05 November, 2019

Thinking about "our stuff" again

Last week, Mel wrote about a book by a bookseller in Scotland. I'll summarise her post here, but it's worth going to read it in detail here.

Early in the book, the bookseller talked about going to the estate of a No Kidding couple to clear their books so he could resell them in his shop. He clearly found it sad to see the house of the couple who had no children, to know the books were going, and that there was no-one (his assumption) who would treasure the photos on the wall. He felt that the woman’s book collection was "as close as anything she left to some kind of genetic inheritance."

Mel had a hard time with this, and wrote: "Dismantling any person’s book collection is about releasing their character, and hopefully all of us are more than just our book collections."

I read both the quotes from the book (you really have to read Mel's post), and Mel's commentary, and felt slightly uncomfortable too.

Firstly, I reacted to the bookseller's feeling of sadness about taking the book collection of the couple without children. I was grateful that he acknowledged the loss in their lives, whilst at the same time irked that he seemed to think there was an innate sadness in lives without children, without knowing if they had chosen not to have children, or had had that situation forced upon them. It's confusing when we want understanding, but don't want judgement and pity! I appreciated too that he didn't dismiss their lives as unimportant, because there weren't children left behind to grieve, but saw them as real people, with characters and interests reflected in their books.

Then I reacted to Mel's comment that dismantling any person's book collection is the same, whether or not they have children. I will admit that I bristled a little, because it sounded to me a little bit like the "all lives matter" reaction. It seemed to deny the genuine empathy this bookseller seemed to feel for the couple without children, and it seemed to deny the realities of disposing of the possessions of those without children, compared to those with children. Because the truth is, not having children affects every aspect of our lives, and even our deaths, in a way that it does not affect parents. Our possessions are precious only to us, our history is important only to us, our joys are important only to us. We end with us. I end with me. Parents don't usually have to feel that.

So I couldn't comment on the post - except for a note that my book collection is largely digital or borrowed these days - because I had thoughts swirling about, agreeing and at the same time disagreeing with both the author, and with Mel. I've been a bit melancholy the last few days (for reasons which I may divulge soon), and I am sure that influenced how I felt.

I guess it made me sad that there will be no-one who will know which are my favourite books when I go, no-one who will want the pictures on my wall, or even necessarily be curious about those pictures on my way, no-one to pass on the things I love. So in a moment of pure indulgence, I felt sorry for myself, and for a while, I let myself feel sorry for myself.

I shook it off. I've thought about these issues when I've felt stronger, and written about them too (here, for example).  I know that I am more (as Mel pointed out) than my book collection, more than just my possessions. I've already written about my legacy being more than whether or not I have children. I have accepted that my possessions serve me and my husband, and only me and my husband, and I am happy if they work for us, and give us pleasure, because that's all any of us can ever control.

Still, sometimes, it all creeps up on us, on me. Sometimes there is an emptiness that seeps through the armour I've learned to wear against the outer world, against the losses that I've faced, and against the danger of my own thoughts and fears. It hits us when our defences are down, and reminds us of what we've lost. That's okay, too. We all need to be allowed to feel what we feel. As long as we can clear our heads, reapply logic, and regain our confidence. Our value and legacy does not depend on whether or not we have children, or on our possessions and who might want them. I know that. But it is an important reminder.


  1. My Mum loved reading but she would always pass on her books afterwards to friends so she didn't end up leaving a big collection. I don't remember her ever talking to me about her favourite books sadly. She did have other possessions like jewellery that we have which is a nice keepsake. Recently my sister has been helping sorting through the stuff at my late aunt's house. She didn't have any children. I know it's not the same, but some of her things will be divided among her nieces to remember her.

  2. AAAAAAARGH. I just lost my whole comment. That I typed for 15 minutes. And I now need to run and cannot retype. I'll have to return in the future.

  3. Yes. Sometimes it still creeps up on us--the sadness, the losses, and/or a pervading emptiness. I'm glad to have experienced these feelings coming upon me but eventually passing, but it still totally sucks when it happens. But it's true that "we all need to be allowed to feel what we feel." <3

    As for who will get my hundreds of kids books that I collected over the years... Who knows. Right now they're in storage, which is silly. They are meant to be shared with children. But one day they will be out of boxes again and I will find children to share them with. Maybe at the library or the nearest elementary school wherever I end up putting down roots...

  4. Books..... I use the library. But there are other things in our belongings too. And in my peer group (let us say 75 and up) I am hearing many say that their children do not want their belongings, that lives today are so different and homes do not have the spaces and uses and what will happen to the expensive beloved item. And now my part of the world burns every year and all those material things may burn away.
    I am reminded that what remains is only the loves we have share and shown to the world. Children are not a perfect solution. What you are sharing to the world with your writing is such a gift. THANK YOU.

  5. {{{Mali}}}...it seems like you are moving through another layer of grieving. I'm just here with you listening.

    A friend of mine was widowed just two weeks ago just as she and her husband (also my friend) started their retirement. No children. I'm grieving the loss of my friend, and these words of yours really hit home: "Our possessions are precious only to us, our history is important only to us, our joys are important only to us. We end with us."

    Thank you once again for showing again the iterative process of grieving and healing.

  6. I got a heart pang from this. My books feel like a legacy, and I would hope I could find a good home for them, a person or a place that would love them like I do and see the story in their collective group. We've talked about this a lot, actually, since becoming forever childless. It is hard to think of legacies and that not having children doesn't make us legacy-less, but that not everyone will see things that way. That it will look sad, or somehow hollow. I guess lots of advance planning and setting my perspective as NOT-SAD, NOT-HOLLOW, is what I've got. Thanks for the reminder!

  7. I can relate to ALLLLLL the thoughts & emotions you've expressed here! My books are precious to me, and I've sometimes thought about what will happen to them when I'm gone. I know not everyone has the interest (let alone the space!) to house the collection we have! I'm assuming the nephews might each pick out a few volumes that interest them, and then sell or donate the rest. BUT -- I have some copies that were signed by the author, though -- some of them fairly well-known (former PM Kim Campbell, Gloria Steinem, Lauren Bacall, Elizabeth Peters, to name a few) -- and I keep thinking there must be some way to flag to whoever is cleaning out the shelves that, WAIT, you might want to take a look at the inside flyleaf, lol (bookmark? post-it note? on the cover itself??). Although, what a surprise for anyone who might wind up with these books!