THE BLOG

Everything in Its Place

02/11/2015 12:38 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

When my mother was well along in years, she entreated her family please not to send her any more items of the sort that required dusting. "I've got enough things already," I remember her saying. "Enough that need to be cleaned."

I thought that was sort of silly then, maybe ungracious, but I've come to reconsider. In my apartment I don't have as much space as in my parents' house. Still, I have enough things/stuff/objects/chotchkas that any more might be seen as muscling-in on the items with priority for having been there for some time. Plus, as my mother stated and as I now appreciate, more would be more to dust. There are better ways to spend one's time than to go around with a dust rag. (I have a friend for whom that rule doesn't work -- hundreds of items are hungering for more.)

Contributing to the issue is my being one of those folks who believe there ought to be a place for everything, and everything ought to be in its place. If the place is visible, you're charged with keeping clean whatever you've deposited there.

Such a philosophy requires constraint on the urge to bring things home. Collecting seems instinctive, from matchbooks to postcards (maybe boyfriends), so you need to be on your guard. Even if you're not rich, there is the temptation to pay a visit to the thrift shops or resale outlets that lure you inside. There lie bargains that are, you know, really nice, four or five dollars, that would look right on that little table, or sit well next to that plate in the living room. Those are the stores I look away from when I go by.

Some of the things I have and that do need dusting are from my parents' house. They are items I managed to inherit or just grab. Their value is largely sentimental, and it seems to increase as they and I age. One is a small marble statuette of a boy holding a book and asleep on a park bench. He is as old as I am, almost like a kid brother. Another is a marble-topped oval side table, not very big, with strong carved legs. It's in a corner, not showy, but I like knowing it's there. These are happy connections to times past.

Confession: I've taken a few things from my parents' home that were gifts I'd given them, given with the unspoken plan to get my hands on them later on.

Maybe my best haul from the old family home is a set of gold-rimmed glass plates and glasses that I had my eyes on from childhood. Also, a set of gold-plated flatware that my mother designated for the first granddaughter (there were three) to be married. I especially coveted those forks and knives, so I plotted to assure my mother that if I took them they'd be in safe hands, and in time, when the granddaughter got married, I'd deliver them over. My mother seemed dubious. "You can trust me, can't you?" I said. She was old and weak, so I took the set and still have them, long past the time the granddaughter, my niece, was married. She can have them when I'm gone.

This makes me wonder about which items in my residence will one day whet the appetites of the younger generation, nephews and nieces. I've thought about putting a tag on various items, marking their intended recipient, but my mother did that too, and she didn't live long enough to find her directions ignored.

I'd just like to be sure that whoever takes my objets d'art will have a place for them, and keep them in their place.

Stanley Ely writes about family and possessions in his new book, "Life Up Close, a Memoir," in paperback and ebook.