The Stuff Nobody Wants

 The Stuff Nobody WantsAs those from the Depression and World War II eras die, their children are left to resolve a tragic problem that past generations did not face.

The problem involves stuff nobody wants. The possessions of parents are no longer prized by many children. The family silver means little to them. Even sentimental reasons are not enough to save family heirlooms from the thrift shop or consignment store. Sometimes, children will unload entire households upon services that specialize in liquidating such goods.

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It is not only the fact that people cannot absorb extra things into their overcrowded homes, but the very things themselves no longer have a purpose in the home of later generations. Hectic lifestyles make mobility of cheap furnishings more important than the stability of heavy furniture.

Tastes Have Changed

Indeed, tastes have changed, and those things of the past are no longer valued. It was once thought the mere fact that something was considered an antique would guarantee that it would have at least some value. That is no longer true.

There is no market for the “antiques” of the Greatest Generation. Many antique dealers will not touch the items. The market is flooded with such objects. Even thrift shops and charities can afford to be picky about what they will receive.

Of course, it should be noted that much of the stuff nobody wants is itself not of high intrinsic value. A lot of it was mass-produced, which has never tended to hold value. Generally, it is only the things of highest quality that still find markets. Anything else, even if tasteful and beautiful, is stuff nobody wants.

It’s Not the Stuff

While the lack of a market is a difficulty, the real problem is not the stuff itself. It is the desire to leave it behind. The new generations have adopted a mentality that breaks with the past. They are more likely to favor IKEA furniture over traditional sideboards and mahogany tables.

Things like formal china patterns often mean nothing to many of these generations. The lack of formality in their lives has not only made traditional designs and styles irrelevant but it calls into question the use of china, silver, crystal and fine linens themselves.

In an increasingly mobile and virtual world, things do not have the same meaning they once had. Whereas memories used to be tied to physical realities, postmodern generations are increasingly capturing their special moments online.

Changing technology makes all tech-related objects obsolete. The hectic pace of life weakens the attachment to things. A sprawling family in which members live far from parents also makes it physically difficult to move goods to their homes.

The Disappearing Family

One of the primary reasons why there is so much stuff nobody wants is the decline of the family. When the institution that should transmit spiritual values fails to do so, it should be no surprise that it would fail to pass on the material objects that are tied to them. Objects no longer have stories attached to them; they have no value tied to memories.

The U.S. Department of Census reports that 43 percent of all American children live without their father. The broken marriages of parents break the lines of transmission for this stuff nobody wants. The broken marriages of children likewise make family goods less desirable. When children do not marry or live together, the belongings of the parents that fit into a family context find no purpose in households.

Where there is no sense of permanence or stability in relationships, things lose their significance, and there is no place for the stuff nobody wants.

A Wrong Notion of the Family

However, the decline of the family is not the only reason nobody wants these belongings. This stuff is often left to children and grandchildren who have healthy families of their own. They maintain close relationships with their parents or grandparents. However, they have their own responsibilities and regret the fact that the objects left to them do not fit into their lives.

Such is the tragedy of the modern nuclear family. This notion of the family helps explain why there is so much stuff nobody wants. Just as most individuals see themselves as unlinked to others, so also most families today see themselves as a social unit without connection to others—even their own.

Thus, the modern nuclear family does not see itself as a continuation of a family tradition. Its members do not see the need to maintain an old home or property that should be kept “in the family.”

To them, the family is just the sum of living members composed of a father, mother, and children. Once one reaches adulthood, the individual becomes an autonomous being with few binding obligations and no need for the old stuff of their parents.

This is so contrary to the traditional notion of the family. Throughout history, the family has always been understood to mean the unbroken unity of the whole lineage of ancestors and descendants.

Families used to consider it a point of duty to maintain their honor, traditions and property. It was only with the Enlightenment that this universally held belief was called into question. Families then became isolated social units instead of transmitters of spiritual values and material goods.

Preserving the Continuity of the Family

That is why in pre-modern times, children conformed their lives to that of the family. Inside the family, they found protection and identity. Individuals enriched the family with their own contributions while drawing from the family’s rich heritage.

