I remember traveling to Europe with my mother and my sister, Manette, in the Spring of 1980. We had just graduated, she from high school and me from college. This was to be our graduation gift. We had joined a tour that was to begin in California This was to be our one and only experience in a tour group. We quickly learned that the regimented frenetic rush from one site to the next, staying long enough for a few camera clicks was just not our idea of exploring the world.
The tour group was composed mostly of people my mother’s age, with a sprinkling of awkward teens like us. Through the trip, we oohed and ahhed over the sites, soaked up the foreign-ness of the culture and customs, and indulged on the varied cuisines. We also noticed some smaller details.
A few ladies washed their hair only every so often. They timed these tasks when the hotel we would stay in had a salon. Their hair was always perfectly coiffed. You have to understand, we came from a tropical country, where it was not unheard of to shower more than once a day.
They repeated their clothes! Living in a suitcase forced you to do that. We learned we had to wear our jeans more than once before we washed them on the tub at night. Again, in the tropics, we just could not do that without risking the social faux pas of body odor preceding us. What’s more, when you wash your clothes, they are usually dry within that morning from the heat. So, there is no excuse. But, not in the temperate climates, we learned.
They collected all sorts of things. Hummel figurines, demitasse spoons with the town or country’s emblem, key chains, fridge magnets, or whatever else was peddled by the tourist traps that draped around the major sites.
I had often wondered what happened after the gush of discovery, the lining up to pay, and the lugging around in suitcases. Over the years, I have been privy to a few kitchens and family rooms adorned with these memorabilia.
I have repeatedly asked to myself, “Then what?”
What does one do with these things? These collectibles? I am reminded of Roz Chast’s memoir, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, which is about taking care of her elderly parents on their last few years. She talked about having to close their apartment when they were finally moved to assisted living, but not before Roz had the gargantuan task of organizing, discarding, sorting, and discarding about 70 years of pack rats’ lives.
In the 31 years that I have been married, I did make a few attempts at collecting something. I figured it made for interesting conversation. I rationalized it would make for a novel side preoccupation, one I could call my own. I had collected vintage stamps and coins when I was in high school. (I was disappointed to hear later that my mother had given the entire collection away when she packed our home in Manila to renovate our house. I had married and moved to Toronto by then.) It all started when I found an old Japanese-made English teapot in an antiques store near Haliburton, Ontario.
I discovered that I was an efficient collector. It did not take long to accumulate a significant number of tea pots. I thought of how I might want to display them. But my abhorrence for the cluttered look prevented me. And so, I stopped. Cold.
I started asking myself, “What will happen to the teapots when I’m gone? My daughter would not care for so many. She likes tea, but not this much. Also, most homes have hot water dispensers now. So having to go through all that trouble to fill a kettle, boil the water and all that has become unnecessary.
When our daughter was growing up, she received a Barbie doll as a present. This was soon followed by another from a well-meaning relative who lived far away. Pretty soon, she had a few she could line up on a table. Some were considered “premium” for the outfit they were wearing. There were two I recalled that had the word “collectible” on their boxes. None of these mattered. Soon, all the Barbies were naked. And headless. The tiaras and other adornments were nowhere to be found. So much for this collection.
And then there were the cute huggable Beanie Babies. I learned that some families held parties just for the purpose of showing these accumulated cuddlies. They did fill our daughter’s bed for a brief period. Then they became soldiers in combat or imaginary hostages needing rescue missions. Needless to say, a few became casualties of war. There were those who came back sans limb, eyes, ears, or whiskers. So much for that collection too!
What happens when the world is overrun with beheaded Barbies, beanie babies with missing limbs, or discarded demitasse spoons? Can all the landfills of the world ever accommodate them once they have worn out their welcome? Would we need such expansive living spaces if we did not hoard so much?
I had said in my welcome to 2015 post that I would live the next 365 days with two important realizations. Well, here’s a third one that I started soon after I wrote that post. Simplify. Cull. De-clutter. De-bulk.
At first, it seemed like such a daunting task. But when I broke it down to one cabinet or drawer at a time, it became doable. Not insurmountable. And believe me! You could not imagine some of the things I found. My let’s-find-you-a-new-home pile was neck and neck with the recycle pile.
And, after each reorganized closet, ahh! The satisfaction!
P.S. I can’t help but wonder. I keep hearing about how, in spite of the U.S. Economy supposedly emerging from the abyss, with jobs available again, retailers for durable goods are still complaining. The GDP has still not improved. Could it be that the seemingly insatiable appetite for ownership of any and all merchandise dangled in front of us has finally waned? Has America gotten over the nouveau riche proclivities? Certainly, our children’s’ generation thinks nothing of all these trappings. Theirs is the generation that shares almost everything. Goodwill store finds are vintage. Mismatched table ware is au courant. Most don’t even want nor see the need to own their own vehicle. There’s always Uber or Lyft to take them places. I envy their lack of attachment.