The elderly guy who lived two houses down (for the last 45 years) passed away two weeks ago.
His grown children have been emptying the old homestead for the past week. See that Santa? I saw that Santa on the old guy’s front lawn every December (OK, I’ve only lived here for seven years, but still: it’s one of my landmarks). I’m surprised that the kids don’t treat this Santa like an heirloom — it’s vintage! And your dad loved that damn Santa!!
Just goes to show you. Everybody you know secretly hates your stuff.
Which brings me to the philosophical question of the day: What makes an heirloom for chrissake? What makes the cut when you’re sorting out your treasures?
In my on-going quest to de-cluttermy life, and beat my non-existent heirs to the punch, these are some of the heirloom-quality objects did not make the cut:
From my shrine to my favorite bird: a Blue Jay planter that I got on eBay ten years ago — it’s a PARMA by AAI Made in Japan, c. 1960 and the cool thing is that it’s life size. This planter sat on a shelf in my kitchen, above my table, when I lived in my one-bedroom apartment in that little village on the shore of the Long Island Sound called Pelham, my adopted hometown and subject of my book When Wanderers Cease to Roam. That apartment was my nest, and this is how I feathered it — with the next best thing to having my own pet Jay. I now live in Top Cat’s house, and his backyard is lousy with Blue Jays.
In the late 1980s there used to be a shop off Fifth Ave in New York where Nelson Rockefeller sold reproductions of his prized porcelains. I was working nearby as the concierge at the very swanky Saint Regis Hotel (I spoke French and at the time it was my only marketable skill). I wore a tuxedo to work every day, which was very spiffy, but I also had to wear a name tag. I was worried that I’d always have jobs where I had to wear a name tag. I remember the day I bought this horsey knick-knack. I don’t know why, but paying what was then (and still is) a significant chunk of money (if I remember right, it was $70) to buy this reproduction of a Chinese export horse from the Chien Lung Period (1736 – 1796) made in Portugal by the famous Mottahedeh factory made me feel like an heiress; as if merely by the act of buying this object I had acquired something that gave me class. It was my one and only Gucci moment, except for when I bought an expensive Mark Cross wallet later that year (which I used for years until it was worn out — I loved that wallet). Soon after I bought it I realized the fallacy of its allure, but it’s a great looking horse (it has a blue mane!) and it’s always had pride of place on my bookshelf. I want to give it a good home before one of my cats finally knocks it off and I have to see it smashed to bits.
It had been a tough two years and I was more than happy to get the hell out of Africa at the end of my Peace Corps assignment. And on one of my last days in the dusty, dangerous, dismal city of Niamey, Niger I saw a man from Mali on the street selling wooden masks. I thought, Well, I don’t have one single African souvenir to display forever on my wall to announce that I am a world traveler…I might as well buy a mask. This one that I chose has a bird figure perched on the forehead of this face and I liked that. I paid, maybe, $5.00 for it, and since 1982 it’s mostly been stashed away in closets (when it wasn’t packed away in a box in my mother’s basement). It’s never hung on any wall in any place that I’ve ever lived in. I’m not the kind of person who has to display tchochkahs acquired in foreign lands.
This is one of the neatest things I’ve ever found in a thrift shop. It’s a hand-made wooden box that I found in the mid-1990s at my local Salvation Army Thrift Shop. It’s about the size of a shoe box, and it has ten little doors on it, each one fastened with a different kind of brass latch, hook, snap, or clasp. I call it The Buckle Box. I imagine that there was a little boy who liked to get into things, and he had a doting Grandpa who made this so his darling grandson would always have a toy that would keep him busy. I wonder if that little boy’s mother, who was cleaning out his room when he left for college, regrets giving this away. I wonder if that little boy, who now might be a father himself, remembers his favorite Buckle Box, and maybe he’s made one for his own little boy, or girl. It completely slipped my mind to give The Buckle Box to any of my nieces or nephews when they were the right age.
These are some of the things that have become clutter in my life. Not junk: clutter.
Junk is stuff that nobodyhas any use for (a broken Walkman, very old ice skates, rusty metal filing cabinets, Hartmann luggage from the ’80s).
Clutter is stuff that has immense, abiding sentimental significance to a person you no longer want to be.
That’s how I decide what stays and what goes, whether it reminds me too much of someone I don’t want to be beholden to any more. The things that I’ve listed here are just a smattering of the stuff that’s in our guest room, which I’m using as a holding area until we head to the thrift shop that benefits and animal shelter in upstate New York called The Heart of the Catskills. I don’t think I’m being delusional when I think that somebody, somewhere might find a place in their heart for these things and would want to help cats and dogs (and the occasional goat) with their purchase.
This is what has made the cut:
A set of stainless steel cocktail forks from the ’50s that has Niagara Falls printed on each little bitty plastic handle.
I’m still the kind of person who likes to spear her hors d’ouvres with a fancy cocktail fork (comes in four attractive colors).
Dear readers: Please post your stories of what it is that you own and love that you hope your heirs won’t toss in the dumpster. One thing I know about us: We all find each others’ prized possessions fascinating: Please.