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The Storage Locker

Public Storage Lockers
Public Storage Lockers

Some people feel like they lose part of themselves when they give away things they own.

“I need to cut my monthly expenses”, said my Mom. “It’s costing me $150 a month to store my art books in the storage locker and I need to donate them all to the library. I’ve had that locker for two years and haven’t used any of those books.”

My mother collected those books over a lifetime. There are a lot of memories associated with them. Memories of my late father and the museums they visited together in Europe. The lectures she gave about those artists. The pleasure she gets by surrounding herself with knowledge.

I opened the lock and pulled up the door. There were fewer books than I remember moving into the locker when she sold her house and moved into her 1 bedroom apartment. An apartment already crammed with a lifetime of memories, with hundreds of collected treasures and knickknacks, empty picture frames and lampshades, lamps without light bulbs, old laptops without power supplies, a VCR player without a TV set, and eighteen chairs for only one occupant.

She wept as pulled the books off the shelves, one by one. My wife hugged her, holding her close. “I can’t get rid of that one, my husband gave it to me before we were married.” She grasps a pair of outdated 15-year-old travel guides, “my friends will want these.” She calls my sister and leaves a voicemail, “I can send you these cookbooks”, she croaks.

The storage locker is full of memories not books.

My mother decides to keep most of the books and we leave with less than two boxes of books for the library.

Two days later, my wife and I return without my mother and move the remaining books, about twenty boxes, back to her apartment, which looks less and less like an apartment and more like a storage locker.

It’s hard for me to feel sympathy for my mother because I’ve seen this same drama repeat over and over for decades. Hanging onto stuff is not a compulsion I have. She suffers when she gives things away and she suffers when she doesn’t.

23 comments

  1. It’s always tough watching a parent age. Realizing how different we are, but how alike in other ways. Realizing they won’t always be there. Feeling the roles change so drastically. Best wishes for your journey – I miss my mom and her idiosyncracies every day.

  2. I’m a bit of a “pack rat”, but for me, the memories and remembrances are critical and I would never begrudge them. Empty picture frames, obsolete electronics, and too many chairs, not so much.

  3. My wife and I are in the process of “downsizing”. We just put our large house & six acre lot on the market after spending a year getting rid of excess furniture, clothes that we haven’t worn in years, hundreds of old books, excess sports equipment, yard tools, knick-nacks, etc, etc. In some cases things we’ve had around the house had been left by our adult children after they married and moved out years ago.

    We’ve never been pack rats per se but the size of our house combined with a few unused rooms and plenty of garage and storage space combined over the years to hide all that extra stuff in plain sight.

    As we went through the house room by room we did experience a lot of nostalgia and some difficulty deciding what goes and what stays. In the end we celebrated the whole experience over a nice bottle of wine.

    Next stop, a nice calm 55+ community where the HOA takes care of the lawns, snow removal, etc………..leaving us more time for traveling……….and leaving me more time for long hikes!!

  4. We didn’t evolve from our successful survival strategies of hunting and gathering for nothing, Philip. “I can use that — sometime” is a worthwhile thought until it overtakes us in clutter and weight. Your hiking techniques of paring down to essentials can help your mother separate the memorable books from the useless lamp shades. If she’ll let you.

    I just cleaned out my mother’s basement after 50 years of my parents living in the same house in northern New York in preparation for renovation. I had to blink twice before I gave the junk man my 1960 dream book of Compton encyclopedias — with year books to 1970! But you should see the basement now.

    Your love for your mother shows through the patience and kindness you show her need to keep the physical memories of your father and their precious time together.

  5. I understand where you are coming from. You are insightful to realize it is not stuff she is saving, but memories. I got rid of most everything and moved into a 400 sq ft RV for 7 years with my wife. Nothing in storage. It took a couple years to get to that point. And we wanted it badly.
    We aren’t responsible for other peoples choices, and we often can’t understand why they so choose. We aren’t required to solve the consequences of their choices. Our best course may be to just love them.

  6. I helped clean out my dad’s house out after he passed away. There was stuff that hadn’t seen the light of day in 30 years. Some of it was a treasure, like my grandmothers mink jacket, other stuff went straight to the land fill. I occasionally tend to be a pack rat, not so my better half who keeps things simple. Cleaning out the house may not have completely cured my packrat tendencies but it sure helped.

    Glad you care enough to help and do what must be done while it can still be beneficial.

