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Stuff, Stuff and More Stuff

December 12, 2010

I have too much stuff.  I know I am not alone in making this statement of complaint. In our possession-obsessed world, having the means (or the credit) to buy ‘stuff’ represents ‘success’ (what’s the old joke ? “The one with the most stuff at the end wins.” Or something like that).  Wanting (but not necessarily needing) ‘stuff’ is what drives our economy (that’s what the great big marketing machine is all about).  But whether we buy because we have a need (the toaster only works at ‘burn’ level; the laptop you bought ten years ago can’t be upgraded; water seeps through the soles of your favourite shoes) or a desire (you’ve always wanted a red leather jacket; if you don’t have an iPhone, you think you’ll look like a luddite at work; the living room furniture is still in good condition but its TEN YEARS OLD), at some point you (like me) will find yourself stopping and looking around and asking yourself ‘Where did all this stuff come from?’.  And then – if you are like me – you’ll follow that up with the more frightening question: ‘How on earth do I get rid of it?’

My husband and I are not hoarders; we do, however, hang on to more stuff (material, goods, matter, things, objects, bits and pieces, substance, possessions, belongings, kit, gear) than we need, and we stuff  (fill, congest, pack, cram, ram, jam, stow, squeeze, glut) it into boxes and bags,  cupboards and crawlspaces, nooks and crannies, and spare rooms because we have – for all intents and purposes – ‘enough space’ to store it all. 

A Portrait of Me at Two and a HalfI am a sentimental ‘keeper’; I hang on to things that have little practical value but that evoke fond memories.  I have, for example, the dress, teddy bear, necklace and bracelet I am wearing in the portrait my mother had taken of me when I was two and a half years old (the 11 x 17 black and white photo now hangs in my bedroom). I also have several other stuffed animals and almost all my baby, teen, and Barbie dolls from my childhood. And yes, I still have – and probably will keep until the day I die – my wedding dress and silk bridal bouquet. 

I have more than a dozen LPs (even though I no longer own a turntable to play them on), several dozen texts on a number of subjects (despite no longer teaching, or having any plans to return to that field of endeavour), and three large Rubbermaid containers full of Christmas decorations and tree ornaments (although I no longer put up a tree or display most of the decorations I’ve collected over the past forty years).  I have kept mementos of the boys’ childhood as well (including several homemade Halloween costumes and a number of favourite toys that they didn’t take with them when they moved out). 

The GarageMy husband is a ‘practical’ keeper.  The garage and garden shed are filled with shelves upon shelves of hand and power tools, lawn and garden equipment, and odds and ends that I have no idea the purpose of. Much of it is what I refer to as ‘car stuff’ (his hobby; his passion); the rest is household flotsam and jetsam that ‘might come in handy someday’.  He, of course, knows what (and where) everything is; I simply try not to look at it when I get in and out of the car (just as he probably doesn’t look around when I send him into the crawlspace to get something for me).  I should point out that even though there is a TON of stuff in the garage, it all ‘belongs’ there, and there is still room for two motorcycles and my car, so we’re better off than most people who seem to think ‘garage’ means ‘giant storage facility for everything except cars’.

The 'Exercise' RoomWe also have one of those rooms where things-we-no-longer-use-but-can’t-bring-ourselves-to-throw-away get relegated.  We call it ‘the exercise room’.  There actually IS exercise equipment in there (a treadmill, stationary bike, weight bench) and – yes – it does occasionally get used – but the primary purpose of this very large (25% of the usable space in the basement) room is storage.  My grandmother’s (uncomfortable) antique rocking chair and sewing table share space with two bookshelves full of outdated computer programming textbooks, dozens of boxes of stuff the children left behind (but may want someday), a white wicker loveseat and chair that would look good in the sunroom I hope to have someday, and the cat’s litter box.  The entry to the crawlspace (under the main stairs) is also from this room – in there are boxes for my collector dolls (porcelain and Barbie), Christmas decorations, old computer bits and pieces, carpet roll ends (in case we ever need to repair/replace the ten-year-old carpet that is a decidedly different colour from the pieces we saved), a box of photos I have not yet put into albums, some more of the kids’ prized possessions, and a whole lot of other stuff I don’t want to even think about!   (And let’s not even talk about the closets in the two spare bedrooms where books, trinkets, clothes, and ‘I-don’t-know-where-else-to-put-it’ bits and pieces lurk!)

