Unlike Elizabeth (I’ve Never Had Something Not Burn), I have lots of stuff—a houseful of it! More than I need. But I have trouble parting with it.
I really like my stuff and so much of it has a story.
I got the 1930’s wrought iron floor lamp from my parent’s basement. Now it’s painted blue, but before that it was red, and at one time it was black. I made the small nine-patch quilt because I loved the 1940’s retro print fabric. My bookcases are filled with books that mean a lot to me. I like the mission style desk I bought and refinished years ago. I still like this stuff. It makes me happy to have it around. I feel at home because it’s here. And that’s just my office.
Lurking in my office closet are piles of old writing samples and presentation supplies related the freelance writing business . . . that I gave up a year ago. I also have paper, clay, jewelry, knitting and craft supplies that I rarely use. But I might.
Or what about all of the bowls I own? Bowls I made years ago when I had access to a pottery studio. Bowls I bought at art fairs. Bowls I picked up in antique stores. I could dirty bowls for several weeks before I’d run out of clean bowls.
And mugs! That collection is even bigger. I could tell you where each one came from—Spain, the North shore, a friend, and on and on. I love them all, but really, how many mugs does a person need?!? Occasionally I give some away when the cupboard gets too full, but there’s still a box of mugs on a basement shelf (don’t tell my husband).
The stuff I’m keeping is still good. I might need it someday.
The classy interview suit I don’t wear—the pants are kinda tight and I’m not looking for a job right now. Will it be hopelessly out of style the next time I’m interviewing or have a funeral to go to?
My box collection. I save shoes boxes and Amazon boxes so I can send cookies and presents to my family in Toledo. Really, three or four would suffice, but I’m sure I have at least a dozen. My husband has learned to nest them so they take up less room and he weeds them out carefully so I won’t notice and squawk.
Lately, I’ve realized that having a lot of stuff can be oppressive.
I have to dust it, protect it from breaking, or store it. Managing my stuff takes time and thought. Not just the housekeeping, but also the emotional upkeep of caring about my stuff—remembering the person who gave it to me and feeling torn when I want give it away. Deciding what to keep and what to give away is hard, so I don’t do it very often.
Even divesting myself of all this stuff will be hard.
I’ve visited too many estate sales in which old hot water bottles, empty picture frames, spare light bulbs, rusty garden tools and other stuff nobody wants was lined up for sale next to kitschy-enough-to-be-cool Christmas decorations. But the sad useless stuff tainted my pleasure in getting a deal on some cookie sheets or a pie plate that my sons actually needed.
Recently, my sister spent hours cleaning and pricing stuff for a garage sale. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but in the end, she didn’t sell that much, so a lot that stuff went to Goodwill anyhow.
A good friend just pitched 19 years’ worth of teaching materials—all those lesson plans, readings, exercises, student samples—that treasure is irrelevant now that she’s retired. But I know she was sad to say goodbye to several decades of a profession she was passionate about.
My husband and I talk about moving to a smaller house someday. If we do, we’ll have to shed a lot of our stuff. I wish I could give it directly to someone who needs it—somebody just starting out who wants a lamp . . . or some bowls. I’d like to give my still-good stuff in a more personal way than just having Goodwill or the Vietnam Vets collect it. I wish I could hand it to somebody who will actually like it and enjoy it the way I have. I daydream about placing an ad that says, “Come get some great, well-loved stuff—FREE!”
No doubt I’ll be sad when the time comes to move, because I’ll be shucking off an identity and lots of memories. But I hope my life will feel a lot lighter and simpler—more carefree.