For the second time, I watched a two part Oprah show about one older couple who for 30 years had hoarded everything. It was hard to watch this couple reveal their lives which were bound up with stuff. She would buy gifts for her children and grandchildren, but when it came time to give the gifts, they couldn’t be found in the mounds of collected purchases. The amount of items in their 3000 square foot house that was saleable filled a 10,000 square foot warehouse. That doesn’t include all the stuff that was trashed and donated. The warehouse yard sale lasted 4 days and netted $13,000 so you know it was a lot of things. Unfortunately, I could relate.
First, let me say that it wasn’t that bad for me, but it was much too close for comfort. My husband and I both loved to collect things. I went for furniture and books. He went for paperwork and tools and we both went for anything else that touched our hands. Now, having said that, let me say that I had lost both my parents and Leo’s grandmother had lived with us before she died; so, a lot of the stuff was inherited. But we had also kept a lot of our household items for our kids when they went out on their own. I was sure one of them would love the avocado green blender that was ours during the early marriage years. After all, it worked perfectly, was in good condition, and it would be free.
They didn’t want it as well as anything else we had saved for them turning up their noses at that old stuff. So, when Leo was in the early stages of his terminal illness, he and I started going through the boxes and boxes and more boxes of stuff. We sorted by piles of trash, keep, give away and the keep pile was to be very small. We donated most of these household goods, which turned out to be about three station wagon loads filled to the brim, to Catholic Charities. Near the end of this purge, I asked the lady what they did with donated items. She explained that they sponsored families who relocated here from other countries, primarily from Eastern Europe. Those families weren’t allowed to move into an apartment until they had sufficient household items to make life viable for them. I was stunned immediately grasping how necessary some of the kitchen items we gave away were to the recipients. She went on to say how grateful Catholic Charities was to receive all the nice items we had donated. I was so humbled since I thought of it all as trash and just wanted to be rid of it. It made me ashamed of how far I had traveled from the reality of most peoples’ lives, but also very grateful that we could help those in need.
It makes you think of the value we place on “stuff” holding on as though there would be no tomorrow if we didn’t have it. The reality is that our trash is someone else’s necessity. Someone might not have a home because we are holding on to things. It does make you think.
This is a long story which spans nearly ten years of my life so I have broken it down into three parts and the realizations that came with each stage. Part II will follow tomorrow.