It’s not true that the person who dies with the most toys wins.

We’re getting rid of most of our toys, and, I still feel as if I’m winning. Nor is it necessarily true that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone. Much of our “stuff” is going, but I have always appreciated what we have, I never took it for granted, and while I’m most grateful for the privilege of once owning it, I truly won’t miss it. 

Ray and I are disassembling what could be thought of as the “family” home. We’ve lived in many places, and our houses have always been thought of by close friends and relatives as the place to which they could return, and always know that if they needed something, we’d have it tucked away somewhere. “Need a tampon? We’ve got one.” 

Soon, our home will no longer be fully fortified for any need, nor will it be Auntie Mame’s haven, overflowing with mysteriously beautiful artifacts. The exotic pieces from world travel are being shipped to the new, biggest house in the family, owned by a wonderful nephew and niece who happen to work on Wall Street. Antiques carefully culled from high-end and country auctions, and out-of-the-way curiosity shops, will now prompt compliments for their new owners, many comments coming from friends who also have small children, and are too busy on vacations to shop for treasures. As it turns out, we were our nephew and niece’s personal shoppers. We’re lucky to have had the time, means, and shared good taste to create the palette of color and texture that have feathered our various nests of refuge for over 40 years. 

Guests always felt delightfully distracted, and pampered, as if at the Ritz, by the attention to detail, and the cultural feast easily seen from their beds. Despite our sobriety, the liquor and wine cupboards have been filled with the best a refined drinker could hope for. Holiday decorations were the talk of the clan, solid competition for Santa’s Workshop. No longer. A handful of selected pieces have been set aside for future private celebrations of Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. But the extravaganza has been shipped out. 

No room in the house has been spared. Every closet and dresser drawer has been culled of excess three or four times. We’re cleaning house as if we’re the survivors of our own deaths. If it doesn’t sell, it’s given away, some to family and friends, but most to household staff who load up their cars on cleaning and gardening day, with new treasures for families here, or for those back in their countries of origin. This isn’t the first downsizing of our possessions, nor will it be the last, but there won’t be another until we’re packed up for an assisted living facility, or retirement home. 

Even Lincoln, the two-year-old Labradoodle, is down from thirty to three toys. He wasn’t involved in the decision-making, but we knew what to keep, and he hasn’t missed what’s gone. Others would laugh if they looked at what I call a housecleaning. Yes, we’re down to furniture for two bedrooms, but our eventual new home won’t be sparsely or poorly decorated. We’ll just no longer overwhelm visitors with all there is to look at. And we’ll no longer have desk drawers or filing cabinets, so no more saving every card we give one another, or every fingerprint picture the grandnieces and nephews create. Nothing will be missed, not a shirt, tie, pair of shoes, oil painting, or elevator. 

Once we actually sell our big place and move into one much smaller, we’ll be glad for the simpler, single level living. I won’t have two refrigerators, nor room for the high chair, portable crib, three sets of dominoes for Mexican Train, Easter baskets and grass for a half-dozen visitors, enough cupcake, cake, and bake pans for a French bakery, wrapping paper for all occasions, ladders of all lengths, fertilizers for every soil and plant need, lightbulbs for all possible sockets, double and triple back ups for every spice, jam and syrup, stickers, colored paper, paints, crayons, markers of every color for visiting children, and enough changes of sheets and towels to accommodate ten. 

It was money loaned and not repaid that put us in this crisis mode of purging property to cut expenses and generate income. There’s a great story to tell if you like drama. It’s been told so many times over a ten year period that most friends and family have it committed to memory. I’m tired of telling and hearing the sad details. Enough. It doesn’t matter. It is what it is. 

And, despite the physical toll it has taken on my beloved, it’s really not such a bad thing, because it has forced us to do something very good for the soul, and for our future life together, that we wouldn’t have willingly undertaken without necessity. We are cleaning up our “mess” before we die, and lessening that for which we have responsibility. We may enjoy this new freedom for as many as twenty years together. 

Rich people who think they’ll find happiness in “stuff” delude themselves, as do parents who think their family will fall apart, and they’ll have no appeal to their children, if they sell the family home. We may not be able to accommodate more than one guest at a time now, but that shouldn’t matter to those who really want to see us. We may find that our large number of friends change, but if we were loved for what we had to either enrich their lives or coffers, then best we know now while we still have time to meet people authentically attracted to our souls. 

If I might share a couple of lessons learned from this, don’t lend money. Give it away, but don’t let anyone borrow it. You set yourself up for stress, and heartache, no matter how close you are. Secondly, don’t wait until you have no choice about what things to get rid of. Place the beloved objects, for which you’ve been such great caretakers, into the hands of another, who will admire the beauty and historic value that you may have long since overlooked. Let your treasures, even if it’s just a pretty lamp that belonged to Grandma, fill days with joy for someone much younger. By “cleansing,” I’m not talking about recycling those things with chips, or tears, or lost parts that you no longer use. I mean the cherished china, favorite cuff links, and new blender. Look through your files of every fabric you’ve ever used, of every Christmas card sent, every letter you’ve received from beloved family members, enjoy the memories they bring back, and then throw them away. Get rid of the CDs of every favorite Christmas movie. 

They’re all available on cable. If you can live without it, live without it. We are not diminished an iota, our life will have no less meaning, when we part with the “stuff” of our lives. No one can take from us the experiences we’ve had, nor the lessons we’ve learned. Our identity doesn’t come from our possessions, unless they possess us, in which case we’re their possession. For everything, there is a season, a time for everything to happen. As unsettling, and seemingly unnecessary as it might appear, when you’re no longer having fun managing what’s yours, let go, and move on.


Brian McNaught has been a leading educator on LGBTQ issues globally since 1974. He has made his many books and DVDs available for free at The New York Times named him “The Godfather of gay diversity training.

Check out other stories by Brian McNaught

McNaught: We Never Know Who’s Listening

McNaught: Shared Beliefs on the Unknown

McNaught: What Makes a Family

McNaught: Keeping Them Together

McNaught: Memories Light The Corners Of My Mind

McNaught: Through Thin And Thick

McNaught: The Way We Were