By Marni Jameson
Occasionally, I write a column that pulls a ripcord of replies. A piece I wrote several weeks ago about my humbling exchange with a 90-year-old reader, who graciously chewed me out for making her feel guilty about clinging to her beloved belongings, was one of them.
She was responding to a prior column, where I’d suggested people edit their homes down to a few representative exhibits of their lives. She took offense. She loves living in her “museum of a life well lived.” Who am I to take that away and deprive her of enjoying them in the years she has left?
Well, you can understand where that put me. Right in my place. Sometimes I must seem as heartless as Chainsaw Al.
I wrapped up that column with non-material gift ideas to give elderly loved ones who have too much stuff, but apparently, the subject wasn’t closed. So, this week I am going to get out of my own way, and let my readers tell you what they think.
I am glad you were called out by that 90-year old lady, because I also was rather insulted by your “less of you” column. You hit a nerve. Very few things are more personal than how you run your home. My home has always had lots of photos and original art displayed. They bring joy to me. Like your new friend, my house is neat and tidy. And while some visitors have commented on the “busy walls” most seem to like it. But I don’t decorate for them. My home is mine and I don’t really care what a professional decorator may think of it.
But, be assured, since I have helped clear out five houses, my own home is constantly undergoing “stuffage reassessment.” I do not want to saddle anyone with any more of my treasures than necessary. I turn this into a game. I pretend a new visitor is coming and walk through my house looking at it through these fresh eyes to see what needs to go. Or I play just-one-item, where I walk into a room and get rid of one thing – a book, a DVD, the other day it was a stack of baskets.
These items go into the big go-away box in the garage, where they get a second chance. If I don’t fetch them out after two or three months, they go for good.
Dear Patty, Thanks for sharing a kinder, gentler way to purge. Downsizing is like dieting. You have to find what works for you.
I loved your column responding to your 90-year-old reader. I am an 80-year-old reader and I, too, love my things. As I dust, memories pour back: Who gave me this as a wedding present 59 years ago? Which son saved his pennies to buy me this little lamb? Oh, here’s the clown my husband got me to bring a smile to my face in a down time.
But, and this is a big but, I have started to clean out the attic. Those are the things one can part with. After all, they have been out of sight for years, so how could you miss them?
To do this, you need the right mental attitude. The minute the thought that you’d better get rid of the deadwood crosses your mind, get up and do it! You also absolutely must find someone to help who is not emotionally attached to your things, who can be ruthless and discard without commentary about the who, what, where, when and why you have them.
Dear Anne, Congratulations on getting started. Now, when you start cleaning out the downstairs, don’t put the stuff in the attic.
This letter gives us a glimpse into the hearts of our elders. I hope, when the day comes, it will help us deal with their nests with compassion rather than resentment. My mother once commented, that, based on her observations of older friends, if you don’t clean out your stuff by the time you turn 70, you are not likely to get it done. I’d better get going!
Dear Connie, We all should!
I loved the discourse with the 90-year-old lady who lives surrounded by her memories. I am 78 and my husband is 80. We love the things around us, but a few years back we began asking our children and grandchildren to not give us anything we had to dust.
It has worked! For Christmas and birthdays, we receive movie passes and gift cards to our favorite restaurants. The only thing we have asked for and not received is more help around the house. I doubt there are any older parents out there who wouldn’t appreciate that. Our endurance has decreased, and we don’t bend as well anymore. We can get down, but it’s a struggle to get up.
Dear Kids Everywhere, Are you listening?
My dear grandmother could have written that email to you if she were still here. Cleaning out her home was like going through my life while reliving hers.
In her later years, I took her to tea, to her favorite restaurants or to visit people she couldn’t get to on her own. My husband helped maintain her home. I would stop in on my way home from work every day after my grandpa passed to make sure she wasn’t too lonely.
I would love it if you would continue to use your platform to write about the need for elders to be connected. Some have family members who are near but who don’t make the time to share a meal once a week or check the gutters.
Dear Jill, Thanks, I will.
Syndicated columnist Marni Jameson is the author of three home and lifestyle books, including Downsizing the Family Home – What to Save, What to Let Go (Sterling Publishing 2016). You may reach her at www.marnijameson.com.