Opinion

COLUMN: What really matters in the end

“Clutter in its highest and most organized form is called collecting,” said Ada Louise Huxtable. I would add to that, “Clutter in its lowest and most disorganized form can turn into hoarding,” a growing issue, especially amongst isolated seniors searching for connection. This column is about collecting, not hoarding.

Broadly speaking, there are three types of collectors. Minimalists avoid collecting much of anything except for a few carefully chosen items that enhance their open space. Quasi-designers create their spaces to what is trending, e.g. Martha Stewart’s interiors. Collectors fill their spaces with items that have value, be it financial or eclectically varied (stuff you like).

I definitely belong to the eclectic group. My own growing stockpile includes what I’ve inherited, or chose to keep from departed loved ones. This includes family photo albums, a silver service set, and 30 gold-rimmed bone china dinner plates with tiny pink Primroses, which you cannot put in the dishwasher.

My kids don’t want this stuff, including the beautifully made, well-worn furniture from the “olden days”. They grew up in a disposable society, plus their current limited square footage does not allow for large furniture pieces.

What to do with it all? I am slowly trying to declutter, not because I’m moving, but just so my kids won’t have to deal with all these things that mean nothing to them. I’ve already gone through 20+ photo albums from departed family members, keeping only pictures of people. I threw out all their travel photos which only meant something to them. I kept the albums of our ancestors and hope to get those photos scanned to disks.

Now I must start on my own stash of 60-years worth of photos, most of which are not in albums. It should be a fun project as it will take me down memory lane — meaning it will take a long time.

I have two kids, one who likes old stuff and one who doesn’t. This made it a bit easier because I asked them to choose what they would like after I’ve gone to the great beyond. My taste is something between shabby-chic and funk, which my son seems to have inherited. My daughter is more the Martha Stewart type and was worried I might leave her “lamp-lady”, a 6 ft. scantily clad Turkish belly dancer holding up two electric globes. No problem, son likes it.

What surprised me was what my daughter wanted. It was a tiny brass turtle with a shell that opens. My mother kept her stamps in that turtle, and so it reminds her of her grandmother who she loved so much. In the end, it seems the most value is in the memories, the sentiments often sparked by seemingly unimportant items.

I suggest talking to your family and friends about your stuff. It might even initiate other more difficult conversations. Then you will be free to sell or donate what’s left to folks who need it.

Be aware that the longer you wait, the harder it gets. You can start by doing a room at a time. Or even a drawer at a time. Now I, too, must practice what I preach.

ML Burke retired from the health sector to work on issues such as affordable housing. She sits on the Delta Seniors Planning Team and the BC Seniors Advocate’s Council of Advisors.

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