The Stuff We Leave Behind



The Stuff We Leave Behind

“We do not possess stuff. Stuff possesses us.”


Last week I wrote a story about Charles Glass, who died recently at the age of 92.  Charlie lived a very eventful, yet simple life. He is survived by his wife Hanka, a daughter, son, and grandchildren.  In the Jewish tradition, family of the deceased sits shiva, whose literal translation is “seven”, a week-long period of mourning.  Part of the tradition of sitting shiva, is that family is visited by friends and relatives.  On my first visit after the funeral, I photographed views outside the house–some of the images that you saw in my newsletter last week.  On our next visit, I entered into his study.  Charlie built his house and designed this room to be elevated, but connected with the rest of the house.  There are two comfortable chairs, bookshelves, a fireplace and the desk is covered with notes, books, an old check printing machine, a carousel with slides, old National Geographic magazines, and musical recordings on tape and VHS. A typical picture of a typical office.  But now when Charlie is gone, who will sit in front of an old Apple computer and “take out (his expression) news”?  Who will read all those books, listen to the tapes, or watch the VHS movies?  “Who needs all of this stuff and what to do with it?”  This is the question his daughter was asking me.


In the early days of our residency in San Francisco, we used to go to flea markets, garage and estate sales.  This is where the “old” stuff often ends up–or in the garbage bin.  Some photo exhibits contain collages of personal photos of people who are not around recently, often found in those sales.  Who were all these and what did they leave behind?  I’m currently reading “The Family: A Journey into The Heart of the Twentieth Century” by David Laskin.  The story is about a family from 19th century Russia; and one part immigrated to America, while another wing immigrated to Palestine in the early 20th century, and some stayed behind in the former Soviet Union.  Every immigrant, who leaves his or her country, leaves most of their possessions behind.  And then, after settling down we start the accumulation process again.  Do we identify ourselves with what we possess? 

“This is my book, shelf, phone, TV, or anything else.  And what becomes with my stuff when we are gone?”

Recently a friend of mine, Rita Roti, a real estate agent, told me about her experience selling a house for a young couple in their 60’s.  When both of them retired, they decided to get rid of all their possessions, to just keep her artwork in a storage unit, and to travel the world as long as they can, with only backpacks.

Seeing Charles’ study and hearing this story inspired me to set up a new goal: to get rid as much as my stuff as I can.  I gave myself time to do it gradually, a little bit every weekend to finish by the end of the year.

If you have similar inclinations, but do not have willpower or a discipline, or just do not know where to start, a friend of mine Vicky Low, is a professional organizer and can help you.  She can be reached at (415) 205-6822 or via email at


Do you want any of Charlie’s stuff?  It is available.  Regardless where it will end up, my photos will keep the memory of a person, who once called them his possessions.

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