A+ A A-

Ingrid Gabriel: Bjørn’s List  (Part 6 of Seniors Gone Wild)

  • Written by Ingrid Gabriel

If conversation is anything to go by, managing the tsunami of stuff that we Silvers have accumulated preoccupies our waking lives.  Whether we are downsizing, de-cluttering or rearranging, a common Senior Anxiety revolves around our earthly possessions and how to get the garage door to close while the contents of the garage insist on escaping out into the street.

Defeated by the garage door, many of us then move some of the surplus to a storage facility or rental pod.  A few of the very naïve amongst use try to get our offspring to adopt Great Aunt Ursula’s garden gnome collection or foster late Cousin Harold’s Shriner fez by confidently stating “This is going to be valuable someday.  According to Country Living magazine, these things are highly collectible!” only to be reminded that if the gnomes and the fez are so valuable, you should keep the proceeds and pad your IRA.  This, while the kids move their own things back into our garages and, shrugging, say, “Sorry…we just don’t have the room. I’ll be back to pick up my salt-water aquarium as soon as I get a new place.  Promise.”

Stuff seems to stick to us like dryer lint.  Our own decades of purchases and acquisitions, of course, but also stuff that just arrives, unbidden, like a mysterious smell.  If you have reached “discount” status (you can’t buy a senior ferry ticket at the automatic terminals anymore, by the way…you have to go up to the ticket booth and be assessed for a discounted ticket…they are wise to our grift), you have had time to pile up all kinds of treasures.  Easels from your water-color period, weights from when you cared about how your sagging ass looked.  You bought whackers and blowers and trimmers and edgers and grinders and mowers and beer making apparatuses.  You did stuff that required stuff, you went places and took stuff with you, you had jobs that required stuff and leisure interests that added stuff.  You tarred the roof and tumbled rocks and water-skied and needed cribs for babies and ping-pong tables for teens and a chocolate fountain for no reason you can remember.

Now, my Silver Topped friends, you have probably arrived at a place in your material paradise where you don’t want much more.  You don’t even really want most of what you have.  It’s just there.  Everywhere.  Maybe you never owned a spear gun or a hot air balloon, but you are mostly okay with not having everything it is possible to have.  And being able to shuffle off down Senior Lane without any material obligations is getting more appealing.  

The challenge is how do you shed what is weighing you down?  How do you evaluate what to keep?  How do you release your keepsakes back into the wild and how do you choose among your three equally excellent staplers?  Let me help.  I am highly organized in concept (if not in reality), and I have sorted all of the stuff that’s piled up in your life into nine basic groups as a place to begin:

1.  Stuff you really wanted at some point in the past, but has no known utility to you in the present [example: collection of penis gourds from New Guinea, Pan flute];

2. Stuff given or bequeathed to you that may have some value (sentimental or monetary),  but neither you nor anyone else wants it or knows what to do with it [example: numbered Patrick Nagel serigraphs; food dehydrator];

3. Useful stuff that you may use someday, but probably won’t [example: Moroccan tagine pot, exercise equipment of any variety]; 4. Stuff that’s aspirational, but you really aren’t that into self-exploration or improvement [example: Korean language CDs, empty Gratitude Journals);

5. Memorabilia that remind you of old times and loved ones [example: a rancid bottle of Tabu cologne, an urn holding your Scotish terrier’s ashes];

6. Items you keep just because you think they’re cool [example: a unicycle, a 4’ home Easter Island god];

7. Stuff that was expensive, so you hang on to it…because it was expensive [example: a disconnected walk-in bathtub, a humidor];

8. Other people’s stuff, because you have a garage and a square inch of empty space available for storage (example: a pontoon boat that needs a few repairs, a bouncy castle]. 

And of course…

9.Stuff you actually use [example: garden hose, underpants].

If you have ever moved from a big abode to a small dwelling and had to leave some stuff packed in moving tubs or boxes, you know well that it’s preferable to do without than go rooting around in your storage.  Mixing a martini in a stained coffee cup is just easier that trying to find the etched crystal glasses swaddled in bubble wrap somewhere, and after the first martini you absolutely will not care anymore ever again.

