Last winter, before my mom moved out of the house she’d lived in for the past 40 years, my sister and I found ourselves in her basement opening a box on which someone had scrawled “CREEPY DOLLS.” They weren’t lying.
Over the course of several long afternoons we opened many more boxes. What a waste! All these useful doilies, lapel pins, letter openers, broken pairs of glasses, magazines saved for unspecified reasons, and pewter pitchers had been down here all these years without us ever knowing it.
We found the weird (a broken gold tooth), the humorous (my grocer grandpa’s copy of Profitable Meat Cutting and a manual on packaging iceberg lettuce), the scandalous (a program from a Sally Rand fan dance show), and the heartbreaking (wedding dresses and commemorative plaques, of such moment to their former owners, which now no one argued to keep).
We found more than one set of silver plated flatware, which had signified to my great-grandparents, most of whom were born in other countries, that they had become somebody in America. A few generations later and my sister and I didn’t even have room for their stuff in our own homes.
Veteran radio and tv broadcaster Alison Stewart chronicles, in amusing detail, our national struggle to come to terms with our possessions in Junk: Digging through America’s Love Affair with Stuff, a book which begins with Stewart’s experience of clearing out her own parents’ basement. Overwhelmed, she realizes that letting go of such an accumulation requires passage through each stage of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s famous grief model, and sums up the experience with an invocation of comedian George Carlin’s classic stand-up routine “A Place for My Stuff,” in which he concludes that “a house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it.” Read More..