When my son was much younger than he is now I asked him what would happen to my belongings when I died, my son, who has always had a dry and very caustic sense of humour replied “it will involve a skip and a mallet”. My house was, is, filled with a mish-mash of charity shop finds, old unwanted and pre-loved ornaments, trinkets and pictures, these things were found in charity shops after they were evicted from family homes, they were unwanted and so in my mind they were unloved and I’m a sucker for a social outcast or reject.
There is a lot of clutter in my home, a lot of charity shop gems and a great number of books, I think I hoard books, we didn’t have many books when I was a child, my father had a leather bound set of Dennis Wheatley books he kept on glass shelves that we were not permitted to touch, other than that we were not a book owning family but we are a book reading family. I cannot bear to part with my books and in places in my home they are taking over, I’m not sure my collecting would meet the DSM standard for hoarding but its not healthy and I struggle to throw things away, I have a war-time, frugal mindset instilled by my grandma in which I try to avoid throwing anything away which might have a useful life. And so this means my home is full, it is full of things which matter only to me and the task of clearing it out when I die will fall to my son. I could grow very sentimental about this but in reality, I don’t want to face the task of clearing out my home so why would my son want to do it.
I have a sense that some of the things I own are imbued with power, or potency and so are “magical” in some way. I don’t want to throw some things away because I would miss them, other things I might “need”, some things I think it would be bad luck, bad karma to throw away. Some things I couldn’t bear to part with, photographs of people I love, cards from people who love me, knick-knacks with sentimental value, I don’t own anything of any material value. The things around me represent me, they represent my inner being, be it my soul or my mind, the kitsch, cluttered, eclectic, useless assembly of things tell visitors who I am but they also remind me who I am. In the same way the ancient Egyptians buried symbolic items with the Pharos or my Romani ancestors burned and destroyed the belongings of the deceased , we all understand the symbolism, the potency of the “things” we surround ourselves with, I am not unusual in equating “me” with my things, indeed this is part of all cultures in varying ways, the things we own define us but today this is the witchcraft of capitalism, our current system tells us that we are judged in accordance with what we own, owning the right things, be they the right new things and the right old or antique or vintage things.
The sense that some things have a potency beyond their financial value is evident in our collecting our children’s milk teeth or locks of hair or, in the case of my nan, keeping her gallstones in a jar after they were removed. My Nan kept the chunk of my hair that was cut off when I had my first “proper” hair cut at a hairdressers when I was 7years old, the pony tail was tied in an elastic band and stored in a drawer in one of her cupboards, it was still there when we cleared out her home some thirty years later following her death, I don’t think this was an item she would have remembered she had but at the same time I also don’t think she had forgotten she had it either. My Nan keeping my ponytail reminded me of the Victorian custom of memento mori, and particularly the taking of locks of hair from a deceased loved one to make mourning jewellery, a way in which to keep the person close, to remember death and loss and to signify ones grief and love to the world.
My maternal family are of Romani descent and one of the traditional customs after death which is not often enacted today is that all belongings which can be reduced to ash must be burned and all belongings which cant be burned must be smashed and broken, partly this is so the deceased can have their possessions in the next life but partly it is designed to prevent “marime” or contamination from whatever ailed the deceased. This is a complex custom and one which results in there being nothing to hand on from generation to generation, this lack of tangible inheritance may well be the reason for the longing deep within my psyche to seek out things without a home and cherish them creating my own version of a cabinet of curiosities, I have no inheritance from my family but I have created one for my son curated from the discarded belongings of other people and its small wonder he is less than excited about having to fit it all into his home after I am gone. The things I own will doubtless be returned to charity shops and will begin the cycle again but I like the idea of that, I’ve collected the things which stir my soul and appeal to my eye and my spirit, my mismatched collection of tat would not appeal in its entirety to anyone else and so it seems only right that its scattered and separated because it is uniquely mine and when I’m gone the purpose for which it was assembled will also be gone.