AskMe a couple of years ago.
posted by anastasiav at 9:58 AM on August 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


Oy. I would send that "advice" link to my mom but it would result in tears and a total melt-down of our delicately negotiated détente re: I don't want your crap. A child of the Great Depression, Mom cannot let stuff go because she might need it some day (yeah, right - she hasn't used it in 20 years), or her kids might want it after she's gone (as if), or it might be worth something (thanks a lot, Antiques Roadshow). She never bought really good stuff because it was too expensive, but somehow there WILL BE treasures lurking in the attic.

There is literally nothing in her house that I want, but she still tries to push it on me (I have my own house full of crap, mind you). The only way she she's happy to part with anything is to sell it at a profit - which hasn't happened yet as far as I know - or give it to me. Either of these would validate her decision to buy and keep the thing for all those years, and my refusal of her stuff is pretty much a slap in the face from her perspective. It's not enough to say "OK, fine, ship it to me." She wants to hear "Yes, I'd really like to have that thing because it's useful and pretty and it reminds me of you." But part of the boundaries I've established with her is that I don't respond to her guilt-trips and other manipulations, so I don't tell her I want her junk. It's a painful topic, but caving in just makes everything worse so we remain at a stand-off.

She gets very emotional about estate sales, especially the aftermath, where the leftovers are dragged out to the curb on trash pickup day. It's pretty clear that she's seeing her own hard-earned and carefully stored stuff ending up unwanted and abandoned, and maybe seeing herself the same way. I can sympathize but I still don't want her crap. Gah - it's so hard to come up with a solution to this situation that doesn't end in tears.
posted by Quietgal at 10:06 AM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


What if the stuff you have has genuine historical value?

My father left me with a rather extensive collection of marine antiques. It's amazing stuff, relics from the latter days of tall ships--gleaming brass taffrail logs, beautiful teak gratings, mast hoops, binnacles, and many gorgeous lights with intact fresnels. None of these things are particularly small, and most are not useful (although the lights are all kept illuminated and work nicely in my cluttered decor).

He also left some rare and unusual artifacts from the Pittsburgh steel mills in the early days of the 20th century, including toys made by millworkers during down time. Other oddities include a dollar bill split "the hard way" made by a sailor at the close of WW II--it's tissue thin and shows only one side of print. There are weapons and railway tokens and marvelous old catalogues... amazing and unusual ephemera.

What to do with such things? All are valuable in their own way--heaven knows the ship's lights would be snapped up by the kind of folks who put "summer homes" on the coast of Cape Cod--but together form a much more vivid picture.

I've often been told that I should open my home as a museum (not gonna happen) or that some museum might actually want these items (again, not likely--too many objects, not enough space). I have no time to adequately catalog everything or do any serious organizing. Others tell me to eBay the lot and use the proceeds for a trip, and I cannot say I like the idea of coming home to an empty house. I have too much fun looking at all the weird old stuff. These things make me feel as though I can actually touch the past, hold it in my hand.

I have no descendants nor relatives interested in history. Just thinking about this makes me feel very sad indeed, not the least due to the present generation's lack of interest in history.
posted by kinnakeet at 10:10 AM on August 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


I want to go to the garage sale at griphus' place SO MUCH!

(I say this as I am preparing to take off much of next week to destash a bunch of stuff from our house and have the biggest garage sale ever...I started in on the mister's closet and we already have 4 garbage bags of clothes to sell...from ONE closet).

Too much stuff is a hassle. The books, on the other hand...those are going to be painful to get rid of...selling old clothes and other things is nothing by comparison.

Tchad, I think you should look for a fashion history museum for the hair -- the Kent State fashion school has a very nice little museum that might be really into the story behind it!
posted by bitter-girl.com at 10:15 AM on August 25, 2010


This is timely. My husband and a friend have inherited over a ton of material (personal papers, letters, old books, magazines going back to the 1950s, etc.) relating to the history of scooters. Some of this should get thrown out and some might actually be worth something to the historian/collector.