So – question 1: Where did all this stuff come from? The answer is actually quite simple.  It comes from life.  We start out with very little of our own stuff and than add to it as we build our careers, our incomes, and our families. 

I recall moving into my first home with little more than a bed (mattress and box spring, no frame), my childhood dresser, a desk of my (ex) husbands, a black and white TV, a metal shelf, and whatever kitchen gadgets and dinnerware we’d been given as wedding presents (no one gifted the happy couple with microwaves, big screen TVs, or furniture in the seventies!)  By the time we moved out of that tiny, two-bedroom house seven years later, we were pretty flush with ‘stuff’ – but we actually only had enough furniture and possessions to fill half of our new (much larger, four bedroom) one.  Twenty years – and two children – later, however, that house was bursting at the seams. 

In the divorce that followed, I gladly relinquished three-quarters of what we’d accumulated.  I wanted a fresh start, and getting rid of most of the furniture (I hung on to a few cherished pieces) and other household paraphernalia seemed the best way to go.  However, my new house – and my new life – still needed furniture to sit on and sleep in, and accessories to accompany it.  And before I knew it (ten years in), I found myself back at square one (too much stuff!!!!!) and asking question 2: How am I going to get rid of (some of) it?

Regifting GrandmotherMy mother’s solution to this problem (when she downsized from house to condo, and then from condo to a room at my brother’s house) was to give her ‘stuff’ away to her children and grandchildren. This certainly relieved her of the responsibility of tossing away memories, but it didn’t help my situation any (and now I have more stuff to deal with, and a lot of it has sentimental connections – THAT I didn’t need!)  I absolutely refuse to do the same thing to my children. I have asked them (and will again) if there is anything they want before I toss, give away, or sell it (parents don’t always know what might have particular value to any child); the ‘good stuff’ (that I won’t be getting rid of right away, such as my crystal and silver and such) they can argue over after I’ve shuffled off this mortal coil. 

As for the rest of it, I have already started to slowly sort through it (starting with the Christmas stuff) and differentiate between what I should keep (and I’ll go through that a second time, just to be sure), what can be donated or given away, and what really should just be tossed in the garbage (that’s where I have the biggest problem – I hate the idea of adding to the landfill because I bought stuff I would someday need to get rid of and no one else would want it.  And yes, I’ve held garage sales in the past –  but I’m not keen on doing it again – the money earned isn’t worth the time spent and you still have to figure out what to do with everything that’s left over at the end of the day!)

I know the process will be difficult and that I will have to be ruthless.  I also know that a number of things that probably should go in the ‘donate’ or ‘toss’ piles will end up back in the crawlspace or the exercise room.  But it’s a start – and with every little bit of ‘extra’ space I clear away, I’m also creating breathing space for myself.  I have found that a lot of the physical stuff I’ve hung on to has a direct (and not always pleasant) connection to my past – and its keeping me from truly moving forward.  So as I clear the clutter from my house, I’m also clearing out some of the jumbled thoughts in my mind.  And the clearer my mind is, the freer I am to be all I am meant to be, now that I’ve reached … the other side of 55.

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One Comment
  1. Cathy Hendrix permalink
    December 13, 2010 7:20 pm

    Talk about stuff! I know what you mean. Every summer for about the last eight to ten summers, I put at the top of my to-do list CLEAN THE BASEMENT! Unfortunately, it always seemed to get regulated further and further down the list while I busily saw to other chores and projects. The job was just too overwhelming both emotionally and physically. Well, this past summer I finally did it. I had to. We could barely move down there! I sorted through all of it, regulating the garbage to the garage so it could be hauled away. What I failed to research properly was the cost. I called 1-800-Got-Junk and arranged for them to come and get all my garbage. However what they quoted me over the phone and what I ended up paying were quite different. Since they went by a quarter-truck, half-truck, full-truck, it was hard to envision how much space my stuff would fill. Then, when I saw their truck, I was shocked to see how small it was! I was expecting something the size of a garbage truck. Not an 8X8X10 foot cube van!!! Oh well, at least the basement is now much cleaner. Now I get to regret at leisure all the things I might have wanted to keep – (if I could just remember what they were) – when I began tossing things indiscriminately because I was sick of the whole business. So, as you can see, I can truly relate Margo! Another great entry!

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