  7. You point out the locker is full of memories, no books but then go on to say that you have difficulty being symptathetic for your mother because you don’t like holding on to stuff.

    You know its not stuff she’s holding on too and I’ll bet you hold on to the same things she holds on too that, in fact, we all hold on too. It is at the heart of all suffering. Not too hard to develop sympathy for that, I think!

    That said, my mother drives me a little nutty also. =)

    • I am sympathetic, but it’s icreasingly difficult for me to be so after watching reruns of this for over 40 years. This isn’t new, but it’s impact on her life is heightened by the fact that her apartment is so small. Kind of like the perfect storm. My wife and I aren’t minimalists, but I think we still live for the future, not the past. I can’t help but wonder if there will come a time when I am so defined by the things I own and surround myself with, rather than living in the present.

  8. I watched one of the packrat shows and learned a valuable tip which I now live by. Take a photo of the item, it’ll serve as a memory, especially if you aren’t valuing the item by displaying or using it. If the memory holds such importance, it’s much easier to frame the photo or use it in combo with a piece of the item.

  9. We helped my mother downsize from a house to an apartment, but there was still a lot of stuff. It bothered us, but it made her happy. One day she looked at me and said “When I’m dead you’ll throw all of this away.” She was right, and it was easier then.

  10. Gosh I know this feeling and can identify with you Mother… I have over 450 Books lining the walls of my Office/Den right now all about me as I write. I have read them all at least twice or three times or 10 times.

    I have the nearly complete set of the Boy Scout Merit Badge Manuals from 1960-1963 except one on Cotton Farming. The entire collections of Hemingway, Twain, Salinger, Michener, Colin Fletcher, Bradord Algier, a large number of Peterson Field Guides, Foxfire, Individual Books on the Skills and Survival Skills of the Native Americans. Military and Civilian Survival Gudes. A few Hard covered Catalogs from Cabela’s, you know your in when Cabela sends you that version of their Catalog..All 110 Books of Louis L’Amour some of which are falling apart. I bought my first Book in paperback in 1968 while in the Marine Corps..

    I will probably give them all to the Salvation Army. I had a Storage locker similar to the one above but not one of the Inside ones like the ones in the picture where I stored all my excess Backpacking, Car camping, Fishing, Hunting, and Boat gear until last August when I went to get some camping gear for an annual two week trip to find some Rats had gotten into the Locker and chewed on a lot of things, especially Waist bands and Shoulder straps of my old Backpacks which date back to my Boy Scout Pack from 1960. They chewed through and urinated on my Boy Scout Tent and just ruined it to where it was rags and I had throw it away.. I guess they were after the Salt from Sweat..So now I store what is left in a second floor Attic I built myself into my Garden/Work/Storage Shed 16×12.

    Being blessed with only daughters I know their not going to want this stuff, so I went to a Book Store since my Books date from 1864 to 2014 to see if they wanted to buy a couple of the Complete collections from the 40’s and 50’s and the older ones., They offered me basically $1 dollar per book.

    I then went to the Salvation Army and they said I could write off the fair market Value of the book via my Income Taxes and if I kept good Documentation and Pictures and made up a written list for them to keep, I probably would not get Auditied.

    They would like them since they were in contact with a number of Book collectors in the area who paid them top dollar for the right books, how the SA has changed from just stacking them on shelves in the Stores to seeking out Colllectors.. They said they do that with a lot of the Old stuff from Golf Clubs to Fishing Gear…So I think that is what I am going to do..Yes I hate to part with any one item for they all have memories…So be kind and patient with your Mom,,,tis a hard thing to do to give away your life, because you know, your own end is coming soon….

    • Eddie, I’ve pretty much donated all of my books – I used to have a dozen bookcases worth to our local library for a tax write-off like the one you describe and have gotten rid of a huge amount of stuff over the years that I no longer use. I think writing (this blog) has actually helped me get rid of more things because once I set my memories into words, it’s enough to help remember the events in vivid detail (even if the words were lost in their printed form).

  11. My mom got on a kick after watching Clean Sweep on TV for a few months and really got rid of a lot of stuff, but still held onto things she didn’t need. No one is immune to wanting to keep things they don’t need for sentimental reasons. In any case the effort was rewarded when last year they sold the family home that my Grandparents had moved into in 1940. Every time my siblings and I visited, there was a box or two of stuff that belonged to us. “Take it or throw it away,” she would say, and little by little the house probably sighed in relief as the weight of years of accumulations were removed. Selling the house was not easy, but it sold fast and they took a van, a suburban and a medium sized cargo trailer of stuff to FL. We’re visiting there for the first time next week, and I’m anxious to see how much of the old home has made the journey with them.

