The Things We Love

Today I’m living in my third small home since I landed in the Pacific Northwest at the end of a road trip in 2017. Having downsized yet again, I’m looking back at my big New England farmhouse with nostalgia, and I see with increasing clarity how the things we love can become a burden; how we transfer our memories into our stuff and our stuff becomes symbolic of our history, and then we don’t want to part with it. We make an emotional investment in stuff, and we start to feel like the things we love are us. That’s why shedding our stuff can feel painful. That farmhouse was my dream house. I curated a mix of family heirlooms, flea market finds, and farm junk to create my bohemian saloon. It was my happy place. When I sold it in 2016, my heart broke. But I wouldn’t be here now if I hadn’t put myself through that pain back then, and my now is pretty fabulous. No regrets. This reflection is coming up for me because I’m watching my partner go through a similar experience breaking down his man cave.

For 19 years he’s had a big garage attached to his house where he kept his bass boat and collected the accoutrements of bass fishing, mostly rods and reels and itty bitty replica fish food, aka lures. I’m attracted to his brightly painted lures the way I’m attracted to rhinestone jewelry. The flashy stuff makes my fingers twitch and I want it, even if I’ll never wear it. Likewise, he buys rubber worms and sparkly fish engineered to make noise or appear to swim, even if he already has a hundred of them because they make his fingers twitch. He keeps them on shelves, in crates, bags and boxes, some still in the original wrapper with the price tag because he doesn’t have to use them to love them. When he shops for fishing lures, he’s having a fantasy of fishing. 

For almost two decades he’s been the king of this castle, classic rock blaring and sports on the flatscreen, surrounded by his paraphernalia, tools, and goo, all aimed at that Angler of the Year plaque he wants hanging on his brag wall. The garage is his own private Idaho, a museum of stuff all about him, same as my farmhouse was for me, and at the center of it has always been the boat, his pride and joy. Now it has to go.   

I think one of the defining experiences of aging is losing the things we love. People, places, pets, possessions, from pacifiers and binkies to rugs and pottery, and boats and pickup trucks. Leaving my farmhouse broom clean for the next occupant was traumatic. It added to my grief after losing my husband and my mother, and I continue to miss some of the things I gave up back then. But the freedom that gushed through me after the sale was so extraordinary it displaced the longing. I was starting over with a blank canvas full of possibilities waiting for me to paint a new picture of my future. Now my partner is starting over with his own vision for the future, reimagining himself. 

Together we’re moving into a life unthinkable to our parents and grandparents, and in this new world some of their traditions will be lost. We both grew up in homes filled with furniture, books, art and glassware that had belonged to our ancestors. Our family homes were symbols of the achievements of our tribe, and we were expected to continue housing the archive. But we don’t have relatives waiting to inherit our possessions, and in the Age of Storms, our priorities are different. We’re trading the status of stuff for the freedom of minimalism. Living with less enables our mobility. This is not our forever home. We want to be nimble. So, the things we love are lesser in number, smaller and more portable. 

Of course, we’re right on trend with this shift away from investing in material possessions to investing in experiences. It wasn’t our intention to be trendy, but here we are. Our livingroom seats two. Our kitchen table seats four, but two of the chairs are really just a place to hang dog towels. Our garage is the laundry room, and the mud room, and a storage space, and a workshop. It will be a mini man cave. The simplicity of it all is exhilarating for me. I want to focus on writing and promoting my new book, not homemaking and housekeeping. But it’s a little different for him. He’s still going through the process of separation from the things he loves, sorting through his stuff, preparing the boat for sale and organizing a donation to a youth fishing club. For him, that feeling of freedom is slow in coming, out of reach for the moment, beyond the sentimental mist, waiting for him on a lake somewhere with the fish, where he can sit on someone else’s boat and enjoy the luxury of time.    

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6 thoughts on “The Things We Love

  1. Best thing I/we ever did. Yes, it hurt, but you nailed it in your wonderful prose.
    Sold my classic cars. Sold my beloved 1957 Chris-Craft 20’ Continental speedboat. Spent my entire adulthood keeping the varnish thick and creamy mahogany and blond wood impeccable. The Hercules truck 6 engine ran silently but the exhaust pipes gave a clitopolis hummmm.
    Interestingly 4 children who learned to ski behind it did not want it. Preferred jet skis. Why?
    Beloved wife gave up beloved family heirlooms as well. Kids didn’t want them either. Oh Well.
    But you nailed it. At 82 and bride 72 we are into experiences as well. And after 50 years together we still can laugh.
    Enjoy your new journey and follow your bliss!

  2. I love reading your posts!! My 63 year old brain is beginning to touch on downsizing but whew…it’s scary and kinda sad!

  3. Loved seeing that photo of yr olde living room, Bil. And I’ve never considered you remotely a hoarder of stuff. You’ve always had great objects. Some of which I’ve coveted but never got. The fish. And yr Newton Highlands garage salelost me the projector and films of my mom n dad taken before any of us were born. I can of course see them in my mind’s eye of fabricated recollection. Dad swimming in the pool with his clumsy crawl. My mother in front of a bushel of flowers giving the camera a sexy hip thrust. Who knew? Ah well. Out it all goes.
    love ya bil

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