Monday, February 23, 2015


My older daughter tells me she thinks I'm a hoarder. This is coming from a child who for several years when she was in college could pack everything she owned in her car, and did, so I take her accusation with a grain of salt. She once, shortly after starting college, showed up at the farm with boxes and boxes of "stuff" and asked me if I could burn it for her. Inside were lots of papers that she understandably didn't want to end up in a landfill somewhere, but also her high school track medals and high school diploma and other such mementos. I asked if she was sure, that maybe someday her children or grandchildren might be interested to come across these items, but she was adamant.

Fast forward several years, when she then had a child or two of her own. I was going through my filing cabinet and came across a folder of her art work and school papers from grade school. I had offered these (to me) treasures to her a few years earlier, and at that time she was aghast that I had saved them in the first place, and certainly didn't want them then.  Lo and behold, now that she had her own babies she said she understood why I had kept them... the first time your child traces their name that you had outlined with dots, the kindergarden and first grade construction paper creations they lovingly carried home, the little "I love you Mommy" notes they left, the birthday and Mother's Day cards they gave you...

Yes, I admit I do have some hoarding tendencies, maybe because for a good portion of my adult life I have lived at zero money and we couldn't afford to just go out and buy new "stuff" all the time so we made do with what we had. Maybe because my favorite aunt had a saying: Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without, and that struck a chord in me as a child. Maybe because I'm just frugal, or tight, so tight I sometimes squeak. (although I can also spend money like a drunken sailor at times  lol) If you replace the expensive submersible well pump, you better save the old one, because someday you may be able to use parts from it to repair the "new" pump that has failed. Don't throw out those jeans or Tshirts just because they have a stain (or ten), or a hole (where the leg used to be), they're still good for work clothes. The handle broke off your favorite pan? No worry, you can use it as a dog food dish. Maybe it's part of my hippie back-to-the-land reduce-reuse-recycle attitude. Whatever you do, clean your plate and don't waste food! Just because you see an ad for it on television or in a magazine doesn't mean you will be less of a person if you don't go out and mortgage your soul to buy one.

This attitude towards consumerism in general has been pretty good to me overall, except now when I'm getting ready to move, and I have all this "stuff" scattered about in more than one location across the country. Part of me even regrets parting with some of the things I gave away last summer when I was up north, items that may have been good to have in the future. Part of me is struggling with getting rid of stuff now so I don't have to put it in storage or haul it north with me because I may have need of it in the future. Yeah, some is easy to part with. Some other stuff, not quite so easy. And some I am totally unwilling to part with.

Last fall at my uncle's house on his 85th birthday, when we were talking about my brother giving me the family land in SD,  my cousin said I was the family historian. True enough I guess, I've often thought of myself as the family's Keeper of Memories.  I remember sooo many things from when I was a child, details of houses and their contents, details of family gatherings, etc., and  I've done a lot of geneological research on the family.  I also have several large totes full of  items from 100+ years ago, photos of my grandfather and his sisters when they were young, his report cards from high school and college, my great-aunt's and my great-grandmother's eyeglasses, photos of my favorite aunt when she was a girl and when she was homesteading in Indian Territory in South Dakota along with an incredible several hour long audio recording of her reminiscing about life and homesteading on the prairie in the late 1800's, some neckties and collars and cuffs with a handwritten note from my great-grandmother to my grandmother saying "These were your Father's just as he wore them to the bank" (He owned the bank in Alpena, South Dakota until it went under in the Depression).

When my cousin said I was the family historian, I pointedly looked at the nieces and nephew present and said "Hopefully one of you, or one of your children, or one of my grandchildren, is interested in the old family history, so I have someone to pass it on to." My younger cousin (I only have 2 first cousins) is the only person in the immediate family to have a son who will carry on the family name. And none of the the younger generation has any direct memory of the people that meant so much to me and are gone now.

Sometimes I find it depressing to think about. In 100 years, very few people will remember me or who I was, and in 500 years it will be as if I never existed, so why does it seem so important to me that this oral history and these few tangible items are remembered and kept?  That the land is kept in the family? That someone in the future holds on to these small mementos and trinkets from another person's life?


