Monday, September 11, 2017

Time for a Fresh Start? Clutter Counseling and Tchotchke Management


As we go through life, we all accumulate stuff—art work, knickknacks, souvenirs and gifts of various shapes and sizes, kitchen gadgets, tools, children’s old school papers.  The Yiddish word “tchotchke” captures the haphazard collection of objects that graces nearly every surface in our house and fills our storage areas.   Through the convergence of recent events in our lives, we are taking a new look at our clutter.

After her mother died in May, Judy had the job of clearing out her apartment.  For those of you who had the opportunity to visit Avis in her home, you probably remember the decorations—picture arrangements on the walls, display cases filled with objects that evoked memories for her, décor items on table tops and fireplace mantles.  The apartment was not cluttered—everything was neatly arranged, but it was definitely full.

For many people, these objects are mementos of a time and place, a link to moments in our past.  Downsizing often means stripping away many of these objects, particularly when people are moving into assisted living or other specialized housing.  When Avis moved from her condo into the addition we built onto our house, and which she helped design, she was pleased that she did not have to get rid of much of her stuff, because besides her two room apartment plus room-size closet on the main floor, there was a three room apartment below her that she filled with pictures, tchotchkes and furniture.  For the seven years she lived with us she was comfortably surrounded with her own belongings.

Another reason people hold on to these various objects is to pass them down to children and grandchildren.  When Judy began sorting through things after Avis’s death, she contacted her siblings and all of Avis’s grandchildren to see if they wanted any of the pictures, knickknacks or furniture.  A couple of the grandchildren were interested in an item or two, which Judy shipped off to them, but there was little interest overall.  A recent New York Times article described a similar story, that children of baby boomers have little interest in the furniture or stuff of their parents, even heirlooms such as fine china that may have some value.

Following Avis’s death, we also began re-evaluating our own situation.  We asked ourselves if two people really needed a house with 7 bedrooms and 6 ½ baths.  The house is full during the holidays with our children and grandchildren, and we have occasional visits from them and from friends during the year, but otherwise it’s just the two of us.  We had talked about moving closer to our youngest son and his family, and so we decided to put the house up for sale.  We will be downsizing, possibly even into an apartment while we take the time to decide upon a new house.

That decision brought us face-to-face with our own Tchotchkes.   The down side of a big house is that there are lots of places to store things conveniently out of sight.  We asked our kids what they might want, and there was little interest, even for treasures of theirs we had saved for years such as legos and baseball cards.  So we have begun to sort and ask ourselves—Is this something we need?  Some objects have sentimental value, for example, a glass elephant we bought in Murano over 20 years ago, but most of it is just a tchotchke, occupying space but with no functional value or meaning. 

So we have decided to make a fresh start.  We will get rid of anything that doesn’t “speak” to us and most of the furniture, taking only the basics.  The furniture we carefully selected for this house is unlikely to fit well in our next house.  Besides, we like the idea of getting new furniture and not being weighed down by lots of stuff.  We will still have photos and some objects with special meaning, but we don’t need nearly as much as we have now.  We have moved some things out already (we’re kind of waiting for Goodwill to ask us to stop coming) and will do the rest when the house sells. 

We bought this house ten years ago, and it has served us well as we transitioned into grandparenthood, and as a touchstone for our adult children to be able to gather together.  And it allowed Judy’s mother to have what she called her own “long term care insurance”…her apartment here.  But now it’s time for us to move on and for another family to pick up the baton.

If you know anyone who wants a 7 bedroom, 6 ½ bath house that can accommodate lots of people and things, send them our way.



Reference:  Tom Verde, “Aging Parents with Lots of Stuff, and Children Who Don’t Want It.”  The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/18/your-money/aging-parents-with-lots-of-stuff-and-children-who-dont-want-it.html

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