Sunday, 17 April 2016

The Secret Lives of Objects

We invest meaning in objects that can make it very difficult, traumatic even, to shed them when necessary.  Downsizing the family home, moving, and going to university or a death in the family can all necessitate the strategic shedding of objects.  Like an animal shedding its winter fur, there are times we need to get rid of stuff.  We need to make room in our lives for a new version of ourselves.

I think this is easier if we have practiced this ritual.  When my child was young I use to try and involve them in the process.  Other mothers would just fill garbage bags while their kids slept or were at school and then plead ignorance, the "white lie".  It made my life more complicated but I could never do that.  It didn't seem to teach respect for people or their belongings.  I remember my son once looking at me with tearful eyes saying, "Mom you want to give away my memories."  Our compromise was "the memory box" and my child could select what was important enough to go in it.  I hoped it would lend a little sense of control over what was a fearful process.

Another strategy was that if you wanted a new toy you could "buy" it with a donation of an old toy.  This worked ideally with thrift and consignment shops and helped stem the tide of an ever-growing wave of stuff.  Most of our lives as a small family of three (since 1994) we have had the luxury of a large house.   With university and retirement looming on the horizon, it is time to part with much.

When my mother died I was faced with a lifetime of her objects.  It took weeks and the help of many friends but it evolved into a way of dealing with our grief.  We shared a meal that was based on my mother's excellent dishes that had been stored in her deep freezer.  She had also been a talented craftsperson and so I invited each of her friends to take an object she had created to remember her by.  I divided her collections of fabrics, stained glass, tools and art supplies between two art schools.  Her clothing and household effects I divided between two refugee efforts in the city.  My mother had died suddenly at 72; this was my way of making meaning out of her death.

My 17-year old is doing something similar.  Five crates of customized Lego went to single parents who needed Christmas toys, an ominously large collection of stuffed animals went to an artist who reconfigures them into installations about childhood trauma, books went to a literacy effort where college students volunteer to read to kids in tents at family events, a museum-worthy collection of Thomas the Tank engine toys went to the daycare centre where my child attended.  SPCA, Heavenly Creatures, Value Village, Salvation Army, the list of shops receiving our goods is growing.  It feels better than a garage sale.

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