But, best not dwell on how we got here.  The task before us is to lighten our burden so that we don’t spend our precious senior time fussing over possessions that we are absolutely going to abandon one day anyway.  The journey to our eternal reward does not permit a carry-on bag.  Likewise, your loved ones will heap posthumous praise unto you when, upon your sad passing, they open your garage and find only a rake and an empty recycle can.

In this endeavor, let us turn to an expert.  You may be thinking of Marie Kondo, that lovely and obsessive tidier and declutter-er who made us all feel so ashamed of our bloated consumerism. I was happy to learn that once she had children of her own, she threw in her immaculate tea towel and admitted defeat.

Instead, let me introduce you to author Margareta Magnusson and The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter.  Magnusson is now 84 and as far as I can tell has not left for the pristine Halls of Glory. Her invaluable guide to clearing out before you shuffle off should be required reading before you are allowed to draw social security.   I can’t improve on it, so I will share a few of her valuable insights to nudge you along on your own journey.

“I often ask myself, Will anyone I know be happier if I save this?”

“The one thing we know for sure is that we will die one day. But before that you can try to do almost anything.”

“A loved one wishes to inherit nice things from you. Not all things from you.”

“You can always hope and wait for someone to want something in your home, but you cannot wait forever, and sometimes you must just give cherished things away with the wish that they end up with someone who will create new memories of their own.”
“Start with the large items in your home, and finish with the small.”

“Putting your house in order, if you can do it, is one of the most comforting activities, and the benefits of it are incalculable.” 

 “Beautiful things such as an African wooden bird, strange things like a singing magnetic pig, and funny things like a solar-powered waving bear are all things that I adore. My vice is really things. It took me a while to understand this, but you can enjoy all these things without owning them. Even though this may sometimes seem quite hard to do, training yourself to enjoy only looking at things, instead of buying them, is very nice and also a good practice. You really can't take everything with you, so maybe it is better to not try to own it all.”

 “Let me help make your loved ones' memories of you nice -- instead of awful.”

“I do know people who maintain what we in Sweden call a fulskåp, a cabinet for the ugly. A fulskåp is a cupboard full of gifts you can’t stand to look at, and which are impossible to regift. Usually these are presents from distant aunts and uncles that you put on display when the giver comes to visit. This is a bad idea.” 

And my very favorite: 

“Save your favorite dildo, but throw away the other fifteen!” 

Who can help but admire a woman who has, presumably, collected 16 dildos over eight decades.  When I first read the book, I had the idea that Margarete was encouraging the reader to give AWAY the surplus dildos, which really made me curious to see the Swedish version of Craig’s List (Bjørn’s List?).  That’s a level of recycling to which we can only aspire.  Someone should write a grant for a pilot program and get the County and Town on board.

But I digress.  

As someone who has either been directly responsible or helped with a clean-out, I can attest that it’s not fair to put anyone in the position of having only three vacation days to dispose of 45 years of accumulated everything from a second-floor walk-up and a car that also served as a mini-storage.  In the summer.  In New Jersey.  As Margaret said, “Do not ever imagine that anyone will wish—or be able—to schedule time off to take care of what you didn’t bother to take care of yourself. No matter how much they love you, don’t leave this burden to them.”

Your loved ones will love you just a little bit less. Especially once they discover that you never did throw out those 16 dildos.

Ingrid arrived from Texas 20 years ago with her 6-year-old daughter.  In addition to writing, she has many non-marketable skills and degrees.  She was also voted "Most Likely to Choose a Book Everyone Else Hates" by her book club.  Ingrid's tramp stamp tattoo is a quote from Jimmy Buffet:  If we couldn't laugh, we would all go insane.

Ingrid can be contacted at ingachai59@gmail.com

Copyright Ingrid R Gabriel, May 2023 

Last modified onWednesday, 24 May 2023 10:20