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Posts Tagged ‘stuff’

After 99 years, dismantling a life

In aging, antiques, art, beauty, behavior, culture, design, domestic life, family, life, seniors, urban life on June 15, 2013 at 12:50 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

An auctioneer and her assistants scan the crow...

An auctioneer and her assistants scan the crowd for bidders. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She moved onto our top-floor apartment hallway five years ago, forking over a cool $500,000 for a three-bedroom home. She dressed well, had her hair done, and had a ferocious grande dame quality to her.

She was then merely 95, a former interior designer and survivor of two marriages. She had, as they say, “married well.”

I knew her name. We all did. We also knew her live-in nurses, forever scurrying to the laundry room.

While we were away recently for two weeks, she died.

This week the auctioneer came from the Bronx and his men started packing up the remnants of her life into boxes for sale to strangers: china, crystal, oil paintings, chairs, tables, rugs.

I knocked on the apartment door and asked if I could take a look, as it’s now up for sale and one of the building’s most coveted, large and light, with terrific Hudson river and Manhattan views.

Small world — her grand-daughter-in-law was there and turns out to be someone I see at my jazz dance class every week.

It was a sad, odd thing to watch someone’s belongings being carted away, to be sold at auction in — of all places — Atlanta. She had some lovely things, especially the paintings. There were early photos of her.

One of the many challenges of having no children and no nieces or nephews, is whom, if anyone, to leave our things to — or the proceeds from the sale of those things — when we die. I’m at an age when I still very much appreciate beautiful objects and acquiring them here and there.

But, having had to move my own mother into a nursing home directly from the hospital with only a week to ditch  all her lovely things, (or store them, or move a fraction of it into her small new room), I’ve lived the horror and sadness and snap decision-making of selecting/tossing/selling stuff it’s taken decades of taste, income and pleasure to acquire and enjoy.

The marble bust of her grand-mother? Kept. All her many textiles, collected across the world as she traveled alone for decades? In my garage now.

It meant chattering away to her local auctioneer picking through her stuff as if this was not exquisitely uncomfortable and painful. To him, it was just another day of work. To me, a situation unimaginable barely six months earlier on my last visit to her home, a six-hour flight away from mine.

It also meant going through things with my mother, one of the most private and uncommunicative people I know  — holding up for her decision everything from a black Merry Widow corset to her gorgeous red leather knee-high Cossack-style boots. Her Greek texts and travel souvenirs.

My garage now holds her collection of beautiful Peruvian and Bolivian mantas and Indian cottons and silks, her molas from the San Blas Islands.

A Kuna woman displays a selection of molas for...

A Kuna woman displays a selection of molas for sale at her home in the San Blas Islands. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When her mother died, having simply ignored the tedious task of paying income tax on her significant wealth to any form of government for decades, there was very little left. I will not be inheriting anything from my grandmother’s estate. I can visit a museum in Toronto to see her former armoire.

Nor will I inherit from my mother, I suspect, for reasons too grim and arcane to discuss here.

I’ve told my father the few pieces of his art and furniture that I hope he’ll leave to me. But who knows?

It’s all stuff, in the end.

Unlike Egyptian kings, we’re not going to be buried with it.

Have you been through this process?

How do you plan to dispose of your stuff when that day comes?

Needs Versus Wants — When Is Enough Enough?

In antiques, art, beauty, domestic life, life, Money on October 25, 2011 at 12:09 am
One of the entrances to the Retiro Subway Stat...

A subway station in Buenos Aires...a place I very much want to visit someday! Image via Wikipedia

Great piece in The New York Times by a certified financial planner in Park City, Utah:

One of the most challenging personal finance issues we all face is the ever-expanding definition of “need.” Things we once considered clear luxuries have somehow becomes necessities, often without any consideration of how the change in status happened.

Cars that seemed just fine now seem old fashioned. Then there are children and their cellphones. Only a few years ago it would’ve seemed outlandish for 14-year-olds to need one at all, let alone the latest iPhone.

Achieving clarity about the difference between our needs and wants remains one of the biggest challenges in personal finance and a tremendous source of potential conflict within families. While simple in theory, the calculation is much more complex in practice.

One of the most discouraging parts of modern life seems to be this never-ending sense that we should want more.

