In 27 years, my husband and I have filled a basement with stuff we do not need. Eleven years into retirement, there are still notebooks stamped IBM, filled with paper, needing a trip through the shredder.
There is an assortment of flower arranging paraphernalia, stashed on shelves from my days as an aspiring floral designer. The fantasy ended when, teetering on a ladder at balcony level, adding greenery to wedding flowers, I knew I was too old for ladder work and not talented enough to risk a fall.
In the basement, there are college cast-offs and lamps that do not work. Outdated electronic equipment gathers dust, and an exercise bicycle sits idle. It would take an NFL tackle with calves the size of hams to get the pedals moving.
In my younger days, I coveted “stuff,” brass candlesticks, a painting or two, an old wooden box to give a desk a pedigree. Now, age convinces me less is more. With grown children, long gone, I don’t need to store theme decorations for every event from Halloween to Valentine’s Day.
My friend, Allison, married 50-plus years, purged her house and moved with her husband to a lovely apartment with city skyline views.
She has one closet for dishes, linens and glass wear and one for her clothes. Allison, proud confronter of excess, shows off her personal closet as space for all seasonal clothing.
I am envious. Come autumnal weather, we drag a ladder to two small storage areas over closets and maneuver boxes of winter clothes to the floor. I pack up our summer “duds” and we reverse the process.
Every change-of-weather visit to those boxes is a reminder there are clothes I never wear, nostalgic pieces of a past life. Take the mother of-the bride or groom outfits, out-dated and needing slimmer hips than mine. Wrapped in tissue paper, they are moth-balled and transported every year, down the ladder and back up again.
When I visit an antiques fair or flea market, I am sobered by the end of life remnants up for grabs. Dealers buy contents of emptied apartments, drive south and hang vintage fur stoles and monogrammed bathrobes on a sale rack.
The most heart-wrenching cast-offs are photographs, diplomas and old Christmas decorations, orphaned once families can no longer claim them.
Reading of estate auctions, we are reminded even the rich and famous leave behind the trappings of their lives, then considered fair game by strangers who bid on everything from priceless jewelry to oil paintings of dogs.
Brooke Astor, whose husband left her $200 million dollars to give away, was New York City’s grand dame and favorite philanthropist. She died, living past 100, leaving the contents of a fourteen-room Park Avenue apartment and a wealth of art and fine porcelains from her estate overlooking the Hudson River.
In all, her earthly possessions numbered nearly 1,000 objects, including the uniforms of her household staff (which you’d think came with the job.) This past week, Sotheby’s auctioned off the lot.
Brooke Astor’s favorite charities will benefit, and, so, I hope will my resolve to sweep clean our basement.
By confessing the character flaw of procrastination, I have no choice but to mend my ways. Still, I swear if there is an age-spotted bridal gown in the cedar chest downstairs, it will be spared.
Years ago in my hometown, a new wife added her deceased mother-in-law’s wedding dress to basement cast-offs stacked at the curb. The local gentry were horrified! Her husband, from an old family, had married “a Yankee with ‘Nawthun’ ways,” they fumed. She was snubbed like drug store chicken salad.
All I’m after is an obituary written with kindness and the words “pack rat” not showing up in print.
Judy Elliott is an award-winning columnist from Marietta.