With our two sons grown and gone, and retirement a handful of years away (assuming a hand has six fingers), my wife and I are getting rid of the stuff we’ve spent the last 40 years accumulating. We rented for the first 15 years of our marriage, desperately wanting our own home but unable to afford one. Now we own three — the house we live in, the house we intend to live in when we can no longer climb stairs, and the farmhouse my wife lived in as a child. It isn’t cheap owning three homes, and I’d much rather spend our money on more important things like motorcycles, but we’ll probably die still owning three houses, sticking our sons with the trouble of deciding what to do with them.
Two of the houses are full of furniture. The other house is rented to a friend, so when I see a piece of furniture I like, I buy it, put it in her house, and tell her she can use it for as long as she lives there. Other than that, I’m a nice landlord.
Getting rid of stuff is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, a lot harder than acquiring the stuff in the first place. My friends and family were supportive when I was buying things. “That looks nice,” they said. “You should get that.” But now when I try to get rid of something they say, “Why don’t you want that? It’s perfectly good.”
For a while I was enchanted by antique wooden cupboards made in the early 1800s. They weren’t in high demand, the prices were reasonable, and before long I owned five of them. They’re apparently still not in high demand because I’ve offered two of them to newlyweds in my Quaker meeting, who turned them down. “Thank you just the same,” they said, “but we get our furniture from Ikea.”
“Thank you just the same,” they said, “but we get our furniture from Ikea.”
I have two kitchens, but own five kitchen tables. I use the other tables for desks. A man can never have too many desks, but I might be getting close. I own 30 kitchen chairs, six per table. We actually use all of them at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and then in the off season to stack stuff on. I use one of them in my office to set Bibles on that people have given me. I’ve written several books over the years that caused some people to think I was heretical, but I bet they don’t have a chair full of Bibles.
I own five motorcycles, each of them designed for a specific purpose. Only one of them is new, the rest I bought used. They all run, but the oldest one, a 1974 Triumph Bonneville, is unreliable, and I’m losing my patience with it. I’d get rid of it if I could, but if I sell it to someone and it breaks down, which it most certainly will, I’d feel bad. If I give it to someone and they crash and die because they forgot the brake was on the left side and not the right side, then I’d feel even worse. It leaks gas and oil and I’m hoping one day it’ll catch fire and save me the trouble of getting rid of it.
A man I know began giving his stuff away when he turned 60. When he died of a heart attack 10 years later, he was down to one chair, one bed, one table, and two changes of clothes. After his funeral, his kids hauled all his stuff to Goodwill in one trip and still talk about what a wonderful father they had. I have a feeling my sons are going to hate me.
Philip Gulley is a Quaker pastor and author of 22 books, including the Harmony and Hope series featuring Sam Gardner.
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