My father and mother fought for years tidy up the house. She was a guardian and he was a launcher. The huge walk-in closet in our guest room housed many of my elementary school art projects, toys that my brother and I used to play with as children, my amazing Barbie motorhome, my adjustable-length crissy doll. (For my mother’s legacy, it is important to note that as a guard, she was clean and tidy! The closets were clogged but carefully organized and the living areas were immaculate. The 35-year-old baby clothes were washed every two years to prevent musty smells! )
My father grew up in the war in Germany and became accustomed to minimalist life. He likes well-groomed surfaces, ironed pajamas and cupboards, from which nothing falls on your head when you open the doors. He donated clothes every year and asked that we not buy him cards for birthdays or Father’s Day because he thought they were confusing. The Yin and Yang of Keeper vs. Thrower-Outer led to some fascinating discussions about value – both emotionally (such as a child’s old bike) and monetarily – and often led to heated arguments. My mother’s emphatic final statement always contained something like, “When I’m gone, you can throw everything away.”
When my amazing mother died 10 years ago, my father, brother and I decided to hold a flea market instead of throwing or donating everything. After all, we had wanted one for years, but my mother had always vetoed it. After having envied the flea market all my life, I had glorified the thought somewhat. I imagined a wonderfully sunny day when my children sold thirst-quenching lemonade, a steady stream of visitors and a completely empty driveway at the end of the day. We turn all our garbage into cold, hard money … lots and lots of dollar bills in our pockets.
We dug deep into our family home to uncover many flea market items and some forgotten memories. There was the dusty orange circular bird cage my father bought for me when I was 6 and found a helpless, wounded bird. This bird eventually died, but the cage remained. There was also a 20 year old boombox that was nicely on my mother’s bedside table. She had played cassettes at night and listened to the radio while putting the laundry away. We made sure to keep it all the years because it worked and was “vintage” with the always popular idea “it could be worth a lot of money someday”. And then there was the Pinocchio bench that I got at Disney World when I was 7 years old. This bank had smiled at me when I was banished to my room and gave myself money to buy goodies from the ice cream truck.
These were all comfort items. And now these were all things that had no real purpose for us. Still, it was difficult to decide what got an award and what stayed. So I asked myself: How often will I use it? Do I need this item for the memory or could I take a picture of it that I could collect the same joy from? When I came across something that would have caused my mother to remark, “That could be worth it one day,” I knew that it was probably a sign that I should sell it now and not “one day”.
Months after we started chiseling my family’s decades, the day of the flea market came and the cars started driving at 8 am on time. It wasn’t exactly the vision I had in mind. It was sunny, but also sticky and damp. There were no children with a thirst-quenching lemonade stand. We managed to make $ 214 while clearing a lot of the house.
But when I saw a silver-haired woman carry my beloved birdcage away, I knew it was okay to say goodbye. I realized that emotional attachment was not enough to allow something to mess up your home or life. Happiness arises from using an object, not from owning it.
That is why this Pinocchio bench is now sitting prominently in my children’s bedroom so that they can save their cents and appreciate them as much as I do.
This story was originally published in the March 2020 issue of Good housekeeping.