We are a bit at a loss on how to deal with all this stuff. Do we digitize it all and throw it on the web? Do we maintain our own museum and archive? Do we try to find someone to take it all (unlikely since there's no money attached.) Do we pick out the best bits and chuck the rest?

Thankfully, this stuff is residing at our friend's house in Colorado so we can blissfully ignore it for a while.
posted by vespabelle at 10:44 AM on August 25, 2010


Holy Moley, Anastasiav! Are we living in parallel universes or what! Wow! Right. On.
posted by Tchad at 11:15 AM on August 25, 2010


griphus

Per the leather-bound Russian novels - I would take those in a heartbeat.
~hint~
posted by fluffycreature at 11:48 AM on August 25, 2010


Being a new fledged adult has this problem, especially when the parentals are losing their parents. They're inheriting things, and in turn trying to off load extra stuff onto you, both new purchases they want to gift you with, old stuff that allows them to get guilt free replacements (you know that old wooden table the size of a house, with the wobbly leg... well I'm buying a nice new table and I thought seeing as you have your own place and it seats 11...), stuff from their parents they can't stand to lose but are giving you as early inhertitance... and of course there's the conversations where they explain that since you and your partner have indicated a willingness to make a household, they'll keep the kiddy furniture they don't have space for, because it'll be so useful when the grandkids visit.

For a new adult to whom the job market may send them across the continent in a mini-van it can be hard to explain the fact that you think there's good odds you'll just have to shlep everything to the curb.

Not that we don't do that to our own parents (Muuuuum, how could you throw away my comic books?! They might be worth something!)
posted by Phalene at 11:50 AM on August 25, 2010


Being a new fledged adult has this problem, especially when the parentals are losing their parents.

I never had grandparents and lost my dad at 24. Aside from anything else, the fact that nobody will be there to sort my mother;s affairs out terrifies me. I'm never going to be grown up enough to deal with that stuff. And that'll be amplified when I have to deal with my teenage detritus from the loft.
posted by mippy at 2:57 PM on August 25, 2010


Who wants leatherbound Russian classics in the original language?
Paging languagehat.
posted by beagle at 3:19 PM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thanks, but I don't much care for leatherbound classics in any language. My Russian books are either in Soviet uniform editions or post-Soviet well-designed regular hardcovers, and that's the way I like 'em.
posted by languagehat at 5:31 PM on August 25, 2010


What I wanted most from my father was a beautiful gold ring, his initial "V" against red, a gift from my mother early in their marriage, it meant more to me than just my father, it was a symbol of their love I guess. He wore it but rarely, special times -- his whole life he worked with his hands, working with your hands you won't wear rings such as this one. I think I wanted it since I saw it, and I saw it my whole life. He gave it to me -- they both did, really -- I wore it with pride, it was my most valued possession. I lost it, it came off my finger, swimming in the Comal river a decade ago -- truly a heartache to me. It still hurts, one of my larger foolishnesses, and I've plenty to choose from.

I have one book that will be on my shelf until the day I die, it is to me a picture of my fathers generosity, and his decency, his humanity: He'd picked up a homeless man, hitch-hiking, this was when homeless men were called bums, he brought this man home, and to our table, my mother washed his clothing, he slept in our home that night, he headed back onto his journey next day rested, clean, with food, and warmth in his heart, he gave to my father his most prized possession, this collection of Mark Twain short stories, it's tattered, battered, worn, it's beautiful, I hold it and I feel my fathers heart. That I keep, and will keep.

I'm damn sure not going to go swimming with it.

Green is my mothers favorite color. I gave her a green, solid glass heart, Mothers Day I'm pretty sure, it sat on her kitchen window sill for years, catching the sunlight, and her love. She asked me what I wanted when they moved into assisted living, and this is it, I love that she loved it so. I look at it daily, I hold it some, I'm glad I have it.

One of my sisters digitized all the photos, and old films, and aside from my fathers ring, my mothers heart, and that Twain collection, the photos and films were and are the most important to me, I'm so glad to have all that media, to be able to look at my parents, young -- they were movie-star gorgeous, some of the most beautiful human beings I've ever seen, I know for a fact they were better looking than your parents -- and then to see the progression in their lives, and in our lives, my siblings and I, as the story unfolded, as time spooled out, the birthday parties, the weddings, the picnics, the different homes, the heartaches in it all, and the happinesses, too.

