Leave Mama's Junk Alone

Guest blog by Barbara M. Morris, R.Ph.

A young friend (about age 30) and I (age 74) were talking about all the "junk" we collect over time. The conversation turned to how much "junk" her mother had, and I understood because by the time you reach my age, even if you are not a chronic pack rat, "junk" accumulates. My lame excuse for saving things is that I work full time and deciding what should stay and what should go is not a priority. Another justification is that I grew up in a large family during the Great Depression, always wanting "things" of my own - and now I've got them - big time. Get rid of them? You've got to be kidding!

I know that regardless of sentimental value, ultimately it's all junk and must go, but not right now. Don't push me!

The conversation with my young friend shifted to her brother who lives with his parents. He needed more space in the garage for his car, and Mama's "junk" was taking up more space than he deemed necessary, so he threw some of it out when Mama was not at home. "She'll never miss it," he rationalized. My friend, normally a thoughtful ethical person, helped her brother commit the crime because she also felt, "She'll never miss it and doesn't need it." 

It appears that more than a few adult children feel the same way. On several occasions my Boomer-age daughter, who doesn't live with or near me, and should not be bothered by my junk, has suggested, "Why don't you get rid of all this stuff."

What should it matter to adult children, living in their own home with junk of their own, how much stuff you collect? After you are gone, they can back up a garbage truck to the garage, and get rid of it. On the other hand, if they are smart, they can have a garage sale. Some of the stuff my generation has been saving from "day one" now has antique status and may have value, perhaps not to unappreciative children, but to savvy collectors.

Let me explain something to adult children about old people, i.e., their parents: If retired, there are no more long or even short term goals, no more dreams or aspirations - nothing to strive for. Just about all they have are memories. When old people get together what do they talk about? Their aches and pains, financial situation, the grandchildren and - the past. "Remember when" is an integral part of a typical retiree's conversation. And that's okay. 

Those scraps of material Mama has been saving that you think she doesn't need and won't miss are tangible evidence of time that can be revisited by touching or seeing those pieces of cloth. I save pieces of cloth because I used to sew, and when my daughter was small, I made many of her clothes. What my daughter doesn't understand is that when I look at a piece of cloth, which is the remains of a dress I made when she was two, it gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling and that's nice. She doesn't remember the dress and that's okay. Just wait until she has her own collection of warm and fuzzy tangibles from the past that she wants to hold on to.

Adult children often encourage parents to move into a smaller home or apartment. "You don't need this big house anymore, and it will be a good time to get rid of all this junk." Maybe Mama doesn't "need" the big house, but she's comfortable there with all her memories. The teapot on the stove, looking like a thrift shop reject is a happy reminder of when she just married. The linen closet with wedding gifts she never used harbors cozy memories just as clear as yesterday. The wallpaper that's been there forever, the carpet with the worn spots, the pictures, the bric-a-brac -- yes, the "junk" -- become arms that embrace her at a time of life when she may not have a lot to keep her emotionally warm. Sell or throw away links to the past to accommodate what you think is best for her? If she's content and can manage the upkeep, why hassle her to leave?

Until there is a good reason to do otherwise, leave Mama alone with all her junk. It's not yours to dispose of until she dies or asks you to get rid of it. How would you feel if she came into your home while you were away and threw out what she considered "junk" - after all, you are at an age when you've already collected a few useless trinkets that have great meaning to you but would be rated "junk" by others. 

What goes around comes around. Respect rights of others, especially your parents. Your children will learn from your good example and if you are lucky, they will not throw out your precious "junk" behind your back when you are old.