Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Other Story of Stuff

If you haven't seen The Story of Stuff before, I highly recommend you take 20 minutes out of your day and check it out.

But that's not really what my (late) post is about. This is another story of stuff.

Bill and Lucille grew up in a small town in Kansas, met and married sometime in the 1930's. He wasn't fit to actually fight in World War II when he and his brother enlisted, so he stayed here in country for his military service. They built their lives around Kansas, and raised their two children. In 1967, they moved into a home on a quiet street on what was then the edge of town. By then the kids were mostly grown. After the kids went off to college, Lucille took signed up for painting classes-- the kind where you paint by the numbers and the outcome can vary. She was good at it. When she ran out of painting classes to take, she moved on to ceramics. And then macrame. Their small house at the edge of town filled up with her efforts, the stuff of life, and the gifts from the infinite number of friends from church, the Kiwanis, and various social groups.
Bill and Lucille lived on their own in their little house for a good long while. As their street was enveloped into town, and wasn't so "on the edge" anymore. Through a double knee replacement for Lucille that preceded a devastating stroke. Bill had problems with his thyroid, and sometimes his medicine would get wonky and he'd pass out. By 2006 he rarely drove. By 2007 Bill couldn't drive at all, and he couldn't get Lucille out of the house at all by himself. They lasted on their own until last month, when Bill had to be taken to the emergency room after he passed out, and no one could help him up off of the floor. And so they moved on. To an assisted living facility.

Bill and Lucille were my next door neighbors.

Their children came two weeks ago to move them into their new, tiny apartment, and to go through the house. And it took the entire two weeks. Forty years of living in a three bedroom ranch left the floors and furniture piled high and stuffed full. Stuff saved for sentimental value, for "just in case," or because their generation rarely threw anything away. Most of these things will go to auction in a few weeks. Their children hauled away one small U-Haul trailer of items, pulled by Bill's trusty Buick. And that was all they took away from the 90-something years of their parents lives, and their 60+ years together.

It's given me a lot to think about, as I look at my garage stacked high with books, furniture, and children's clothes. So much stuff. Some of it we will surely use again. (Especially if I get my way with that third baby.) But some of it we have moved from one storage space to another for the 20-something years we have been out of our parents' homes. (15 years for me. Hubs is old.) Fifty bajillion college t-shirts from when we used to work in residence life. 15 year old textbooks. Handmade items from loved ones that have left us. Most of these things mean something to us. And that's why they are permitted to live on, in the space formerly known as my garage.

But in 40 years, when my children come to move us into our tiny apartment, will any of these things have real value?


That stuff matters to us, and for that reason we hang on to it. But while we are waxing sentimental over that tub of baby onesies, there's someone else who could actually use those things right now. Truthfully, when my mom handed on things from when I was a child to me, there were very few of those things that I truly valued. The handmade christening gown I never wore because I was a fat baby. My daughter was baptised in it. (Noise was too fat at his baptism to wear it, too.) My grandmother's sewing machine. Someday, my great-grandmother's treadle sewing machine will come into my home. My mom learned to sew on that machine when she was a little girl. And then later my mom taught me to sew. Sometimes stuff transcends its stuff-ness and has a life of its own, like the Velveteen rabbit.

But sometimes stuff is just a garage, a house, or a basement full of crap. And if you don't deal with it, someone else will have to someday. In the meantime, people who could actually use those items are going without.

And if your kids are anything like Bill and Lucille's, they're going to rent a 15 foot haul-away trash dumpster and your stuff is going to be gone.

This (along with watching a DVR'd Oprah about hoarders) has inspired us to think more critically about the stuff that fills our lives, corners, and closets. To let go of the things that will never have value to anyone but ourselves. Things that we would never display, or enjoy, again but have been reluctant to let go of. For the cherished things we do want to keep around us, we need to remember to tell these stories, so that their value can be carried on.

Otherwise it's just crap.

What's filling your closets and homes? Is it cherished? Then celebrate it. If not, then why are you holding on? The stuff is not the memory. It's not the person who's passed away or your childhood. Those things live on in you. And just because an item came from that time or that person and you let it go-- that doesn't mean you're letting the person or the memory go.

It's just a macrame pot holder.


Meredith & Eric said...

I think I know what to do with my corner cabinet now. Thanks Dawn!

Heather said...

Good points. I need to get rid of A LOT of stuff. I attach way too much sentiment to objects.

Good luck with your clearing!

angi said...

I enjoyed this. I hold onto WAY too many things too, so it was enlightening to see how things could end up with all of my "stuff"

Cagey said...

Great post!

I have a family member who is a hoarder - there are rooms in the house that cannot be entered because the stuff is flowing out. Because of this, I am hyper aware of any hoarding tendencies I may have. As such, I try to have a garage sale every year - nothing is more inspiring than unloading your crap and filling your pockets with fistfuls of dimes and nickels. :-) (garage sale tip: Throughout the year, as I come across stuff I don't want or need, I immediately set it in a box designated for sales. It decreases the amount of setup time immensely!)

Regarding baby clothes, I let myself keep 1 maybe 2 outfits per size. That is all. The rest get sold or given away.