Downsizing, Letter to Mom
By Caroline Carter
“Mom, I am so sorry! I don’t want your STUFF and the guilt is killing me!”
Yes, we have actually had this conversation, several times lately, but only in my mind. In reality, I can’t bear to tell you the truth-that I not only don’t want YOUR stuff, but, I don’t want Grandma’s stuff either! UGH. What is wrong with me?
Some of my earliest happy memories are of the many Holidays at Grandma’s house when the dining table was dressed with her best linens, china and crystal. We kids felt so grown up drinking apple juice in heavy crystal wine glasses at the “adult” table and grabbing handfuls of peanuts from the shiny sterling silver bowls. Oh, to be grown up. I wish I knew then that all rites of passage were not as clear cut and easy travelled. When Grandma died, you inherited all of her beautiful “things” to continue the traditions you both held sacred -you never questioned whether you wanted them or needed them. You just took them all and continued to honor her each time used her beautiful things. You effortlessly took over the Holiday meals and the multi day preparation of the house to accommodate relatives far and wide. Nothing but the best for guests! Out came the “good” china, crystal and silver. It was lovingly cleaned and polished, the linen pressed, and napkins placed in sterling silver rings. Like Grandma, the elegance of the day appeared like magic to us. I did not realize how much time it took to prepare. I can’t believe that you actually did that. How did you find the time?
I am so happy that you and Dad have decided to downsize. It’s the right decision at the right time for you. Lately though, I dread each phone call we have as the move date gets closer. You seem to be getting more emotional about leaving the house where you raised our family and desperate to find a good “home” for the family “treasures”, each with its own story. You continue to gently pressure me to make a date to come over to choose the things that you are SURE that I will want for my own house and kids. Mom, the truth that I can’t bear to tell you is that I don’t WANT to choose the furniture, artwork, oriental rugs and gee-gaws that have been in our family for years. I feel ashamed to say that I have no use for yours and Grandma’s wedding china preserved carefully in soft felt lined bags. I don’t even use my OWN wedding china-it’s in the attic! But, I can’t tell you that. I feel so guilty for even thinking that. So, I don’t. I chicken out each time. I listen and agree that I need to make time to come over. Soon. And I will. Soon.
You know that we live in a newly built craftsman style home with soft grey walls and white linen drapes. My rugs are all a sisal Berber blend and the furniture is white with grey accents. The overall design is minimalist, transitional and soothing to me and my busy family. How do I explain to you that I actually LIKE what I have and do not WANT the dark mahogany, cherry and walnut furniture that both you and Grandma have used in your homes? I don’t WANT the dark oriental rugs, no matter how unique they are and where they came from. I don’t have time to entertain using all of my “good” china, crystal and silver. I actually LOVE my plain white everyday china from Crate & Barrel and use even when I set the table for “company”. I don’t WANT to wash see-through bone china by hand. My white cotton napkins are from HomeGoods and go right into the washer after dinner. I don’t WANT to use the Belgian linen napkins that the old ladies lost their eyesight creating. My crystal wine glasses and barware are simple and serviceable. No, they are not the beautiful Waterford set I got from Aunt Marge for our wedding-those too are collecting dust in the attic. I have no use for the tableful of sterling silver flatware, serving dishes and platters that you use to entertain. And aside from the family holiday dinners I now understand I will be hosting, I can’t possibly use all the formal linen tablecloths and napkins you have set aside for me. But, I don’t actually say this to you. I feel so guilty. I tell you that I will come over. Soon.
I know that you would not understand that my generation lives more simply. I live more simply and do not want to fill my life with more THINGS-even if it will make you happy. What will I actually DO with it all? I know that I won’t use it and have no room to store it. I can barely keep up with the stuff that MY family accumulates. I know that you will never sell our families treasures-right now, they are not worth much as no one else wants them either. You know this, that is why you are counting on me to take them and keep them safe for the next generation. Because if I didn’t take them what would you do with it all? So, we will have this conversation and I will tell you how I feel. The next time you call and ask me about it. I will. Maybe. Probably.
I have been wondering if there is another way to honor you and Grandma and our family history without taking a house full of “treasures” that I don’t want and have no room for? Can we take photos of them for posterity and donate them to a family that would love them and use them as we have through the years? Would you ever agree to that? Maybe you NEED to complete this rite of passage with me as your mother did with you by entrusting the next generation to honor the past by safeguarding its “treasures”. If that is the case, I guess I will have to come over and choose the things that you want me to have. I am not sure what I will do with all of it, but, if it makes you happy….. I guess I will do it for you. And Grandma. But I am going to have this conversation with you the next time you call. There has got to be another way. We will discuss it. Definitely. Probably. Maybe.