The Burden of Belongings: Leaving a Different Kind of Legacy

We had a really busy weekend here. It's go-time for my grandpa and cousin's move, and we've been loading up box after box after box of belongings to transport ten minutes to the new house. Load after load after load. We've come across all sorts of interesting items from my dad's old high chair to custom paintings to toys my dad and his brother made as children. There are old coats and TVs and fold-up beds, dolly buggies and old leather chaps and water skis, baby clothes and eight-track tapes and birthday party invitations, suitcases and silverware and punch bowls: the belongings gathered during the lifetimes of five generations.

It's like walking through a museum sometimes. There are so many things belonging to people I never met, some of whom passed away when I was a child or before I was even born. And all their stuff just got put in the attic or in a drawer or a cupboard somewhere.

I can only imagine what the neighbors must think as we drive away with one more load of boxes. They must be done soon, right? Oh wait, they haven't even moved most of the furniture yet. It's like a clown car where more clowns keep coming out, and you wonder when it's going to stop. Only it's not clowns; it's lifetimes of accumulated treasures and junk and things that no one has seen in decades. Stuff that keeps getting moved from one house to another and passed down from generation to generation.

It's madness.

There are so many useful items here and things that some of us would treasure as keepsakes from people whom we have loved and lost, but you can't find any of it because it's all mixed in with useless junk that no one will ever want or need again.

I see the stress in my cousin's eyes. Her husband, who is working from morning until night trying to figure out how they're ever going to manage to get everything out by the end of the week, falls into bed sore and worn out long after the sun has set. And for what? For junk that has been foisted upon them by generations of people who couldn't bring themselves to throw anything away.

I know that most of us would be happy to just get rid of a lot of this stuff, but my grandpa is old. He's tired. He's leaving the home he thought he would live in until the end, and while this is a good move for everyone, it's also a very bittersweet thing. I walk through the house where my grandma loved to cook and the yard where she spent hours gardening, the home where my brother and I spent countless summers creating and imagining and playing, and I feel like it's the end of an era and we're leaving something precious behind. So we take all this stuff with us, for now, storing it until the day when it won't break my grandpa's heart to part with it all.

Until then, we stress and we worry and we carry this burden of accumulated junk, and it makes me even more determined to leave a legacy to my own children and grandchildren that doesn't involve burdening them with the task of separating the garbage from the treasures that are truly meaningful. We don't have to get rid of it all, but we have to find some kind of balance. When I think of the legacy my grandparents have left me, it isn't about the stuff. It doesn't matter how much they owned or what they gave me. What matters is that they were wonderful people who touched my life and made me a better person. Things are just things, and it's not the things in this life that matter; it's the people. Going through life weighed down by generations of belongings that no one wants is no way to live.

Image courtesy of my cousin.