Tuesday, December 16, 2014

An Un-acquired wisdom

I've become fonder and fonder of the financial musings of Jonathan Clements, whose articles appear in our Sunday newspaper.  Two weekends ago, he wrote an article entitled, "Money can also buy you unhappiness".  The bumper-sticker version of his argument?  Money begets buyer's remorse; we buy more things that in turn begin to weigh us down.

Here was one little three-sentence synopsis that I particularly liked:
As folks grow older, they often stop accumulating possessions and instead start giving stuff away.  You might view that as a rational strategy for those approaching the end of their life.  But I view it as acquired wisdom:  All those possessions start to seem like a burden that distracts us from life's pleasures.
Case in point is family heirlooms.  When I was in my early 20's, my then-husband and I toured the country, interviewing our elderly relatives about our family tree.  We helped them catalog photographs that had long remained unlabeled.  We wrote down stories about scandalous matches, eccentric aunts, persons with personality.  We cooked up family recipes.  We rescued some quilts, some photos, army medals, infant outfits.  It was a fabulous and timely road trip, because the keepers of these heirlooms -- our elderly grandmothers and fragile great aunts -- had amazing stories, and my then-husband and I were the last people to hear these stories and write them down.

And then we went back to our lives -- got our advanced degrees, our divorce, our first jobs.  But the stories we collected, those stayed with us.  As did many of the photos and other heirlooms.  I have carried these with me from home to home for two dozen years now, preserving them for . . . well, I wasn't sure for what.  Posterity, whatever that means.  

Now, with my children growing and moving out of the home, with my nieces and nephews likewise turning from larvae into human adult-like objects, I figured it makes sense to share all these beautiful objects that I just Do Not Want Anymore.   The acquired wisdom I have accumulated is that I want to un-acquire all these heirlooms.

A month or two ago, I gathered the photos/etc into groupings that seemed reasonable to me, and I took them all to a nearby frame shop.  I asked the owner to do with them what she will.  
Believe it or not, these photos look better when they're framed properly than they do in my old wrinkly plastic bags.  I like how great-grandpa's sharp-shooter medals came out.  And I like how grandma's cape, made by her mother a century ago, looks a lot snazzier ironed and framed than when it's wadded up in a ball.
 I have a nifty collage of photos of my dad as a toddler/child/teenager; this will be a gift for his new wife.
Did I mention great-grandpa?  He died in 1902, less than a year after my grandfather was born.  He died of an ear infection (can you imagine??), and left a widow to raise three children on her own.  Here is a little montage of photos of him from before he met my great-grandma.

I knew I'd be plunking down some serious money for all these frames.  It turns out I saved a bunch of money through my own indifference.  I told the framer just to be creative and to take her time.  She ended up using  her left-over materials from previous projects, and because she was in no hurry she could try out various ideas without having to commit to buying supplies.  Altogether, this cost about a thousand dollars less than I thought it would.

It was still pricey -- it's an expensive way to get rid of stuff I don't want.  But dang, does it look nice!

I am really happy to feel like I've preserved something worth preserving, and also to be giving my family a piece of their history.  But most of all, a la Clement's observation, I think that investing a bit of money to divest myself of a few possessions is evidence of an acquired wisdom.

So this is my most expensive Christmas yet: giving my heirs their looms, and giving me a bit more room.  A great gift all around.


  1. That is wonderful.

  2. I love Clements also--though I liked him better before he quit WSJ to work for the MAN for a few years. Perhaps I liked him better then because I had more to learn. Now I kind of know a lot of what he writes about.

    As for the heirlooms. Would love a follow-up on the reaction of the heirs. Some of the recipients live close by--right? So you may see these a lot in their homes.

    1. Actually, most of the people getting the heirlooms live a ways away. My dad, from what I could see of his reaction Christmas day, could probably go either way on getting the photos, but he *loved* that I'd started writing up a family history, and he sat down with me to offer corrections. That was golden. My sister immediately started pondering how to rearrange her walls so she could hang up the cape. There was another photo she knows about that I've hung onto, and she started hankering for it, and then realized she doesn't currently have room for it -- that was one of those "do I actually want to deal with the consequences of getting what I want?" moments, and she decided she'd be happy not to get that photo, at least for now.

      My daughter, the one whose father died last year, has spent 15 months clearing out all his old possessions. My gift to her was to NOT give her any more heirlooms to deal with. She appreciated that a lot. My only other close-by daughter, K-daughter, got my baptismal gown that she can use with her own daughter, due in May. She seemed to be very honored by that.

      All in all, I think a good thing. It means that we're spreading the stewardship of these items a bit broader than before. -MM