When life is gone, stuff remains


Last week I was popping into a few antique stores in search of a modern-rustic (oxymoron?) spoon rack for the set of silver spoons I recently was given from my grandmother’s collection.  While in and out of the stores I noticed several signs for an estate sale nearby.  It was a beautiful sunny day, so I went.

When I first walked in the door I noticed the amazing view!  The house overlooked the escarpment and river – I was in the USA but I could see Canada clearly across the water.  I perused the entry table and saw several sets of silver spoons.  There must be a spoon rack!  I asked the first two estate sale workers I saw, but they were positive there was no spoon rack available.  Another speed bump in my search for what was apparently an elusive find, yet I continued on and decided to browse through the house (my true motivation was to just look at the house – it was grand and unlike other houses I had seen before).

It wasn’t long before I felt extremely uncomfortable.  It seemed pretty obvious that this was someone’s long-time home and I think it was pretty safe to assume that the person had passed as everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) was being sold.  For example, I saw a woman walk out with a plastic cutting board.

I felt like I was intruding into this person’s life.  I heard people laughing and balking over finding or not finding something – it all felt really disrespectful.  I kept thinking about who this person was as I trampled my unfamiliar feet through their bathrooms and hallways.  There were skis and snowboards, there was a meditation room, an office with a telescope – it seemed like an adventurous person had lived there.  There was a ton of possessions.  Clothing, kitchen ware, sofas, desks, lamps, silverware, pillows, books, movies, electronics – the list goes on.

Aside from feeling like I didn’t belong in the house looking at things that weren’t mine, the other major thought I had was how we really “can’t take it with us when we go”.  There was so much stuff!  I understand why a family would have a full estate sale, even down to the plastic cutting boards: it’s just too much!  How does one decide what to toss, donate or keep?  Memories are in everything we own.  It’s a huge job especially amid the sadness of losing a loved one.  Also, this stuff filled a mansion – how could anyone move it all?

I left the sale feeling very odd.  As I have tried to make sense of my mixed emotions that day, I have also been paring down my possessions.  I’ve been asking myself what to toss, donate or keep.  I have remembered things and felt emotions as I’ve gone through the items in my home.  I think that’s it – memories are in everything we own, but they are not physical.  We can take memories with us whether we have the stuff or not.

I hope that no one ever has to hold an estate sale for me.  I hope that I can find life and memory in people and relationships, and while stuff can be the vessel I use to make memories (like skis or a telescope), I hope I don’t ever put more value on it than on those in my life.

If a bunch of strangers do someday go through my things and make jokes or act disrespectfully in my home, I will come back as a ghost to scare them and their children.