I Can’t Take It With Me?

by James Wallace Harris, 7/3/21

That old saying warns us we can’t take it with us, but where does our stuff go when we say goodbye to this plane of existence? If I go first, Susan will just haul all my crap down to Goodwill. If she goes first, I’ll do the same for her. But if Susan goes first, who will process all my cherished possessions?

Before my mom died, she gave some of her stuff as little personal gifts to people she knew at church, or in the neighborhood, or relations. And the stuff she didn’t give away, she assumed either I or my sister would take after she died and cherish for the rest of our lives. We didn’t tell her we had other plans. After my mom died I went through her house looking for sentimental things like photographs, letters, and a few books. My sister wanted more of the knicknacks. My mom’s closets and extra bedrooms were jammed with things she’d had been saving since the 1945 when she married my dad. I told the ladies we had hired to sit with my mother when I was at work that they could have anything they wanted in the house except the stove and refrigerator. The house was clean enough to sell when I came back.

If I was kind and considerate, I’d get rid of my junk now. I’ve been getting rid of stuff for years, but there’s enough left to fill the pickup several times over. When I was young I thought I wanted a smaller house for when I was older, but now that I’m older, I don’t want that at all. This house has become the perfect size for our junk. Susan and I have divided our home into our individual territories. I junk up the den, two bedrooms, and one hall closet. Susan fills up the living, dining room, one bedroom, and the other hall closet. We both encourage the other to get rid of their stuff, but we don’t.

I’m not religious, but what if there was a heaven, and what if we could take it with us? What if St. Peter allowed everyone to bring one U-Haul trailer full of Earthly possessions to heaven, what would you take? Imagine everyone getting a luxury two-bedroom condo in paradise, how would you decorate it? (I wonder if they have the internet up there?)

My friend Connell has been moving out of his house where he’s lived since the 1980s and into a two-bedroom condo. He’s been selling his stuff on Craigslist. I wonder if I should set up an eBay account and sell off my stuff too? But it would be so much easier and put it off until I die and let Susan deal with it. Now I know why I always planned to go first.


7 thoughts on “I Can’t Take It With Me?”

  1. My dad sold off all his chess books, then accumulated a lot of them again and sold them off again, and by the time he died he had again collected quite a few which I sold off for surprisingly good money (except for My System, by Nimzovich, which is a sentimental favorite).
    As for me, I don’t see any problem. As long as we’re not actually stumbling over books and other clutter, I say let it be. At this point I don’t know how long I’m going to live, and I’d hate to get rid of my stuff and then live another ten years missing them. Or even five. I’ll leave an informal note telling my heirs to take special care with a small number of items, and to see that they end up in the right hands. For the rest, how much trouble can it be to have my stuff hauled away? A small price to pay for inheriting everything I ever worked for, say I.

  2. That’s why traditional potlatch was (is) such a wise custom. (My feeling is that Western anthropologists got its meaning wrong: I will venture that potlatch was meant to be a way to teach and instill detachment.)

  3. One day my daughter looked at all the clutter in our house and asked, “What happens to all this stuff when you die?”
    And I said, “One day, all THIS will be yours!” and I extended my open arms in game show host fashion.

    She was not happy.

  4. I’m slowly trying to de-acquistion my book collection and my CD collection. I’ve already donated 30,000 books to SUNY at Buffalo’s Special Collections Library. And, I have thousands of books yet to donate. I plan to contact the Head Librarian at the Music Library and try to negotiate a donation of all my music CDs (2000+) once I’m dead. My kids have ZERO interest in music CDs. They might want some of my books. My daughter has dibs on my AGATHA CHRISTIE collection. My son will probably take all my LIBRARY OF AMERICA volumes. I just want my “stuff” to find a Good Home when I’m gone. Too many of my dead friends stuff ended up in a landfill.

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