    Every now and then I wonder what happened to my old bow or my cub scout uniform, or this or that from my youth. Of course I do have boxes of stuff I took from my mom’s house, and I’ve accumulated stuff of my own. Some will be sorted and given or thrown away, and others will fall to my son to deal with eventually. I don’t tell my son this often, but since he’s our only child, he gets it all! I think about that when he wants to borrow or buy something he probably doesn’t need – he will get it all eventually, but hopefully it’s not too much to be a burden.

    I don’t know that I’ve added anything new with this comment, but it’s cathartic to consider it and share, as I’m sure others have felt. I’m renewed in my vow to collect experiences and not just stuff, and I think I should sell or give away some camping gear while I’m at it!

  12. I’ve dealt with this for years with my parents. Still on going. Their house is filled with who knows what. At least three times now they’ve rented a dumpster to clean things out. They’ve managed to get rid of anything I may have had left in the house from my childhood lol. As for their stuff, they’ll put things in and then one or both of them pulls some stuff out. Its been a never ending process thus far. They know its a problem too and will verbally acknowledge it but then never follow through.

    I was in a situation about nine months ago where I thought Id be relocating on practically no notice. Not wanting to deal with moving a ton of stuff I donated, gave away or disposed of almost all of my stuff. Minus some clothes, some books, my macbook, cellphone, cookware & utensils and bedding. And of course backpacking supplies. Its so liberating. Im working on getting rid of even more stuff. It feels good. Next might be some form of ereader and then the physical books will be donated.

    Its a struggle dealing with my parents. Hopefully they see the light. I am not looking forward to digging through everything some day.

  13. At some point memories are all you have. How can you throw them away?

  14. I wept cleaning out my grandmothers apartment after she died. My memories of childhood were in the place, a place I would never see again. I have one bowl and some craft items I made for her as a young boy. My mother slowly emptied her one bedroom apartment, shipped her car and flew to the west coast to live the rest of her days near my sister. When she passes there will be little to go through. My fathers parent’s furniture all came to me in one giant uhaul. Over the last ten years I have been getting rid of most of it. It took a while to admit that I really don’t care for most of it. My father wanted me to have all the furniture. But he passed the burden of going through a lifetime of belongings on to me. My practice now is to keep what i truly love and can use. My father wanted me to have all of his model trains- a very expensive collection of unbuilt kits. I have kept three nice kits to build when I can’t hike anymore and have sold the rest through eBay. It was hard for me to imagine that he may have been sad to know that I let his life collection go. I kept two gorgeous kits he built and plan to build showcases for them. If it doesn’t add value to your life try selling, donating or dumping it.

  15. Maybe the storage locker is a metaphor for the mind. Just like a child with a teddy bear, those objects in the locker are more effective at bringing one back to the comfort and safety than memory is. A child doesn’t know any different. Take peek-a-boo for instance– in the time its taken mommy to cover her face I’ve already forgotten where she is and I’m starting to get scared because I’ve lost contact with her love until… THERE YOU ARE!!! To compensate they very efficiently pour love-emotions into Mr. Teddy so they can access a similar love until mommy comes back. Adults do know a difference though and the decline is terrifying. The storage locker is harder and harder to open every time and the books inside are more and more faded. Sometimes you go back to the storage locker and the book you knew was there isn’t there anymore and it won’t ever be again. What if one day the locker is empty? That’s a chance they can’t take so they must keep everything as close as possible to guarantee that never happens. Just like we did with Mr. Teddy when we were young.

  16. I had my stamp albums from my childhood until a while ago. I’d kept them for fifty years nearly and rarely looked at them. I put them in an auction sale where they sold for £30 (in the UK) but I scanned each page first. Now they take up no space. Next will be my fishing tackle. My rods belonged to my grandfather who died in 1983. I haven’t fished since the late 1960s and never will. Still, it’s hard.

  17. if i down sized then there would be no reason to go into the wilderness to get away from everything. (kidding theres more to it than that). my down sizing has been funding my section hikes so win win

  18. What a great post and responses!! Thank you everyone.

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