by Jim Obermeyer
My mom and dad bought their first–and only–home in 1955. A ’50s era three-bedroom brick ranch home. A home where my brother and I were born and raised. A home where many memories were made. And a home where much of the stuff of those memories still remains.
Recently my brother and I had to go through all of those memories. My dad passed away in 1997, and my mother lived in that home until she was recently moved into a nursing home at the age of 90.
The home has actually sat vacant for more than a year, as we moved mom from rehab to assisted living to the nursing home where she will remain for the rest of her days. In order to prepare the home for sale, my brother and I had to literally go through every counter, cabinet, drawer and box in preparation for an auction of the contents of the home.
This was no easy task. A full home, a full basement and a full attic. More than 60 years of collecting stuff. Hoarders they were not, just the trinkets and keepsakes of a long life full of family, friends and travel, and the things you collect along the way.
One of my fears going into this exercise was what I would come away with, both emotionally–reliving all of those memories as we went through them, and physically–what would I refuse to discard, and end up putting in my trunk and hauling to our home. I know that was my wife’s greatest fear.
Going room to room, drawer to drawer, closet to closet, my brother and I spent the day reliving our youth. We found old board games in our old bedroom, dad’s old fishing gear and model-building tools in the basement workshop, Mom’s favorite china in the dining room. The basement family room was full of old records, old magazines, dad’s maps and travel brochures and all the glassware at his bar.
I collected a few things for each of my kids–things they had talked about remembering from staying at Grandma’s. And I did collect a few things for myself, but very little when compared with what I thought I might haul off.
I’m not sure how many people my age have to go through their parents’ home they lived in their entire lives. We are such a mobile society now. People typically don’t stay in their first homes their entire lives, slowly collecting things over time. My impression is that people now don’t collect as much stuff, although I’m not sure I could say that about myself. My wife certainly wouldn’t.
I came away from the experience thinking a lot about what is important in life. It certainly doesn’t appear to be stuff. My parents had lots of it. And most of it will now end up in a landfill or being sold to someone else to collect.
There were other side effects to this exercise. I sat in my office at work the next week staring at piles of files and drawers full of material I’ve collected over the course of my career in this industry. How much of this do I really need? How much of this do I use? How much of this will anyone ever use?
I feel sorry for the team that empties our trash cans in the evening. They hauled away a lot of paper during that week. And I’m the guy that usually saves stuff rather than trashing it.
So, what’s really important in life? I don’t think it’s stuff. We certainly cannot take it with us. We can surround ourselves with it for the majority of our lives, but in the end, it all goes away. Instead of collecting stuff, how about collecting experiences? How about collecting memories? How about collecting time with your family and friends? Instead of giving the gift of stuff, how about giving the gift of presence? As in being present in the lives of those who are important to you.
Take the time to spend the time with the people in your life. Those experiences and memories you will have with you no matter where you actually live.
See you on the show floor.
Jim Obermeyer has been in the tradeshow industry 37 years, both as a corporate tradeshow manager and exhibit house owner. He is currently a vice president at Hamilton Exhibits and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.