And a front-page piece in The Wall Street Journal, examines how much less Americans are buying.

I’ve lived in a one-bedroom apartment, with limited closet space, (which I share and in which I work), since 1989. There just isn’t a lot of room for a lot of stuff. I admit it, we do have several storage lockers…

But I’m not typically crazed about buying more stuff. I hate malls, don’t really find shopping very interesting and have been living, since losing my staff job in 2006, on less than a third of what I then earned — while all our costs have risen considerably, whether bridge tolls, gas or food.

My greatest indulgence is objects for our home, whether the folk art black horse I bought last month in Ontario or the transferware plates I collected in the 1990s before they became trendy and expensive. I look at all those plates and think – really? Then we had a party last week with 34 guests and I had plenty of tableware and serving pieces and was happy not to resort to Chinet or paper.

We only upgraded last year to a flat-screen television — which Jose bought while I was away, knowing I’d say (truthfully) we did not need a new TV and our huge black 1988-Sony Trinitron was just fine. Which it was.

So it’s an interesting battle for any of us with disposable income (and deeply grateful for it!) — what do we really need and what do we (only) want?

And when is it OK to give in to the latter?

I’m at a point in my life I want, more than anything, things or experiences that are damn expensive. Because we’re lucky enough to own (and maintain) the basics, whether a good laptop or decent cookware.

But I seriously crave annual (or more) overseas travel, although I can’t say I need it.

In a weird way, I sort of like not having a ton of money — precisely because obsessing about buying more and more stuff is really not workable. We drive a paid-off vehicle and live well in a small-but-lovely home we own, (albeit with a mortgage.) I’m still able to save 15 to 20 percent of my diminished income every year. (We also have no kids, which saves us $10,000 per child annually.)

I’m also at a point in my life, mid-50s, where the things I most want are not things one can actually buy.

– I’d really like to find a way to double, if not triple my income in order to truly beef up our retirement savings.

– I’d like my half-brother, after years of refusing to acknowledge my existence, to get a grip and deal.

– I’d like my mother to realize the three women currently showering her with attention, (she is addled, starved for attention, isolated, old and rich), may not be quite as benignly devoted as she is persuaded they are…

And so on.

What you want more than anything right now?

What do you need?

Or is it also something you can’t obtain with money?

How Our Stuff Defines Us

In antiques, art, behavior, children, domestic life, family, life on March 6, 2011 at 8:34 am
Tie dye dresses drying

Mom loves textiles, color, antiques....Image via Wikipedia

A few days ago, I sat in a room in a nursing home with my mother, sorting through boxes of her belongings, from books on theology to a black lace merry widow corset.

When you move into one room, you’re quickly forced to shed about 95% of the belongings that have defined you, and your taste, your memories and history. If, as many of us do, we acquire and keep objects and clothes and shoes and accessories, we choose and keep them for a reason, maybe several.

Often reasons quite unknown to anyone else.

Everything I pulled out for our mutual decision making made me wonder — who is this woman?

At least she’s still alive and we had a chance to make those decisions, however wrenching, together.

I learned more about my Mom in those four hours than in the past, very private, four decades as we went through it all:

Those impossibly soft red leather Cossack-style boots? (That didn’t — damn! — fit me.) Bought in London. She once tucked a pack of cigarettes into the the top of one.

That black and white Marimekko print gown? Worn to the open house when she moved into her Toronto home 20 years ago.

The tie-dyed Indian cotton dress? She designed it while traveling there.

That corset? My mom was one confident hottie! I wish I had the nerve, and the figure, to rock a black lace Merry Widow…

The battered paperback book by Dom Helder Camara, a Brazilian liberation theologist? Autographed to her. Good thing I hadn’t tossed it in our purging.

Not to mention love letters, recent ones, from Australia, New York and beyond. Good work, Mom!

I fly home to New York in two days, with a new, painful and acute sense of how much stuff I own, and how much if it I have to get rid of, now! I cannot imagine my sweetie having to go through it, box by box, trunk by trunk, and make any sense of it without me there: photos, letters, books.

Why am I clinging to it?

Am I still me without it?

Then what?

Have you ever had to sort, purge and toss out a lot of your stuff? Or someone else’s?

What was it like?

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