The Tyranny of Stuff

A selection of the keys that captured the stuff of a lifetime.

A selection of the keys that captured the stuff of a lifetime.

We’re back in Madrid, the land where locks promise hidden treasures and the keys have become the object of legends. For normal people, Madrid conjures images of flamenco, bullfights, evenings strolling the Grand Via and its cafes. For me, it’s all about the keys.

The keys of my dear departed mother-in-law’s apartment promised hidden mystery, secrets, and treasures of great value. What we have learned since May is the keys locked up stuff, lots and lots of stuff.

The apartment in Madrid is truly an homage to the mid-1960s with its furnishings and décor immovably fixed as it has been for the thirty years I’ve been visiting. Nothing moves. Nothing changes. It is now as it has always been.

But not for long. The time has come to get rid of the furnishings, the linens and china, the silver and porcelain, the ashtrays and games and hats and clothes of a lifetime. And the problem is no one needs any of the items that are here.

It makes sense if you think about it. Europe’s economy is in tough shape so few are acquiring the antiques of the ages, and it appears Spain is losing a number of its residents pushing the century mark all at the same time. So the auction houses are already filled with the furnishings of the era and there is a very small market in the States for these items.

The collected grandchildren have little interest in furnishings or antiques – well, unless it’s the crocodile bags and costume jewelry. And my brothers-in-law have some ambivalence about their memories of the stuff, so there’s little interest in schlepping it across the Atlantic.

But it’s oh so hard to get rid of outside of the family. We struggle knowing these things, this stuff, could end up with strangers, although it’s not clear why. Why is it that the things of a lifetime remain so connected to us?

Most of the tchotchkes hold memories and provide an opportunity for storytelling of days gone by. The silver coffee service brings back memories following meals at the table with Felisa serving dessert in the salon. The ashtrays and cards are a reminder of Uncle Harry with his omnipresent cigarette dropping ashes on the solitaire cards.

But they are just things, just stuff. So we’re here to visit the keys and to say goodbye to the stuff. And while we’re at it, we are planning to set a date to get rid of our own stores of stuff to ensure our children don’t face the same tyranny of emotions in the distant future.