The Unbearable Heaviness of ‘Stuff’

letting go

The collection of ‘stuff’ has been an ongoing theme in my life, and it all started with my mother. A baby born at the end of the Great Depression, Mom was a collector of everything. Born into an extremely poor rural French Catholic family, she had to leave home at age 15 to get a job and to make a way for herself in the world. Education was (and is) a luxury that the poor could simply not afford.

As Mom (and soon, my Dad – they married very young) gradually made her way in the world, Mom carefully, lovingly and reverently collected pretty things. The neatest of collectors, our house was always a showpiece of lovely, useless china, antique furniture, knick-knacks and every interesting category of collectible my mother came across and ‘had to have’. Ever frugal, she gained most of her collection through careful perusal of second-hand shops and garage sales. And she knew the worth of every single item.

It was sacrilege, in our house, to throw anything away and anything my mother brought home was expected to ‘last forever’. My son was five years old when he first asked if Nanny was ‘a hoarder’. I replied that yes, she did indeed have tendencies, albeit very neat and orderly tendencies.

I am not sure how or when I became the keeper of my mother’s stuff. Upon long and thoughtful introspection, I think it may have started with the stationary bicycle my mother found at a yard sale and brought home with every intention of ‘getting in shape once and for all’. Over several years, the bicycle was moved from one room of the house to another, as Mom tried to find the perfect spot for working out. When it became clear that the only purpose that stationary bicycle was ever going to serve was as a hanger for her clothes, she eventually offered it to me. My mother’s daughter, I, too, declared that I intended to ‘get in shape, once and for all’. I loaded the bicycle into my car, brought it the 600+ kilometres back to my home province, and… like my mother, ended up using it as a convenient place to hang my clothes for the next few years.

The one rule my mother has ever had about giving anyone, anything, is that it always technically belongs to her. Forever and ever. She has even embarrassed both my sister and myself when she has called a friend to ask if she can have ‘such and such’ back, as she has found a use for it again. To their credit, most of those friends still speak to her. All that to say that when I eventually realised that I wasn’t going to use the bicycle either, I obediently brought it back home. A few years later, however, probably after a New Years resolution that involved ‘getting in shape, once and for all’, I yet again loaded it in the car and made the 600-kilometre trip back to my place.

The last time I ‘gave the bike back’ to my mother, my long-suffering father had finally had enough. “The only mileage that f_ _ ing bike has ever gotten,” he declared in exasperation as he stuffed it back into their car in preparation for the long ride home, “Is back and forth in the car from our house to yours!”

But at that point, the pattern was well entrenched. Anything Mom gave me became a family heirloom, never to be released to the world. It wasn’t until she moved into a seniors’ home two years ago that my sister and I were faced with the daunting task of emptying Mom’s house. And, of course, finding a ‘temporary home’ for all the things Mom still steadfastly considered to be ‘hers’.

This was a problem: my sister – the consummate minimalist – didn’t want any of it and I – well – I already had a house full of Mom’s things – not to mention, my own, and not an inch of space to spare. I realised, then that the stationary bike had become a symbol for all the ‘things’ my mother had so carefully collected that were now just sitting there: useless, unused, and forgotten in a corner.

Nevertheless, Mom had trained me well. Ever the keeper of Mom’s ‘treasures’, under the exasperated eye of my long-suffering husband, each time I went home to empty a bit more of my Mom’s house in preparation for selling it, I obediently filled my car with the most precious of her things (calendar holders, her best gardening sheers, pickle dishes, old magazines, dozens of baskets, etc.). Mom was thrilled: she declared that she could ‘relax now’ knowing that her things were safe. And it mattered not at all to her that my husband and I had recently downsized, or that I have mini-hoarding tendencies myself (especially for memorabilia regarding my now-grown children).

There has been one unexpected benefit: because so many of my drawers, closets and corners of various rooms are filled with Mom’s ‘treasures’, there isn’t much room for my own stuff. For a few years now, whenever I have the energy, I have been sifting through my own things and slowly ridding my home of the inertia of useless, unused and forgotten memories, collections, clothes that I no longer wear and dishes I will never use. I have my children’s wholehearted support: they don’t want my stuff any more than I wanted Mom’s stuff (who knew?)

And with each item I manage to discard or pass on, I feel so much lighter…

Source of photo

Patti Moore Wilson ©


Author: Patti Moore Wilson, wednesdayschild2

I write what I feel. And I rarely know exactly what I feel until I write. I have lived long enough to have known many joys and many sorrows. I have made many mistakes; I have forgiven myself for a few… I have learned that there are lessons in every step of this journey, if we only take the time to pay attention… I hope you will feel free to pick and choose the stories that resonate for you…

12 thoughts on “The Unbearable Heaviness of ‘Stuff’”

  1. I have a friend who hoards… Her house looks like the living room in Sanford and Son. Last time I was there, I said, “I keep expecting to see the body of Demand Wilson in here somewhere”

    The thing is, she TRIES to clear it out but replaces it almost immediately. Her van has so much stuff in it, if she ended up trapped in the snow, she could eat and drink for three months.

    Enjoyable essay, Patti!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for sharing… I expect is up to the collector what memories to keep and which ones to let go… 🙂

    “I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw some things back.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Very astute, Larry… I have such a terrible memory, I have always been tempted to keep things so I would not forget. Now that I am writing, I feel less need to hold onto my own ‘stuff’. One thing I eventually suggested to Mom (as we were emptying her house) was taking a photograph of each item before letting it go. It did not completely solve things, but it HAS helped a great deal.


  3. I love this essay. I’ve bought two exercise bikes and a real bike in the last five years, and there’s no way that I’ve logged 100 miles between all three of them. Ugh.

    I am in the process of downsizing big time. I like the minimalist look, but I have boxes and closets full of stuff I need to get rid of. Thanks for the reminder. I’m off to pack a load up for Goodwill. 💕

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Patti, I hope you are well. I have been away for a while and it’s so nice to be back and to read your writing. I think you are such a caring daughter to your mom. I understand why you end up keeping her things and I can imagine how things eventually piled up. Letting go is never easy but the lightness we feel when we let go is worth it. We need to allow the things to take on new lives of their own. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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