Monday, February 15, 2010

Priceless or Worthless?

The recent This American Life podcast, House on Loon Lake, got me thinking about the idiom “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.” The narrator told a story about breaking into an abandoned New England home as a bored adolescent. Confronted with rooms full of personal effects, he and his friends imagined the fate of the family who had lived there. I don’t want to give away the ending to the story, but the kids’ exaggerated explanations for the abandoned home were far more bizarre than the sad truth.

So, sitting here on my worn, black leather loveseat, staring at my kids’ toys, I wonder if the things in front of me, my family’s things, are worth anything more than the original price tags. Look around your own abode. If you vanished today and someone stumbled across your deserted belongings, would your stories be worth anything to anyone? Will the material things that describe your life be featured in a future museum exhibit or just junk destined for the local landfill?

My mother bought the toy farm set. The silo was attached briefly before it was unattached and used as a vertical garage for Matchbox cars and “bad guys.” I purchased the 36” Toshiba TV with my first commission check earned by selling classified advertisements a decade ago. My good friend Yahroo helped me haul it home from Best Buy. The crooked, miniature glass lampshade was originally part of a pair given to us by our late great grandmother – an incredible woman who is much missed. The warm glow of the two tea lights set the mood for many good evenings. My baby boy’s first birthday is approaching, yet a tourist photo of my wife, first son and me, still sheathed in plastic, rests behind the Panasonic speakers purchased with United airline miles. A white tag on a Smurf’s rear end points toward the ceiling. An exquisite hummingbird, hand-carved and purchased from an artist in Belize while on our honeymoon, defies gravity as it balances on its impossibly narrow wooden beak. Yellowed and dying leaves cling to the sad tendrils of a lush and waxy vine, a remnant of the thirty-some healthy houseplants that used to fill our home(s).

A Pirates of the Caribbean folding chair is stashed beneath the dark stained coffee table turned toy station. The hand-me-down Leapfrog electronic reading device rests limply against a wall, unused; the purple plastic learning cartridges are scattered behind me. The temperature-telling rubber ducky lies on its side. Mac Truck’s trailer, the one that accidentally deposited Pixar’s superstar racing sensation Lighting McQueen near fictional Radiator Springs, is parked harmlessly next to the red, rectangular toy bucket now decorated with Spiderman, Superman, NASCAR and T-Rex stickers. A yellow taxicab lies on its side. A foam baseball separates the Frankenstein bathtub ducky from the recycled plastic recycling truck. The Honda Ridgeline Matchbox truck is parked behind the purple viewfinder with its crumpled photo disc. The empty bucket on the extension ladder of the oversized red fire truck leans against the wall; the cab is stuffed with Marvel action figures. An unused inflatable mattress peeks from a green box leaning against the wall. The pull-along puppy from PAMIDA, a sweet gift from another great grandmother, lies motionlessly on its side, the red pull cord draped forlornly across its snout.

The always left-turning ambulance rests upside down in the dark-stained wicker book box. Blue and red cardboard bricks, hand-folded a year ago, lie buried beneath the rubble of other toys. The furry, green, belching T-Rex’s yellow foot protrudes over the rim of a woven basket. Squeeze, Handy Manny’s animated pliers, stares blankly with never-blinking eyes. A plastic dinosaur mocks its own species extinction as it lies prone. The Thing, Thor and Plastic Man grace the side of a Marvel Super Hero Squad inflatable ball. The homemade rice rattle hides behind the newer, more annoying Handy Manny drill. A bathtub squirt toy peeks from beneath the entertainment system. My firstborn son and his now way-too-small KC Royals cap stares back from a black and white photo taken in Savannah, Georgia.

Is this junk? Are my family’s memories meaningless? Are yours?

The yellow dump truck with no dump box looks as if it crashed into the sometimes face-eating squirrel. A plastic penguin, an overturned toy motorcycle, a yellow choo-choo, a lone fuzzy bear slipper, an insatiable, stuffed yellow pelican, a Raccoon Brewery growler from 2003, an oddly peeled roll of silver duct tape, a tie-dyed tapestry, a hand-built shelf, mini Princess Leia, photos of a first ocean visit celebrated, a bottle of flat bubbles, a bouncy ball with suspended glitter, C3PO, a glow-in-the-dark skeleton, a wooden keepsake box, my youngest' first shoes.

And that’s just what I can see in front of me. I can only hope that if my family had to disappear into the night and leave behind all our worldly possessions, unsorted and unfiltered, that curious kids will someday climb through a broken window and scare themselves with imagined stories of our demise.

Are your family’s heirlooms priceless or worthless?


  1. They are worthless. Purging material items is a freedom from clutter

  2. the dollar value is weak for my things but thier mine and that makes them valuable to my wife

  3. the value is in the memories, but someone who sees your stuff, might evoke their own memory, so there's value.
    there's value especially in knit hats and scarves found at maiser's place. :)