We all accumulate things that have meaning to us
By Madeline Kallio | June 2019
The two china cabinets that my mother displayed in her living room were filled to overflowing with china tea cups and ornaments, each one having a wonderful memory for her. Many of them had been there when I was a child. The pristine ones were at the front; the chipped ones at the back. Looking closely, one could see that there were several that had suffered accidents and were lovingly glued together, as accurately as she could. When she died, my siblings and I had come from Ontario to Saskatchewan to clear out my mother’s home and we all looked sadly at those tea cups. They meant nothing to us, except the memory of my mother’s attachment to them. Her memories were not ours. The perfect tea cups were left behind, given freely to friends, useful but without sentimental value; the broken and chipped ones discarded in the big dumpster.
Clearing out my mother’s house had a tremendous effect on me. I took home with me only practical things that I could use and a very ornate china box. I knew that since I had, over the years accumulated my own treasures that meant something to me, there was no room in my life for my mother’s prized possessions. Likewise, my children would accumulate in their lifetime their own treasures that had meaning for them.
So, what are my personal treasures? I looked long and hard to see what I had accumulated that was near and dear to me. I needed to be able to deal with some of the things that had been squirreled away for so long. The answer seemed to be to give away as many of my treasures as I could, when I was still able to do so. A forty-year-old doll, given to my daughter by my sister’s father-in-law went to his great granddaughter. Bracelets that my arthritic wrists didn’t like went to young relatives. Field guides and books from my nature exploration days went to young educators and hikers.
Then there were the things I knew would be treasured by others — the history of our family in photos. I was careful to label all the photos in my picture albums and those of my mother, since I was probably the only person left who might be able to identify any of the people. Since my mother’s death, only my sister and I have had any connection with our family in Europe and that was a treasured connection for both of us, something that might be lost in future generations.
But, there were always those items that would be only dear to me: a broken papier-mâché vase that my daughter (now deceased) made in Grade one; her first-ever gift to me, a poetry book with poems written for me by one of my would-be lovers; buttons collected from my various trips and events; and more.
My older half-sister showed me a collection of plants that her mother had made in 1913. I was amazed that they were in such pristine condition — even the tape was not yellowed. I begged to take them to the Museum of Nature where they were accepted as one of the two collections ever accepted from private sources. Sometimes, the things we treasure from our past make wonderful additions to the many, many small museums that spring up in small towns throughout the country.
Many people have been collecting various items for a number of years and are not aware that these things can become valuable. It is wise to check with antique dealers and collectors before you dispose of such collections. The internet is a great place to find those who would value your treasures.
My big scrapbook that is falling apart holds all of my report cards, my letters from my pen pals when I was a young teenager and other items that, at that time, were important to me. A scrapbook of cards from the war years, put together by my brother and me when we had nothing to do, probably holds little significance. The top shelf in my small library has my high school and university year books, but who else would care? However, the history books of the towns in which we grew up, are interesting to many in my family.
So, what to do with the cherished treasures? While you have room for them and you are physically able, enjoy them. Whatever happens after you are gone has no significance for you and should not be a concern. If there is something special that would be treasured by someone else, it makes a great gift; and, since you know where it is, you can continue to enjoy it.
It sometimes takes many years to sort the contents of a home to ensure that you can continue to surround yourself with the things that are precious when you decide to downsize. Packing our precious belongings in boxes and sending them to storage or putting them in a son’s or daughter’s garage is not a solution since this means that someone will someday need to sort them out!
From all this thought and musing, what have I decided to keep and pass on to members of my family? The most important are the family photo albums, then birth and death announcements, legal documents and family records. A collar box that was my father’s and dates to 1911 will surely be treasured by someone. A shawl that my mother-in-law knit for my daughter before she was born will go to her daughter. Paintings and art objects crafted by little and big hands over the years, may find interest. But, just maybe, I might not see the value in some of my possessions that others will, so they can decide for themselves if they want to add them to their treasures!