Communion Of Dreams

The tyranny of inherited stuff.*
June 27, 2008, 6:25 am
Filed under: NYT, Society

This piece in the NYT yesterday is the perfect compliment to what I was talking about in this post:

Here is the problem with family furnishings: they are never simply stuff. As hard as it may be to dispose of a piece of furniture you bought with the fellow who turned out to be your ex-husband, it is far more difficult to get rid of a piece bequeathed to you by a member of a previous generation, which carries with it not only your memories, but his or hers as well.

Even today, when so many people favor simple, modern décor, turning your back on a grandmother’s tea set or ornate settee can feel like betrayal. Admit to your family you’re thinking of getting rid of such a piece and you’re likely to kick off a family opera, with crescendoing wails of “How could you?” Quite likely, you’ll be torturing yourself with the same question.

Ambivalence and guilt, it seems, are central elements of furniture inheritance, the anchoring pieces around which everything is organized, like the sofa in a living room. Barry Lubetkin, a psychologist and the director of the Institute for Behavior Therapy in Manhattan, has observed this in a number of patients living with inherited furniture they hate. It’s an unhealthy setup, in which people become “slaves to inanimate objects,” he says. “Once you’re defining it as something you can’t get rid of, you’re not in control of your life or your home.”

There are many reasons it happens, he adds, including simple nostalgia. But it is also often connected to a primal anxiety: the fear of disappointing one’s parents.

Ayup. And one of the reasons why I am going to be pretty scarce around here when the siblings come to divvy up Martha Sr’s household possessions this weekend. My wife knows my preferences in the matter, and I don’t want to get in the middle of any family drama.

Jim Downey

*Title taken from a line in the story. Hat tip to ML for the story.

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