Thursday, June 28, 2007

Old Dog, New Tricks

I'm still thinking a lot about aging. I never gave it this much thought before.

This morning, memories came back to me of experiences and interactions I've had with various older people and their communities. I was close to my grandmother, and visited her often in college. She was extremely social, so we spent a lot of time calling on her neighbors in the senior living community she lived in.

They all liked me and were always giving me stuff. I still have a lot of it. The main theme seemed to be was how they were trying to live in smaller spaces and having to deal with a lifetime of accumulation. The epitome was the lady in the trailer home next to my grandmother's. She had a place stuffed with trash and treasures, with everything crammed together from floor to ceiling. She was a retired college professor whose late husband traveled through Asia during the 1920's. She often went with them before they had children. Her antiques were thousands of years old. She was extremely obese and hardly moved, but she had a lot of great stories about her past. And shortly after our visit, she died.

Not long ago, I was listening to a commentary on a movie that included the set decorator. The movie featured Diane Keaton as a dying mom, and the set decorator described how she tried to convey history and Keaton's protrayal of illness through the environment she created. The number one thing that stuck to me about the decorator's comments was the idea of layers. She worked hard at creating layers in the dying character's home that suggested that pruning things out became too tiresome, so there were layers upon layers of objects from different decades.

And the other thing that stuck was that when people are sick, they are just trying to survive, so dealing with cleaning and clearing their homes becomes a low priority.

I'm only in my mid-forties, and I already I see how this is true in my own life. I did not accumulate a lot of stuff by buying it, but mostly by family members dying and leaving it to us. There's a lot of emotional baggage tied to it, and a confusion on how to deal with it. My brother and my sisters do not even have half the momentos I do, mostly because their taste in decorating is more modern and so most of the stuff doesn't fit in. What they do have is always in storage. Since I am more sentimental and I like old and used stuff, it is more appealing to me.

And as I get older myself, the less time I really want to spend cleaning. Or sorting. After this summer, my goal is to simplify things so that cleaning would be easier and things would be organized. And excess would be gone. I don't think that I will improve on having more energy, in fact, as I look down the road, I know that things might get worse instead of better in twenty years time, if I get there.

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