Saturday, May 30, 2009

Deep Dark Secret: Storage Units

My grandfather unfortunately passed away in 1998, and more than ten years later we have a few key items from his lifetime of consuming, and he did not consume that much in all reality compared to my mother or I today. When both of my grandparents on my mother’s side had passed away, all of their items became ours, including furniture, books, kitchen items, clothing, music, and other normal household items. The clothes were donated to charity and the rest of their items still remain in our possession, contained in a time sealed fortress I like to call our dirty little secret, our storage unit. We never visit it; never take items out, and rarely ever admit we have one. To get an idea about what I am talking about, check out this YouTube video of a tour through a storage unit. But why does my mother hold onto my grandparent’s furniture as well as a few of her possessions she never uses in this storage unit? When looking at consumption from a historical perspective, Kawamura explains how “the department store materialized the values, attitudes and aspirations…it infused goods with cultural meaning. Material symbols helped to reorganize the cultural meaning” (93). In the same way, my mother has attached a meaning to these items that is more than just material. In order for me to understand myself and how to combat my own consumer habits, I need to look at my families to find out where I learned what I learned and why they taught it to me, intentionally or not. My goal is to make sure what Eileen Chang says does not continue in my family, as she describes how “people in the past went laboriously about their lives, but all their deeds end up coated in a thick layer of dust” (429). It so happens that my father had a storage unit too, one that stifles my mother’s, for a couple of decades of his life. He could never find anything in there, but I remember we would visit it when I was little and try to find items he claimed were hidden beneath many layers. Most of his items were his possessions but there was also his mother’s and father’s items in there too, both of whom had previously passed away as well. Maybe my situation is unique in that my grandparents on both sides of my family had been deceased for a while and I have seen how both my parents have dealt with the material items they left behind. Because of this, as grim as it sounds, I have been constantly telling my mother that she needs to get rid of a lot of the junk in our home because I can only imagine that when her time comes, I will be left with a house full of items, knick knacks, furniture, junk and treasures-but little to no way to find out which of her possessions were junk from the possessions that are treasures that I should keep and pass on to my children some day. In our lifetimes we will accumulate a plethora of items, memories, papers, and more, but what will our children think when they sift through all of them, trying to make sure the parent they knew was actually the person these items represented. Thus, I have informed my mother that this summer when I come home for the last time from Davis with a truck-load of my stuff to contribute to our collection, we need to separate the trash from the treasures, because often they are intertwined, the treasures are treated like trash and eventually become un-savable. Of his entire lifetime, a few key items we will always save from my grandfather’s possessions include his piano, photographs, army uniform, the music he had written, and some antique furniture he or his grandfather had made. Thus the question I find myself asking is, if I were to die tomorrow, how would my loved ones remember me? Of course they would have the memories we have shared, but their last in depth look at my life would be through my possessions and the story they tell. My possessions would tell that I hold on to meaningless items because I need them to feel secure and that I have very few treasures. I think it is more important to surround yourself with what is important to you than to burden yourself with items that may have meaning, but not a positive, healthy meaning. Thus, this week I am challenging myself to start packing up my important items and separating them from the items that just burden my life even though I do not want to admit it. Also, I have informed my mother that this summer we will be emptying the storage unit and finding new homes for many of the items because she needs a fresh start and so do I. We both need to free ourselves from the material objects that have become a representation of family memories, and simply remember the family memories.

Heather Crane, Blog #5

Kawamura, Yuniya. Fashion-ology An Introduction to Fashion Studies (Dress, Body, Culture). New York: Berg, 2005.

Chang, Eileen. “Chinese Life and Fashions.” Article: “A Chronicle of Changing Clothes.” Duke University Press, 2003. 427-441.

Storage Unit Video:

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