The rich are besieged by their own possessions

Pax Arcana

I used to ball my eyes out at those commercials for starving children in Africa — especially the ones where the kids root through garbage dumps for food and other necessities.

Now I realize how lucky those children really are.

No matter how difficult foraging through heaps of fetid trash may be, at least these poor wretches aren’t saddled with the burden of caring for family heirlooms. According to this article in the New York Times, rich (white) people in New York are increasingly traumatized by their own good fortune — especially when it takes the form of possessions handed down by their forebears:

Even today, when so many people favor simple, modern décor, turning your back on a grandmother’s tea set or ornate settee can feel like betrayal. Admit to your family you’re thinking of getting rid of such a piece and you’re likely to kick off a family opera, with crescendoing wails of “How could you?” Quite likely, you’ll be torturing yourself with the same question.

Ambivalence and guilt, it seems, are central elements of furniture inheritance, the anchoring pieces around which everything is organized, like the sofa in a living room. Barry Lubetkin, a psychologist and the director of the Institute for Behavior Therapy in Manhattan, has observed this in a number of patients living with inherited furniture they hate. It’s an unhealthy setup, in which people become “slaves to inanimate objects,” he says. “Once you’re defining it as something you can’t get rid of, you’re not in control of your life or your home.”

Because nothing says “I’ve lost control of my life” like a lamp that you’re not crazy about.

I feel bad for these poor people, but I’m also proud of them for dealing with their trauma with proud dignity. Probably the worst thing they could do would be to burden the less fortunate with some of their unwanted possessions. The last thing those African dump-foraging children need is to have to make difficult decisions.

The Tyranny of the Heirloom [New York Times]


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