They moved into that assisted living maybe five years ago, they had a full house, mostly "stuff" but some nice "stuff" that my mother was sure we'd want, fight over, she was amazed and actually sortof appalled that none of us wanted that beautiful silverware, or that nice china -- none of us live that way, we're all casual. My mother came from depression era poverty -- after my grandfather died, young, in the 1920s, my grandmother baked bread, and my mother and her sisters sold it in the neighborhood -- and that silver was a huge thing when she got the set, in a wooden chest lined with velvet -- a wedding gift maybe? To my sibs and I, not so much a huge thing. I don't even know where it went.

To have a loaf of that bread, which my mother baked all of my life, to have a slice of that bread, warm from the oven, almost hot still, with peanut butter on it -- that I would fight for.

Art was not important to them. If it were, and especially if they'd had any that'd been in my life all my life, maybe that I'd have wanted, if it was art that moved my little heart.

Me? I've an oak four poster bed -- I'm lying in it as I key this in -- I bought this bed almost immediately after Kathy and I divorced, thirty-three years ago. And: Right over there is the antique oak wardrobe, and that beautiful walnut desk, with oak inserts in the drawers -- I bought those almost the same week I bought the bed. And I have an oak dresser, small, simple, beautiful. My bedroom is warm because of these pieces; the front of my condo ... Not colder. Different, is all. Lots of paintings, mine and some friends, too, and my art space, and the books and the couch and the lcd and the bitty kitchen and all. I've been struggling with the idea of letting these things go, the bed and oak stuff I mean, I'd like to have something I build myself, I have the design in my head, nowhere near as warm. But I've had trouble letting go of these things, they've been every move, I've slept in this bed, and scratched myself some, and cried in it, and loved in it, too, held some fine women. (And a few crabby gals, too -- Ann, are you out there? Buzz off.) I've thought from the time I got these items that I'd keep them my whole life; now, I don't know.

If I had a two bedroom place I could have both, right? But that road leads to three bedroom places, and four, and blah blah blah. Simpler is better, yes?

Last. Paintings. Of mine. One that I painted in the heights/depths of that unreal manic run, 2002, on heavy linen, it's dark, and beautiful, the fucker sings, maybe the most honest I've ever painted -- this condo is on fire, I'd want to grab that painting, it tells my story better than anything else. You wanna know me? Look at that painting; I'm right there, I'm waving at you. And the painting I painted the night the heart attacks started, flowers on heavy black paper, oil laid thick, bright flowers against black, heavy, beautiful -- I didn't know I was dying but it seems that maybe a part of me did, I sure painted me some great funeral flowers that night. I'd want to grab that, too, were this place burning.

I *do* go on. Long post. And I'm laying myself open, too, there at the last especially; it's one thing to talk about things from my parents, a whole 'nother thing to talk about oak and paint and all, I'm not wanting to hit "Post comment" button, or part of me isn't anyways; if you're reading this, it seems that I did so.
posted by dancestoblue at 6:33 PM on August 25, 2010 [9 favorites]


Timely. I spent several hours Monday going through my mother's stuff in my basement. It's been there for nearly two years now, and is the result of:
  1. one cull when she moved out of her home into the retirement community.
  2. another cull when she moved into assisted living.
  3. a third cull when she moved into skilled nursing.
  4. a fourth cull when she died.
And I mean we got RID of stuff. But some of the stuff she just couldn't get rid of, so I "stored" it for her. And now I have to figure out what to do with it, because if I just throw it all out, I don't know what my brother and sister would do.

I kept a few things, mind you. Mostly of sentimental value. The hand-made stool we kids used to fight over at family dinners when my grandmother owned it. And I'm going to go through all my mom's sermons and put them in a binder, because they are wonderful.

