Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Decluttering life to an extreme


     What’s here today is gone tomorrow. There’s more to life than plastic, disposable and temporary.
     Environmentally responsible living—that’s not what I mean. People are catching on to grabbing the canvas shopping bags before leaving for the supermarket, and consolidating errands down to a single trip.
     Nor am I against streamlining accumulated stuff with heave -outs to charities and extra cash from online sales.
     My beef is with the folks who take de-cluttering to a higher level. The past is thrown away in a flash.
     I am referring to people who dispose of family albums, portraits and heirlooms with little regard for the deceased. Obviously, the individual has released himself of his earthly possessions, and the items themselves are not to be coveted.  However, it’s the shared stories that will not get passed along to the younger generation rooting them in family traditions.
     There is such rich history to be cherished, and I am saddened when I come upon such items at a flea market. I pick up a portrait and examine the eyes staring back at me. I stop to thank the unknown person for his or her life on earth. Surely, it was a worthy existence.
     What is it teaching our children about valuing old items and loving dented, bruised and stained objects?  It is so easy to get into the tossing away habit when something is useless to us—in some cases throwing away people that no longer can help us. It is rather selfish.
     Two antique dealers went to a house sale that literally broke their hearts. They noticed a handmade cherry hope chest. The beautifully designed piece was made early in the 20th century by someone in the family with skilled woodworking abilities. Apparently, there was to be a move to a new location. The chest belonged among assorted unwanted possessions tagged useless.
     The dealers were shocked when they opened the chest and there on the inside cover was a carved plaque that gave personal meaning to the piece. It had a name, date and reason for making it in the first place. When they asked what was to become of it, the owner said that the chest would go to the curb free for the taking at the end of the sale day.
     The two looked at each other— glad that they had brought their truck, and took away the chest to give to a newly married son as a gift. Local history was preserved for the very small amount of money offered. The dealers were certain that they had saved an antique that was destined for unknown waters.
     I know a woman who purposely goes to yard sales and flea markets with the intent of buying family Bibles that leave behind a genealogy that may never be documented otherwise. Those musty Bibles are sold cheaply, too, —the truth be known, dealers would no doubt gladly give these books away. Her money goes a long way on a morning’s adventure. She keeps the Bibles on the shelves in her family room as a reminder of the past, present and future connecting together in the unknown stories of strangers. I should ask her what she tells her grandchildren about her collection.
     A lady regularly watches out her picture window on trash day for her neighbors to unload unwanted goodies on the curb. Last week she spied a pair of lamps. She decided to pass them on to a young couple new to the area without a lot of furniture. She played it forward I suppose you could say.
      What memories are hidden in the spoon now a silver ring on my finger? Creative artists make jewelry and mobiles from the mismatched silver they find discarded. I imagine the daily conversations while eating from that silverware collecting assorted joys and sorrows.
     Those clever artists that design fabric purses and shawls out of clothing they pick up at the Salvation Army or out of grandma’s attic are passing on reconstructed items with life flowing through them. The threads of a beautiful life are now woven into a new existence.
     It is wonderful when older folks realistically take stock of their valuables and give away a collectible specifically to a family member or friend—someone who shows interest and love for the particular piece. Together they can share in the joy right now. One by one as items are let go, the new owner hears how it came to be in the owner’s possession in the first place. At least the recipient will house it with pride, and it won’t be in a yard sale any time soon.
     Others label their valuables with the sole purpose of declaring where each piece will reside when their estate is divided. It might cause a lot less friction between siblings, too, to have those emotional decisions made for them.
     An old postcard links someone to a particular place at a certain time. Collectors have got to be in heaven when they unearth a treasure trove of writings in a series of correspondence back in the day. Texting is not the same breed as down to earth old-fashioned letter writing recorded for posterity in cursive handwriting no less.
     New is great; old is classic. Give an heirloom a chance to be included in the future, too. Save the pieces of the puzzle before they scatter lost forever.