Connections: You Can’t Take It With You

What will go and what will stay behind?

It was 6:30 on Tuesday morning, the time I usually get up, but I wasn’t ready. Although the cold snap was ending, I grabbed the thick New Zealand blanket, a long-ago present, and made myself quite comfortable on a living room couch. The next thing I knew it was after 8 — to be exact, 8:03 by my watch. For me, that counts as a lazy morning.

Plans are under discussion for my husband and me to move into smaller quarters in the not-too-distant future, and as a result many of the objects we have lived with forever are now looked at with new take-it-or-leave-it consideration. 

As I lay there under the mohair, I looked around the room, pondering: What will go and what will stay behind? We surely will take the New Zealand blanket with us, but what about more substantial objects? Would I move my main chest of drawers into our future “granny” cottage? (An aficionado said part of it is a highboy made by the famed Dominy craftsmen of East Hampton.) And what about our plethora of couches and love seats? How many couches should the optimal cottage contain?

The good news about our overabundance of furnishings is that my daughter and her kids are going to move into the house where I have lived for the last several decades, so it will fall to her to care for objects like the antique grandfather clock, which surely is not going with us, and the pretty old piano, which I admit to be leaving reluctantly. There is something liberating about shedding oneself of responsibility for all these bulky antiques, a weight both literal and metaphorical lifted.

In any event, we are blessed with a wonderful range of family possessions, including a corner cupboard filled with ceramics and other objects brought home from Shanghai and Constantinople in the 1920s by my late mother-in-law. I am happy that they will go on to the next generation. And happy, frankly, that they aren’t my problem!

When I inherited the house, the attic and store room were full of such things, mementos accumulated by a family that never wants to let go of anything, especially if it is of historical interest. Did any of us ever really need the entire back catalog of National Geographic magazine issues? I won’t feel guilty about letting those lie when we move out. Or the basement room full of handmade goose and duck-hunting decoys from a century ago. 

But, oh my, my husband and I had better get down to business and start facing all the mundane things and heaps of papers we ourselves have accumulated in closets and drawers and on countertops, not to mention in the basement. I shudder when I think of the basement. Chris put his entire collection of L.P.s on shelves down there, and they will have to be sorted; surely there are collectors who might want them, and come and get them? 

My daughter says she thinks we must start packing in earnest by midwinter. She and her kids will take care of everything upstairs, including the attic and store room, and Chris and I are directed to start with the dreaded basement in January, then turn to our bedroom in February, and so on, so that the packing is complete by June. 

I can’t decide if a closer deadline would make the decision-making easier, speed up the process, but in the meanwhile, I will get up off the couch and try to heed a bit of advice attributed (perhaps dubiously) to Albert Einstein: “Life is like a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”