My Turn: Reflections on a life of ‘things’


Published: 11/26/2022 10:25:42 AM
Modified: 11/26/2022 10:23:17 AM

Humans are acquisitive. We like things. That’s why as soon as Halloween is over and the candy has been marked down at your local pharmacy, it’s Early Black Friday! The promotion of merchandise could also be the source of Marie Kondo’s 15 minutes of fame. I respect what is probably her basic feeling that things are overwhelming us, but, I’m not about to keep only those things that create joy and jettison the rest.

I think my reaction to Marie stems from having donated a skirt to the Salvation Army because I was tired of it. The next winter, I regretted the loss of its neutral color and its warm wool. A better solution for me would have been to tuck the skirt into a storage box and skip a year of wearing it. But, as a recent graduate, I was optimistic about my future. We all are at 23 or 24. I owned so little. I furnished my first apartment, a studio, with floor pillows and three plastic cube tables that I lined up to use for dining. My book shelves were boards and bricks, while my desk was a recycled door, covered in Contact paper, supported by a pair of file cabinets. I must have had a bureau but I can not remember it.

I added some furniture to my next apartment: a card table for dining, surrounded by four, folding canvas chairs. My parents loaned me the sofa that had been in the basement. Some fabrics from India covered the it and the table, while posters of Picassos from the Chicago Institute of Art decorated my walls.

Many years later, I have a full house. I don’t mean three cards of the same face value along with a pair of identical value, which I had to look up! But, furniture for five rooms. I have been donating clothes to a thrift shop and posting some dishes, as well as excess sewing material and teaching supplies on freecycle for about a year. I drop books in the little book boxes on poles. With one exception, I have felt good about the give-away. My standard for eliminating things ranged from what-was-I-thinking, to, it will take another 75 years to sew all the cloth and read all the books.

Still, giving away things that I either purchased or were given to me is not easy. Nor am I alone in de-acquisitioning. The lockdown and working out of the home, caused many people to reduce their wardrobes. Climate change is partially to blame. No longer being employed is also a reason why a few things stay in closets. Our less formal way of dressing is yet another. I feel now I might have passed the need to buy more. Well, almost. That’s good, because much of the clothing on the market is made of lower quality fabrics.

I would like my elimination to be complete. After all, how many celadon serving dishes does one woman need? On the other hand, I will continue to hang on to the hand-painted, blue and white dishes that remain wrapped in newsprint in two boxes on the floor of my closet. Marie might tell me that because of they are in boxes shows they do not give you joy. If I drag Martha Stewart into the conversation, she might say, “Oh, they’re perfect for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Treat yourself.” My daughter already advised me to use them. My maternal grandmother would say, “Save for good.”

But I don’t want to sell or give away furnishings, except to my own adult kids. I have made a will and created a health care proxy. I think that now is the time to create an inventory. Frankly, I fear dying in my sleep and leaving problems behind me.

I’m not being morbid, but, realistic, although it is difficult to face one’s limits. It’s even better to prepare for the worst. So, next week, I will start my inventory. I will give a copy to my daughter, who is my executrix. I will put another with my other legal papers. I will not buy any thing else for the house.

Do I still get “the gimmes”? Sure. I love it when a company whose products I like sends a catalog that has nothing to temp me. Resisting adding to the things I own gives me joy.

Speaking of joy, if you have not made a will and do not have a health care proxy, make one. The peace of mind is worth the price.

Susan Wozniak has been a case worker, a college professor and journalist. She is a mother and grandmother.


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