IT’S NEVER GOOD TO be self-indulgent, and that’s doubly true on a day like this. Still, while the rest of you relish the gifts that came your way this holiday season, let me offer a guided tour of my most prized possessions.
I now have a firm idea of what they are, thanks to a ruthless process of subtraction. I’ve spent the past four months throwing out and selling countless things I don’t greatly care about. What remains?
There are things I’m extremely fond of: the Edwardian loveseat and armchairs originally purchased by my parents and which moved with them from England in 1966. The dining room table that was likely owned by my great-great-grandfather, who was one of the richest men in England when he died. A Queen Anne desk, originally bought by my mother. Some oil paintings of moderate value. My all-carbon bicycle, which has the ability to make me feel decades younger.
But while I like these things a great deal, I don’t love them. In fact, for the right price, I would probably say goodbye to all of them. Therein lies the problem. No, the problem isn’t that I would part with them. Rather, the problem is that others would also value them.
They may have sentimental value to me, but they potentially have real value to others—and that real value crowds out my sentimental value, leaving me somewhat ambivalent. In my perhaps twisted thinking, some object doesn’t rise to the level of lovable if it could be so easily liked by others.
Instead, the possessions I treasure most are things of almost no value to others: The teddy bear I had as a baby and which now sits on top of my bedroom armoire, surveying the room. The ugly mug given to me one birthday by my son, and which I drink from whenever I can. The paperweight I remember sitting on my father’s desk for decades and which I took from his house after his death. The small plate with the Emmanuel College crest that, during my undergraduate days at Cambridge, I found sitting in a dorm room kitchen and decided was best owned by me. The third-place award I won on a stinking hot July evening in Key West, Florida, when I ran a 5K with my father, daughter, son and sister, and after which we drank the race party’s free beer and watched the sun disappear.
These items would have little or no value for others, but for me they are priceless. Does that mean I equate zero monetary value with great sentimental value? Not at all. Rather, the items in the accompanying photograph have survived the test of time. Many other items of inconsequential value have passed through my hands over the decades and been discarded—because they held little or no meaning. What remains are those things that recall times, places and people that are important to me.
Will you find something of comparable personal value under the tree today? I wouldn’t count on it. Instead, the items you’ll one day treasure will come into your hands almost carelessly—and you’ll know they’re valuable because somehow they never leave.