The other half of the stuff in my basement is my daughter's. So when I die, it's her problem.
posted by Peach at 6:41 PM on August 25, 2010


dancestoblue, that was beautiful, especially the description of your parents. Just a few items, really, is all that we need: a ring, a glass heart, a tattered book.

I'm going to be thinking about your story for a while. Thank you.
posted by math at 8:08 PM on August 25, 2010


My mother-in-law died suddenly last month, leaving a four bedroom house packed with stuff. Her husband, who has Alzheimer's disease and for whom she had been the primary carer, can't live in the house on his own, although he now owns it - and in any case it has to be sold to provide for his care.

I spent a week up there helping pack it all up. A lot of stuff was easy to get rid of; the charity shops got some of it, and the disability home where one of the sons lives welcomed some of it. But she kept so much stuff. Books containing records of her weight, every year since the 1980s. Lists of every item that had come into the house, gone out of the house, been broken or given away. Lists of every birthday or Christmas gift received in the house, or given to any of us. She had two whole drawerful of newspaper clippings - including pictures of cute animals, or baby names in birth announcements which she found funny. And it looked like she'd never thrown away a piece of clothing in her life.

The "heirloom" stuff was hard and we made choices based very much on what was sentimental to us rather than what she would have thought an heirloom. We threw out her wedding dress, but I kept all her hand-embroidered tablecloths and her sewing basket. The crystal cabinet was full of beautiful things but we each only took what we thought we might use - eschewing heavy lead crystal decanters to take something like a funny old everyday water glass.

In the end each son ended up taking home one box with his own special books or things that had sentimental value, and we ended up putting a total of eleven boxes into storage at a friend's house, to be looked over in the future. And one painting, which is an heirloom given to the boys' grandfather for his service to the community but which is so ugly none of us wants to hang it.
posted by andraste at 8:16 PM on August 25, 2010


My grandfather died just last week. My grandmother is still living, but will be moving out of the house into a small assisted living apartment, so there was much talk over the weekend when we were all there for the funeral about what to do with the "stuff."

Luckily I already had a "theme" for things I said I'd like to have. Last Christmas, after I'd mentioned this to my mother, they gave me an old bar lamp (white globe, says BAR, base has ceramic "drunk guy" leaning on lamppost with a red light bulb nose) and a little bell on a wood stand ("BAR SERVCE - DON'T YELL, RING THE BELL!"). These had always been on my grandparents' bar when I was a little kid. And they were of that generation that still had the habit of the late afternoon/early evening cocktail, aka "booze time." When we visited I always wanted to be the one to run to the bar around 4:30 to ring the little bell announcing "booze time" for everybody. Sure, I was only getting a "Shirley Temple" or a "Roy Rogers," but I loved that feeling of being part of the adult ritual.

So over the weekend I got to happily lay claim to a few more things to add to the lamp and the bell. Some brandy glasses, a couple "rocks glasses," a couple vintage Coca Cola glasses (with the bell shape - and you can tell they're old because of how small they are), a genuine 1968 Playboy Club beer mug, a vast collection of swizzle sticks from assorted bars and hotels, a handful of cocktail recipe pamphlets that appear to date to the 40s or 50s, etc. So "booze time" gets to continue now with all the same accessories from when I was little. This makes me happy.

What I wonder most about though is the mountain of photographs in grandfather's office. A huge stack of photo albums, and a huge duffel bag full of still older photos and albums. Its like - most of us grandkids wouldn't want them because they're not our own memories, yet at the same time the idea of just tossing them out seems unthinkable. Well, there's still time to figure that out.
posted by dnash at 12:04 PM on August 26, 2010


I feel bad for whoever took care of my ex-mil's place. My (then)spouse and I had cut all ties to her after it was clear she was dangerous to our two children (she was giving them her meds). She had stuff stacked to the ceilings, a classic hoarder. Some things were valuable antiques from the family. Some were things related to our children she'd stolen from us. When we heard much after the fact that she had died, neither I nor her son were interested in getting anything from her. But I always wondered about who would have been sent in to face that mess when the bank reclaimed the condo.
posted by _paegan_ at 12:09 PM on August 26, 2010


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