  1. We are so alike in that we can be frugal to a fault, but then I drop money on stupid stuff I don't need and shouldn't buy. I desperately want one of the younger generation to take over my genealogical files and studies; my brother in Cincinnati is an avid genealogist (we worked together but his drinking caused us too many disagreements); he doesn't have anyone to leave all his research to either. The times I rarely visit Cincinnati we visit all the cemeteries within a 100 mile radius - and have family at just about all of them. I love visiting a cemetery!

  2. Funny, I thought I was the only one that had this predicament. My mother is the only woman in her family that had a job and did not marry until late in life for the era (her 30's).

    She was able to purchase a camera and take the only pictures available of her family including all of my cousins as children.

    No one seems interested in preserving them or even listening to the stories my grandmother told her about her early life and the difficult times she lived through during the Mexican Revolution.

    I have no children. My uncle (my mother's baby brother) never married and the only cousin I am close to is a bachelor and I doubt he will ever have a family or anyone to pass on all these pictures and history my mother has so zealously kept all these years.

    1. That is very interesting.

      My mother took thousands of photos - all saved as slides. She also had photo albums and 8 mm home movies. Nothing was labeled or annotated. She would go through them and say, "well that was your great Aunt Sara" or whatever, but she would never take out a PEN and write that in the photo album or on the back of a picture.

      As a result, when she died, she left all these photos, movies, and slides behind, and none of them meant anything to anyone, which is kind of sad.

      But also kind of liberating. I "inherited" some genealogical materials, and since I have no children, have no one to leave them to. I asked other family members, and they all said, "no thanks!"

      I guess not all history is worth saving. That sounds harsh, but when I look back, I realize how little my ancestors left behind.

      Once I was able to "let go" of the past, and realize that much of it will die with me, it was a liberating experience. I was no longer obligated to save the past, pay homage to it, or try to view my life through the lens of the past, but rather the present.

      And maybe that is why none of my relatives wanted the genealogy materials, either. They didn't want to be burdened with them.

      My best friend in high school was very much into family history and local history. He was the town historian. He had all these great websites about past things. He became an archeologist. He ended up killing himself. I wonder sometimes if his obsession with the past lead to depression.

      It can be, well, paralyzing.

  3. Very interesting post. About the only time I do a clean-out is when we move. Or when I have so many saved glass peanut butter jars that I can't see the pantry floor anymore. That, "if you haven't used it in a year get rid of it" mentality doesn't work for me. The very things I give away or take to the thrift shop are the very things I end up having to buy again. And at a higher price and poorer quality!

    I think a lot of it comes because we have been trained to be consumers. We live in a disposable society, where we ignore the true cost of convenience. Therefore I don't consider myself a hoarder. I am a collector and conservationist. I am prepared for anytime we lost power for days on end or if husband loses his job. A much wiser way to live.

  4. "Sometimes I find it depressing to think about. In 100 years, very few people will remember me or who I was, and in 500 years it will be as if I never existed..."

    I am sorry that makes you feel depressed. When I think of that, it makes me feel liberated.

    Sometimes history - and things - can weigh us down.

  5. I realize that some people feel weighed down by things. I see it a little differently. Although material things are made by human beings, they are made with materials left here for us by God. Some of them can be quite beautiful. In addition, they can be momentos for times and people passed and can at times, be a great comfort. As I move through life and have too many things, I tend to give them to people who visit me who admired them. It IS just stuff but in terms of triggering memories and remembering people, these things can become more important than the sum of their parts.
    I don't see myself as a hoarder. I see myself as the steward of the property, animals, furniture, knick knacks and things entrusted to me on this journey. It feels very good to give a coffee table to the adult child of a friend when he needs one, and it was sitting on the second floor of my barn. Thanks for your post.

  6. That is such lovely story! Children grow up so unexpectedly. It seems that you just saw her walking for the fist time, and now she already has her own children!