One of the biggest things that I’ve noticed after completing 100 moves is the degree to which our clients accumulate objects that evoke important memories from their lives. I feel like this differs from people in my own generation, who seem to prioritize “collecting” memories through experiences, rather than collecting things.
Personally, I associate a big portion of who I am with where I’ve been or what I’ve accomplished up to this point in my life. I worked in television broadcasting as a feature reporter for a sports network and as an assistant Director of Broadcasting in professional baseball for the Toledo Mud Hens (made world-famous by Jamie Farr in the show M.A.S.H. during the 70s and 80s).
I danced professionally in Arizona, Colorado and Wyoming – a childhood dream of mine. I also traveled to China to study dance in graduate school. During undergrad, I traveled to Australia on my own at 19 and later returned to backpack with my husband in 2005. These were significant experiences that shaped my life. And then, there were some experiences that had an important influence even if I don’t remember them so fondly. After my mother’s motorcycle accident (the day after I graduated from college), I moved home to assist with IVs and wound-care instead of sending out resumes for my first “real” job (giving me life’s first glimpse of caring for your loved ones in ways I never imagined). What did I save from all these experiences? Mostly photographs. Should I be filling my own home with furnishings and memorabilia that my sons could inherit for their own homes some day? I’m hoping not. I’m hoping their own styles and experiences will be what they furnish their houses with to make them homes.
My dad, on the other hand, is a baby-boomer whose parents grew up in the Depression. He was deeply attached to his belongings when we helped him and my mom downsize. This was due to the fact that those belongings were a symbol of how he had evolved and who he had become.
I remember fondly the art in our house growing up. It was eclectic, and every time someone new came over we didn’t really give a tour of the house they had custom built, but rather the art on the walls, explaining the unique place a piece had been purchased, or how we knew the photographer or the ceramic artist or the painter. This was incredibly important to my dad and his identity as an artist and published poet. The art also represented Dad’s trips and adventures – souvenirs of life’s journey with my mom. I believe the artwork helped define who he was. So, when my brother and I didn’t have a place in our homes for those favorite items when they downsized, I can only imagine it stung a little.
Don’t get me wrong – there were plenty of items I prioritized keeping during their downsize. I made space for my grandmother’s cedar chest and piano, my mother’s cabinet (hand-made and still standing on its original wooden wheels from her hometown of Hartford City, Indiana), as well as a rocking chair...or two. We also have my husband’s great-great-aunt Helene’s 100+ year old linen press from his mother’s family and parents’ downsize as well as the china cabinet my husband made in shop class in the 10th grade. He repeatedly tries to put it curbside for free due to its weight and size. Ha! When he talks about giving it away, I argue back, “You made this with your own hands! One of our sons might like to have it someday." So, I don’t want to make it seem like we are without family heirlooms or antiques and have nothing of “sentimental family value” (we’ll talk more about that in another blog soon.)
Let’s take a look at one more generation. My grandmother – born in 1930, grew up during the Depression, a time when the value of the dollar looked a little different. She and my grandfather had to work tirelessly for the things that filled their home. If they were going to spend more than a few bucks on something, they had to make certain those items or furnishings really mattered. It was a time when prioritizing what you purchased was at the core of financial planning.
One time, my grandmother shared a story about a clock she loved having in her home. It was a sweet musical clock that needed to be wound with a miniature skeleton key, and was of significant importance to her. When I asked about the clock that always seemed to be front and center in my grandparents’ house, I distinctly remember a twinkle in her eye. She told me that when she first laid eyes on this clock she knew she really wanted it. She also knew she could’ve just asked my grandpa for the clock and he would’ve bought it, but instead she saved, and saved, and saved while she was working at a local dress shop in Maumee, Ohio so that she could SURPRISE him with it.
The clock was only twenty-bucks at the time, but to them it was a LOT of money. In our current consumer society, we tend to spend more freely on what we want versus what we need. In my opinion, to truly earn what you have and sincerely be able to appreciate it looks a little bit different in this day and age. She said she remembered feeling so proud the day she bought it. The clock became a symbol of a surprise and love for my grandpa, and of perseverance in her work ethic. Needless to say, a clock that doesn’t really fit my “décor” or “style” immediately became deeply important to me. It doesn’t really matter what it looks like – it matters how hard she worked for it. This clock really meant something to her because in her mind’s eye it was a thing of beauty and it really means something to me because it reminds me of the person she was. It helps me have a deeper appreciation for my grandmother and her values, and I love knowing that about her.
Shaping our identities through experiences isn’t better or more important than accumulating things that represent who we are. It’s just a different approach to living. Reflecting on these qualities that make us individually and generationally unique helps us better understand our clients and how they might be feeling about letting so many things go during a downsizing transition. And frankly, I think if we all kept this in mind when chatting with our extended family or older generations, it would certainly make appreciating their life experience a bit more enjoyable too. Celebrating the memory of a “thing” or furnishing is, in itself, an enjoyable experience.