That is also why families at all income levels took measures to ensure continuity that spanned the centuries. Family members became trustees who shared not only a common blood of heredity but a common spiritual and material inheritance that each generation held as a sacred trust to be safeguarded and increased.

Indeed, because they wanted these higher things, they avoided the present postmodern dilemma of finding themselves with stuff nobody wants.


As seen on Crisis Magazine.


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  • Allen Thrasher

    I wonder if there aren’t trends in the opposite direction. Look at the growth of mini-warehouses, where people keep a lot of stuff. We see the cable programs about people who make a business out of buying the contents of these places sight unseen and how sometimes it’s utter junk, or about helping compulsive hoarders. But I wonder if sometimes if these places are used by people with cramped quarters to store the sort of things that people with houses with attics used to keep up there and look at every now and then.

  • Deb B.

    Our family has so MUCH stuff. I have a hard time keeping track of it all – I become enslaved to it. But i consider myself to be the temporary custodian of it all. There have been gratifying experiences in letting it go. I’ll always remember when we emptied my aunt’s home after her death. Her neighborhood had become rundown over the years. We set items out on the curb and moments later it was gone. We spied neighbors hiding behind trees waiting to see what next we put on the street. It became a game. I boxed up a nice set of china and took it to the woman across the street. She had tears in her eyes and could barely speak, she had “always wanted a matching set of fine china.” Somebody really does want this stuff! I hope it helped form some new memories for her family.

  • Louis Boo

    We must be in the minority then. When my father died in 2010, my priority was to gather and save all his religious items that he treasured. His Sacred Heart statue, his Fatima statue and Infant of Prague. He also has other items, such as treasured family photos of my grandparents wedding, my grandmother’s family photo with her parents and brothers and sisters, etc. Our home is furnished with things from my dad’s house as well as items we have found at the curbside, from thrift stores or second hand stores. We treasure the things from the past, they are better made and have something missing in the over priced IKEA stuff, character. So while we do have some new things, like a computer or TV, most everything else is old school and we love it that way.

    Even my youngest sons, when they needed new beds, wanted to go to the second hand store and pick out their beds there, which are at least 75 years old. Even now, as adults, they treasure items from the past over the Chinese stuff. We surround ourselves with the values of days gone by as well as with items of those long ago days as well.

    • Marianne Keating

      Your house sounds like my house! Religious pictures, statues and items as well as framed old family photos are throughout our home along with antiques picked up from second hand stores. People always comment how welcoming and homey it is and I tell them that it is the religious items that depict love and give comfort. Our kids went through the IKEA phase but now are beginning to seek out the old stuff from second hand stores as well. Even if it a piece is not from your own family, you realize it has a history with it and “your find” begins a history with your family.

    • dthy

      Oh yes, the religious items are important. I have, for examples, a rosary that my Dad gave me, and another that my Mother had as long as I can remember. In fact, they left behind enough religious items to supply all their children and adult Grandchildren. These things are really to be treasured.

  • salesgirl

    It’s not just material relics of their ancestors in which people today are not interested. They don’t even care about the ancestors themselves, abandoning them to nursing homes before they die. And once they’re gone, they don’t visit their graves, have Masses said for them or pray for them. They are not even interested in genealogy or finding their extended family. Children of divorce and single- parent-by-choice homes have become so embittered by their experience of broken family that they think that’s what all families are like and have been. Same is true of their experience of the broken and dysfunctional practice of Christian religion, that they think all Christianity is like this. Pray and fast, friends. So many have been cut off from all truth from their childhood.

  • dthy

    It may partly be the result of our affluent society. We all have so much stuff already. Of course, everyone needs a set of dishes, for example, but if children have already established a family of their own while parents are still alive, then they most likely have all the material possessions they need. And the more stuff you acquire, the busier you are just maintaining your possessions. The most important thing I hope to pass on to the children is the Catholic Faith. If they wish to sell the possessions and put the money to good use, I would be fine with that. But hopefully they will keep the Faith, because that’s what really unites the family, not just here, but for eternity.