Souvenirs from travels and the evolution over time

Eleven years ago, when I first went to Melbourne and stayed at my in-laws’ home, I marveled over their large collection of souvenirs that they’d collected during their travels over their 40-plus years. The souvenirs ranged from the small, cute, antique items, like the little ones you could place in a glass curio cabinet, to the larger, more impactful pieces, like a Japanese cuckoo clock that has a very intense time precision, to paintings and glass sculptures collected during visits to different countries around the world. There’s even a gorgeous Wedgwood Wild Strawberries collection of bone china they had shipped back to Melbourne that they picked up while in England during Chris’s youth. I always take a look at the Wild Strawberries collection every time I visit. Each illustration of strawberry, leaves, and vines are hand-painted. And the pieces are all painted with a genuine gold rim; they are truly pieces of art.

And usually while I am standing by this glass cabinet and staring at the Wedgwood Wild Strawberries bone china, one or both of Chris’s parents will come over and recount the time they purchased this fragile, gorgeous set. After, they will also comment that they don’t use it “nearly enough,” and be unable to recall the last time they took it out to use. This always made me sad: they probably spent a small fortune on something so beautiful and intricately made. Yet since it’s rarely used, no one is actually enjoying it or getting a return on that investment they made decades before. The Wedgwood china set just sits there, dust-free in a glass display case in their dining room.

For a short period when I was younger, I also liked to collect little cute items to eventually display in my home when I returned from my travels. When I was really young, I used to be told that one day when I got married, I could pick out my own wedding china set, and hopefully, someone would be generous enough to purchase it for me and my future husband off our wedding registry (that never happened; we had no wedding registry, and the man I ended up marrying had zero interest in any bone china set). Now, though, during travels, we rarely buy anything that is not a consumable to take home (e.g. food or beverage; tea!). The only real thing we make sure to get before we leave a new place is a magnet to add to our boards of magnets documenting our travels. We don’t have much space living in a small Manhattan apartment. We also don’t like clutter.

And the thing is: while I do love looking at all my in-laws collected items over the years every time I go back to their home, I realize that while I enjoy it, one day when they are gone, who will appreciate these items as much as they did? Their sons do not appreciate most of them and just look at them as piled up clutter. But why would they appreciate them? They didn’t collect these items on their own travels, so they have less or no meaning to them. As for me, I might appreciate them, but I will unlikely have the space to care and keep them all. These are all items that they collected as momentos of their travels, purchased with money that they worked hard to earn. These items are almost symbolic of all their hard work, as well as their parents’ generation of hard work, before them. So while many in my generation may see our parents as hoarders, whether that’s of antique items or even toilet paper, maybe the way our parents see them is as an embodiment of what they worked their whole lives to build. And perhaps they see our generation as a generation of people who don’t appreciate their hard work and is merely quick to write off and throw away embodiments of it.

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