It’s hard to put a price on a lifetime of memories

By S Amjad Hussain

Hidden in the deep recesses of our hearts is the desire to hang onto everything we acquire in our lives. Perhaps it is an evolutionary trait that we inherited from our remote biological past.

We keep stuff we have no use for, because someday we might need it. More often than not, that day never comes and we keep adding to the clutter around us.

When my late wife, Dottie, and I dropped anchor in Toledo in the 1970s, we had moved nine times in the previous eight years and had tried to get rid of nonessential stuff before each move. Living in one place for 37 years is a different story.

Dottie and I traveled often to different corners of the world. We seldom bought antiques or expensive artwork, but we would buy mementos of our visits to those faraway places, to trigger the pleasant memories of the people we met and the sites we saw.

There were trips to China, Germany, Austria, Italy, the Caribbean, and score of other places. And there were annual visits to Pakistan, where friends and family would bring gifts for us, which we dutifully carried back to Toledo.

For a while, these curios were displayed in the house. But with each succeeding visit, older items made their way to the attic to make room for new arrivals.

Occasionally, I would go to the attic to look for something. Sidetracked by the scattered artifacts of our past, I would pick up a piece and bring it down with me, forgetting the reason for going to the attic in the first place.

In due course, we ran out of walls on which to hang pictures and artwork. They are not the kind that hang in a museum. But they all tell a story, not only of what they depict, but also of the market or souk where they were bought.

Attics also have limited capacity. My daughter Tasha told me that I needed to unclutter my home. After years of resistance, I relented. She decided to have a garage sale.


Garage sales evoke an image of a front yard where a few rows of tables display unwanted or redundant items flanked by a few racks of clothes. Passing cars stop, their drivers walk around the merchandise, and then they drive away. Add a bunch of kids and a dog running around, and you have a picture that Norman Rockwell could have painted.

Going through the accumulated clutter of 37 years was not easy. What to keep and what to part with? And how to determine the selling price?

How much should I ask for a pair of miniature paintings — old but not antiques — that I bought after the customary haggling in India 30 years ago and had framed? Or the intricate village scene done in a mosaic of colored wood chips given to me by an old friend? Even if you set aside the sentimental value, how do you determine a fair price?

What is the value of a Chinese abacus made from animal bone or brass plates with decorative designs? What price should I put on a faceless ceramic doll that I bought in Puerto Rico or a vividly colored parrot from Costa Rica that reminded me of the peaceful forests of that country?

We put much of the so-called clutter, along with a part of our history, up for sale. It would have been a challenging job for a cultural archaeologist to piece together our lives through the prisms of these disparate items.

My eternally optimistic son-in-law, Kevin Black, thought we would sell most of the stuff. We did not. People came looking for bargains. We had plenty, but they apparently were of the wrong kind.

We made a few hundred dollars, and that was good enough. We had the opportunity to talk with some interesting people.

The leftover stuff is boxed up in a corner of my garage. At some future date, I am sure, we will have another garage sale, because the main floor of my house will again be cluttered and my attic will be overflowing.

S Amjad Hussain is a renowned Pakistani-American surgeon and recipient of several awards.

The column was published in The Toledo Blade and is being posted with permission of the author.


Categories: Arts and Life

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1 reply

  1. You make a lot of great points when it comes to selling one’s personal belongings. Most people in my neighborhood are more interested in clothes than art. Makes me pretty frustrated.

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