When my great-grandparents moved to our current farm in 1927, they had purchased a home with all its belongings -- and one current resident who had not yet left. Berger Road is named for the Berger Family, who lived there from the late 1800s until my family purchased the farm. Delano Berger, in fact, stayed at the house for several weeks even after my great-grandparents moved in. His mother, Sofronie, had passed away a couple years before Delano sold the farm . . . And when my great-grandmother moved in she found that Delano had touched nothing since his mother's death. Sofronie's church clothes were still lying on the bed were she left them the day she died. When Delano moved out to a smaller place, he left many of the Berger Family possessions in the farmhouse. My great-grandparents, their own parents, and my grandparents all accumulated numerous items -- many of which still remain at the farm. Being surrounded by the treasured items of several generations is a wonderful thing . . . And sometimes overwhelming.
Matt & I are completely opposite: I keep everything and he keeps nothing. That being said, he is very respectful of the deep family connection I have to objects, as well as my need to find my own bizarre form of closure with an item before I can dispose of it. Having other people around me is good motivation for me to organize my belongings. Thus, my desire to have a peaceful atmosphere to welcome those I love is one of my strongest motivators for cleaning. The perfect example of this situation was when my Aubry & my Emma convinced me to clean out the refrigerator a couple months after my grandmother moved to her retirement community in 2012. It is very difficult for me to dispose of another person's items, and they rightly realized that the refrigerator was a needed place to begin! Aubry & Emma were both near the conclusion of their undergraduate careers at that point, and they set the primary rule that if something had expired while they were in high school then it was thrown away without question. The "prizewinning" item? A bottle of Karo Syrup whose label declared it the baking item of choice for the 1980 Olympic Team. The best part about this was that my grandmother was on at least her third refrigerator since 1980 . . . She had literally moved the old bottle of Karo into each subsequent refrigerator! I get my instincts honestly!
This winter I have been working sporadically to truly organize the farmhouse. I recently dedicated myself to cleaning my grandfather's den. How hard is it for me to divest of items? He passed away in 1996, and I still think of the items in that room as his. Sorting through Harrison items can be a definite adventure. I found some truly memorable objects today. I love locating something significant in the stacks of mundane objects! Things to keep: a ticket for my mother's college graduation and a business card from when Auntie worked at Ohio Bell.
Of course, finding fun things is truly the needle in the haystack of Harrison memorabilia. I tossed stacks of appliance manuals which we no longer own, receipts for items which are long gone, and magazines that were ancient. I saved things which struck me of interest, for example the receipts my grandfather had kept from the hospital stays when his daughters were born. I read that Jan's birth in 1947 at St. Ann's was at a cost of $46.05, while my mother (born a month premature) tallied a hospital bill of $80.18 at Grant Hospital in 1949. Prices rose by 1953 when Jill was born at Grant: $110.80. And one more receipt followed in 1957 for the little one they lost. It is amazing how these mundane pieces of paper -- kept for sixty some years -- seem to tell vast stories of joy & sorrow, birth & loss.
Here are my hints for sorting through the accumulated objects of life . . .
1. Only keep the things that bring you joy. My dear friend Stephanie recently taught me this concept, and it is a very important idea. I have stopped asking myself if I could possibly use something someday (that is the kind of thinking that led to the great Karo syrup situation!), and instead I ask myself if something brings me joy. In my case, unfortunately, a LOT of things bring me joy -- but I have stopped the Becky Harrison-inspired habit of washing & keeping recyclable containers "just in case" I ever need them, as well as the Ina Harrison-mandated habit of keeping every receipt ever received. And interestingly enough, the fewer objects around me, the more joy I find in them!
2. Use things. Use them up and wear them out -- do NOT save them for "some day" . . . Some day rarely comes. I saw this in both of my parents: saving things to enjoy some special day in the future. And in both their cases, I ended up responsible for culling through everything they kept. I was incredibly saddened after my mother passed on, and I realized that her wedding china -- always saved for some day -- was severely damaged by sitting in boxes unused for so long. I wish she had enjoyed using it, instead of saving dishes which ended up broken & unused. Items that are well-used have been well-loved. I threw away all the expensive, broken dishes, but how I treasure her childhood Teddy Bear that was so well-loved & worn that he is filled with beautiful memories!
3. Dispose of things which would burden those who come after you. The reality is that we will all pass on, and someone will be entrusted to deal with the things we left behind. Do what you can now to make sure that task will be one of love & respect. Keep only the things that are necessary or joyful. If a letter or an object could hurt someone else if they found it, get rid of it now. I have found too many letters and notes speaking of dislike of other family members, disappointment in the birth of girls instead of boys, anger at perceived hurts. Such things do not instill love & respect in subsequent generations. The legacy of the grandparent who empowered & inspired me stands much greater than the legacy of the grandparent who left me written records of bitterness. If you have items that would hurt others, dispose of them . . . Or better yet, become a person who rejects hurtful words & thoughts & actions in total. Keep things that bring joy, and banish those things that pollute.
During the summer before my senior year at college, I did an independent study for my history degree in which I catalogued my great-grandmother's papers. Being a good Harrison, she saved everything -- but what a joy it was to read the thoughts and impressions of a positive, hard-working woman who loved adventure! It is wonderful to sort through the belongings of a previous generation and feel inspired, while wishing that you could have known that person. When I sort through objects, I try to keep in mind what a positive experience it was for me to read through the papers of my great-grandmother, in the hopes that it will help to shape what I personally leave for future generations. I hope what I leave behind will make previous generations proud, and leave future generations inspired.