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 She grasps a pair of outdated 15-year-old travel guides, “my friends will want these.”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.