DO NOT, it says in the Bible, lay up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.
I’ve never been good at storing up treasures.
This is not for lack of trying. It is more through not trying hard enough, or rather, not caring enough about gathering a great harvest of the things rich people collect and sitting on it like Smaug the Dragon out of Tolkein’s The Hobbit.
Yet it has come to pass that a huge pile of what can only be described as junk has accumulated around my feet over the years.
My wife Pip is of the same inclination, so between us we could stock half a dozen charity shops.
I have a shed that, many moons ago, I could call a workshop. Nowadays I can barely force the door open to throw in another fireguard, piece of string or bent screwdriver.
Shelves all over the house groan with books, photo albums, bits of carving and glassware and pottery, all of it with ‘history’.
I would hate to have all this stuff define me, but the fact is that I can’t bring myself to hire a skip and throw it all away – and neither can Pip. So we live with it, and it is part of what we are.
And not a bit of it is worth anything. We imagine that a burglar would take one look and climb back out through the window, perhaps with a broken laptop (awaiting expert attention, I swear) or a DAB radio that plays only Asian music.
“Don’t go in there, mate,” he’ll tell his mates down the pub. “Their telly’s 10 years old and every damned silver spoon is electro-plated nickel steel.”
Last weekend Pip challenged me to get rid of 20 books. I’ll get rid of 20 if you’ll do the same, she said.
We put 50 in the charity bags in 10 minutes.
It’s sad that the decision you make is that you’ll probably never read a book again. It’s not that the throwaway is a bad book. It’s just that there’s no time left.
Looking at those books, I realised that I too am biologically past my sell-by date and destined for the charity shop.
I’m not important, I’ve done all the reproducing I’m going to do and the species is now safe in others’ hands.
Probably nothing I’ve ever written or painted or composed will outlast me in a meaningful way and I have to say I’m not that bothered.
My long-dead uncle’s gift to our family was a picture painted in 1667 of a King Charles spaniel – named, I believe, after the king of England at the time – which we took to a London auction. I now feel it was squandered and often wonder where it is now.
On a posh person’s wall? In an attic? Destroyed in a fire? Given to a gallery or museum?
There was one other oil painting we salvaged from the break-up of this home – a 19th century rustic scene with a peasant woman.
I’m hoping against all evidence this turns out to be an early Manet or Corot. Then at least my children will have the choice of living in financial comfort or living smugly with a masterpiece.
I guess pigs might fly, too.
So what do we have in the way of heirlooms? Because that’s what it comes down to. If we don’t clear this stuff out before we die our children will. And they will not be sentimental.
The fridge magnet might be right. ‘Pay the kids back for all those sleepless nights – spend their inheritance.’ Fat chance. It was never there to spend in the first place.
What do we want to leave the children? What’s valuable?
In material things, that will depend on them. They may find, after we’ve gone, some little thing that reminds them of us. It will almost certainly not be what we think it will be.
Forget the knick-knacks of another person’s life. Nothing is so valuable to me than memories, the afterglow of fine moments with those people I loved but who are now long dead.
I’ll be lucky if, when I’m pushing up daisies, somebody might think the same thing about me.