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Stuff, and Decisions About It

July 3, 2010

Back in Montana for the summer, we are visiting family and friends, picking up some work, and sluffing another layer of belongings.  Everything that doesn’t fit into Belle (our RV home) fits in a little 10’x12′ storage unit.  It took two years of giveaway and yard sales to get our belongings down to that.  But now, a year after setting off, we feel compelled to shed more.

So from the carefree life of “hike, eat, find a place to sleep”, we find ourselves again in the material slog of Decisions About Stuff.  As a stay-at-home mama in a three bedroom home, Stuff was the bane of my existence.  The little marbles and plastic beads and rubber bands, toy accessories awaiting fixing, art findings, origami paper, superman tattoos and cat’s cradle string.  Junk, maybe, but junk that would be sorely missed by little children if I tossed it en masse.  Attending painstakingly to the tangible world around me is not my strong point — I’m more of an idea gal.  So to sort, discern, judge, notice, act upon our rapidly increasing….  Stuff… was probably not a small part of the catalyst for this road trip life, this journey to get away from Stuff and keep our minds turned to more important things.  Returning to Montana, I resisted the quagmire that awaited us in storage.

To our delight it only took a day and a half to go through every box of everything that belongs to us and sort out a pile to sell and give.  We had packed more tightly, more ruthlessly, than I remembered.  What’s left is furniture made by my grandpa, our beds (thought hard and repeatedly about selling them), big pieces that have special value to us (the kitchen butcher block just the right height for leaning on for conversation during our first years of courtship and marriage, the 1930s gas/wood combo cookstove I cooked with when pregnant in the cabin), boxes of books, clothes, jars, tincture bottles, homeopathic remedies, canning supplies, a few electronics, musical instruments and CDs, a huge box of toys, beading supplies, carpentry tools, gardening tools, massage table, boxes of books, outdoor/sports equipment we actually use, kitchen supplies (still oh-too-much plastic and kit.  This year I’m pretty satisfied with what you can do with a sharp knife, a cast iron skillet and a dutch oven.)  That’s about it.  Did I mention boxes of books?  I am a true materialist when it comes to books, and there will come a time I have to let go of that too.  I know they’re partially there to mark the boundaries of my ego.

Why do we humans hang on to so much?  Because it was my mother’s grandmother’s, because my kid made it when he was four, because I might lose weight, because I might be invited somewhere where I’ll need to wear it, because I’ve always meant to read it.   Because That Part of Me Is Not Dead!  We keep it all to define ourselves, our history, our people, where we come from, what’s important to us, how we see ourselves, our enduring hope that parts of ourselves and our past can still be bettered or experienced more fully.   If we drop it, what’s left?  If you get rid of that old climbing equipment, what happens?  Are you less of a person to admit you no longer use it?  Are you less of a person to admit you’ll never get around to reading that Norman Maclean classic?

One thing I have found helps, when gearing up to shed layers, is to remind yourself that this particular object – so valued at one time in your family – is needed somewhere else.  Someone else needs it.  Someone else is actually climbing and needs your old gear, some new herbal enthusiast will find delight with this book, some young woman is just learning stained glass and will show up at the right time to gain your set, someone else’s children are just the right age for that homemade art table.  I just keep reminding myself  that this object will still be part of joy in another person’s life, and how it’s better honored put to use there, than sitting in our storage.  This makes it easier to let go of the things we feel obligated to keep out of nostalgia.

After cleaning her attic in preparation for a yard sale, my mom and I sat down to watch George Carlin’s famous Stuff rant.  If it’s been awhile, look it up for a commiserating laugh.  Then take a paper bag through your house and fill it with things to give away.  That’s right, snip those loose ends right out of your psychic burden.  Ahhhhh, that’s better….

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