(Photo/Jonathan Billinger CC BY-SA 2.0)
(Photo/Jonathan Billinger CC BY-SA 2.0)

My kids’ generation are the anti-clutter role models we need

What a difference three generations make. Our grandparents came to America with nothing. Now our generation owns so much, we are possession obsessed.

We contemplate downsizing, but cannot figure out how. Where to begin? What to keep? What to give away? Do we consign items or donate them?

And we fret — constantly — about the fact that our good china will come to no good when we die. Ironically, in our confusion, we clutter our bookshelves with books about decluttering!

Yes, our grandparents had nothing in the Old World, but made a good life in the New World, passing down to us their furniture, jewelry, and lovingly embroidered tablecloths and pillows.

Today we feel oppressed by our material well-being. Our homes are overstuffed and our children proclaim — loudly — their disinterest in inheriting our cherished belongings.

Enough with our possession obsession! Enough with this worry about clutter and the fate of our inanimate objects once we animate beings pass on. Let’s relegate Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” manifesto to the discount book bin where it belongs!

Yet I admit I am sad knowing my many sentimental items are not held in high esteem by my children. I cannot believe they don’t cherish Grandma’s musty antique furniture; the needlepoint pictures my mother stitched; the many fading photo albums I so carefully assembled through the decades; their own adorable artwork preserved in boxes and boxes from pre-K on, and their father’s impressive array of awards and letters of commendation from U.S. presidents and congressional leaders.

And, yes, I’m amazed that my children don’t even value the valuable stuff — the jewelry, the silver, the artwork. They’re not just unsentimental, they’re also not materialist.

For them, if it isn’t digital, it doesn’t exist. If they have to pick up and move, most of what they’d need could be carried in a backpack, not a moving van or even Tevye’s milk cart.

Their books are digital. Their music is digital. Their photos and games are, too. Their lives are stored in tiny devices and “in the cloud.”

Yet, for us “oldsters,” our lives are very much rooted here on Earth. For me, and I’m sure for many of you, possessions tell important stories about my life, the good and the bad times, the birthdays, the anniversaries, the children’s graduations — all of it.

For me, getting rid of even one of my late mother’s 20-plus paperweights means making high-stakes decisions, like choosing between the one I gave her for her 50th birthday or the one my son bought to cheer her up in the hospital after a surgery.

Yet, like many middle-aged people, I feel a need to streamline and make some space in my admittedly congested space.

So, some months back, I got serious and took a monumental step forward: I gave an item of tremendous sentimental value, my mother’s 140-piece fine china set, to a dear friend.

Emboldened, I then scanned/digitized all the family photos and home movies, and I gave away my collection of DVDs, since most can be viewed online.

I kicked all my high-heeled shoes to the curb. That was easy. Footwear reality set in long ago. I know my achy arches will never again walk, much less dance, in spiky, pointed shoes.

And with heartless abandon, I tossed out four coffee mugs, three chipped Pyrex storage containers, several wooden spoons and a bottle opener. That doesn’t sound like much at all, but it took me two hours of angst wading through the kitchen chaos.

Finally, after three months of sorting, tossing and agonizing, I finished. Overall, the results are impressive: The closets are streamlined, the drawers and cabinets no longer bulge and the garage is no longer identified on local maps as an avalanche hazard zone.

And yet … There still is an awful lot of stuff.

You see, the real problem isn’t hanging onto unwanted, obsolete and sentimental items. It’s clinging to the good “stuff,” the “who knows, I might need it” items — the extra blankets, the six never-been-to-the-beach beach towels, the twin-size sheets (even though we don’t have any twin-size beds), the seven serving platters, the two sets of wine glasses …

Oh no. I’m falling back down that possession obsession rabbit hole, aren’t I?

I need to take a deep breath and remember that Grandma, Grandpa and Tevye would be happy for me. They would tell me to celebrate having so many delightful objects. They would tell me to cherish the memories associated with these belongings. They would also tell me to stop kvetching and start dusting! The place needs a good cleaning!

So that’s what I’ll do. And afterward, maybe I’ll watch “Fiddler on the Roof” again. Some things you can never get enough of!

Karen Galatz
Karen Galatz

Karen Galatz is the author of Muddling through Middle Age, a weekly humor blog. An award-winning journalist, her nonfiction and fiction essays and stories have been featured in multiple publications. She lives in Berkeley and can be reached at karen@muddling.me.