Karen Galatz
Journalist, Columnist, Blogger

Tevye’s Milk Cart. No De-Cluttering Necessary

Tevye. (Shutterstock)
Tevye. (Shutterstock)

What a difference three generations make. Our grandparents came to America with nothing. Now our generation owns so much, we are possession obsessed.

We contemplate downsizing, but cannot figure out how. Where to begin? What to keep? What to give away? Do we consign items or donate them?

And we fret – constantly – about the fact that our good china will come to no good when we die. Ironically in our confusion, we clutter our bookshelves with books about decluttering!

Yes, our grandparents had nothing in the Old World, but made a good life in the New World, passing down to us their furniture, jewelry, and lovingly embroidered tablecloths and pillows.

Yet, today we feel oppressed by this material well-being. Our homes are overstuffed and our children proclaim – loudly – their disinterest in inheriting our cherished belongings.

Enough with possession obsession! Enough with this worry about clutter and the fate of our inanimate objects once we animate beings pass on. Let’s relegate Marie Kondo’s Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up manifesto to the discount book bin where it belongs!

Yes, I admit I am sad knowing my many sentimental items are not held in high esteem by my children. I cannot believe they don’t cherish Grandma’s musty antique furniture; the needlepoint pictures my mother paimstakingly stitched; the tens of fading photo albums I so diligently assembled through the decades; their own adorable artwork preserved in boxes and boxes from pre-K on, and their father’s impressive array of awards and letters of commendation from US presidents and Congressional leaders.

And, yes, I’m equally amazed that my children don’t value the valuable stuff – the jewelry, the silver, the artwork. They’re not just unsentimental, they’re also not materialistic or greedy.

For them, if it isn’t digital, it doesn’t exist. If they have to pick up and move, most of what they’d need and value could be carried in a backpack. No moving van required. Not even Tevye’s milk cart.

Their books are digital. Their music is digital. Their photos and games are too. Their lives are stored in tiny devices and “in the cloud.”

Yet, for us “oldsters,” life is very much rooted here on earth. For me and I’m sure for many of you, possessions tell important stories about my life, the good and the bad times, the birthdays, the anniversaries, the children’s graduations — all of it.

For me, getting rid of even one of my late mother’s 20-plus paperweights means making high-stakes decisions, like choosing between the one I gave her for her 50th birthday or the one my son bought to cheer her up in the hospital after a surgery.

Still, like many middle-aged people, I feel a need to streamline and make some space in my admittedly congested space.

So, some months back, I got serious and took a monumental step forward: I gave an item of tremendous sentimental value, my mother’s 140-piece fine china set, to a dear friend.

Emboldened, I then scanned/digitized all the family photos and home movies, and I gave away the DVDs since most can be viewed online.

I kicked all my high-heeled shoes to the curb. That was easy. Footwear reality set in long ago. I know my achy arches will never again walk, no less dance, in spikey pointed shoes.

And with heartless abandon, I tossed out four coffee mugs, three chipped Pyrex storage containers, several wooden spoons, and a bottle opener. That doesn’t sound like much at all, but it represented two hours of angst as I waded through the kitchen chaos.

Finally, after three months of sorting, tossing, and agonizing, I finished. Overall, the results are impressive: the closets are streamlined; the drawers and cabinets no longer bulge, and the garage is no longer identified on local maps as an avalanche hazard zone.

And yet … There still is an awful lot of stuff.

You see, the real problem isn’t hanging on to unwanted, obsolete, and sentimental items. It’s clinging to the good “stuff,” the “who knows, I might need it” items – the extra blankets, the six never-been-to-the-beach beach towels, the twin-size sheets (even though we don’t have any twin-size beds), the seven serving platters, the two sets of wine glasses …

Oh, no. I’m falling back down that possession obsession rabbit hole, aren’t I?

I need to take a deep breath and remember that Grandma, Grandpa, and Tevye too would be happy for me. They would tell me to celebrate having so many delightful objects. They would tell me to cherish the memories associated with these belongings. And they would also tell me to stop kvetching and start dusting! The house needs a good cleaning.

So, that’s what I’ll do. And afterward, maybe I’ll watch Fiddler on the Roof again. Some things you can never get enough of!

About the Author
Karen Galatz is the author of Muddling through Middle Age, which provides women (and men) of a certain age a light-hearted look at the perils and pleasures of growing older. An award-winning journalist, her national news credits include the The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour and the Nightly Business Report. Her fiction and non-fiction writing has been published across the U.S. A native of New York City and Las Vegas, Karen now lives in Berkeley, CA with her husband, two children, and one neurotic dog named Olga, rescued from Florida’s Hurricane Erma. It all makes for a lot of geography and a lot of humor.
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