Family Friends Stories

All That Stuff

“This is all your fault,” I mutter to myself in a low level simmer as I’m knee deep in boxes. I am talking to my husband, although he’s not home. But I’m talking to him alright. And maybe it’s better he can’t hear me. I’m not being nice.

This dream of his, to move to a smaller, more streamlined house with more sunlight and solar heat and a smaller carbon foot print, well that’s just dandy. But now, as the designated pack mule for the family, sneezing repeatedly in foot thick dust in my son’s room and sorting through old baseball trophies and college applications that never got filled out, it feels a lot more like a labor camp. Prison labor.

“In one more year we’ll be down to two kids,” he tells me. But as I pack up Tupperware and hold the tiny baby shoes of my twins, worried about where, in God’s name, we will store momentos in this new jewel box of a house, I wonder why I let him talk me into this.

Like most Americans, we have too much stuff. Although we’ve moved nine times in 22 years of marriage—this being our tenth—the stuff keeps accumulating. Like a steady snowfall. How do we get all of these things in our lives?

I’ve started being ruthless. When birthday party goodie bags come in, I stuff them in the trash in a flash. All those pencils and candies and plastic rings. Poof. Gone. I have a personal vendetta against birthday party goodie bags anyway.

But as I combed through rooms and pared things down, putting them in piles for either a tag sale or giveaway or to keep, I began to feel a lightening of the load. My anger and resentment at doing this was dissipating. Maybe this wasn’t so bad after all. A new start. A fresh beginning. What would my children DO with all this saved stuff in the end? Would their spouses care about the third grade reading certificate? Would they?

In the first year of our marriage, my husband and I headed to Beijing, China to live and teach at a school there. The quarters were rudimentary. All we brought were two large back packs of possessions, with a box shipped by sea that arrived much later.

We’d left behind all that china and the wedding presents, the engagement ring with the diamond, fancy clothes and shoes. Our life together was stripped of “stuff.” And we’d never felt freer or happier. There was no encumbrance.

It was a great way to start a marriage – you were forced to stand and deliver, to work it out and talk it out. There were no rooms to hide in, no stuff to obscure the important issues. Nowhere to shop, really. And after we’d built a solid foundation in that first year of marriage with one another, it felt wonderful to come back to the states and construct a nest together, although we would move that nest many times.

What that year overseas taught me was how really little we actually need. How unimportant the silver bowl is, the tea set from Grandma or the cashmere throw you HAD to have. The one that has sat, neatly folded, for a decade over the back of a couch.

One of my friends is moving too. She is sorting through all of the heirlooms that her mother has given her over the years and she’s decided she is going to pare them down to one thing. That one thing will be representative of all of the others; all of the relatives, all of the past, all of the demitasse spoons and candle snuffs. Whether it’s a vase or a tray or something that we don’t always find a need for in our modern every day life, she will choose one thing and she has vowed to use and appreciate it.

So after muttering, now I’m embracing more. Through all that dust and clutter and sorting and activity I’ve seen the light. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s
the edited approach we need to adapt for our own lives. And so I’m editing. And editing. And I’m lightening the load.


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    February 10, 2010 at 8:50 pm

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  2. Robin Goodfellow

    February 11, 2010 at 2:36 am

    Thank you, Lee! I’m sorting through three full memory boxes right now – mine and one each for my two daughters. Recently, I was so excited to bring a letter to my oldest girl she had written to Carl Sagan when in fifth grade…sealed all this time! She opened it and read it aloud, nearly crying with laughter and emotion. The letter – and experience – was a jewel, and yet…the end result was this: I got a thorough chewing out for not mailing the darn thing. I believed at the time that Sagan would never receive it…that a secretary would toss it in the trash and send a form reply to her. How wonderful, I thought then, for her to read it in the future and touch base with her marvelous eleven-year-old self. Yet my daughter is disappointed in me for not sending this heartfelt letter on…rather than loving me for lugging the darn thing and a hundred things like it through 25 years.

    What I’m doing is selecting a few things to scan and photograph and place in a photobook for them along with a sampling of photos through the years. Then they can toss the rest or choose a few things to keep. And wow, yes, I am going to feel lighter here too! Thank you for your wonderful post that validates my own recent decision. And may you dearly love and enjoy your new home!

  3. Paulette Pelletier

    February 15, 2010 at 5:19 am

    Have fun in the ATL, while here later this week. Have some recommendations of where to go while you are here, for dinner, shop, or other….etc. Sorry to miss you while here. Sent you email, if you get time during this busy time. Take care. 🙂

  4. Catherine

    February 25, 2010 at 6:27 pm

    My mother finds such joy in cleaning and, especially, tossing things out. It’s really frightening sometimes how MUCH you have when you move, and how often do you use it anyway? My mother has said, if you won’t use it in a year or 5 years, you might as well get rid of it. Same with clothing, that golden rule of if you will wear it for the rest of your life, buy it. But I know how you feel! Things like school work, I’m not sure why my mother keeps. Three of my essays I have from last semester that I got As on, I still have, but I wonder if there is any point in keeping them? If anything, maybe I should cut them up and frame every little bit of the comments reminding me that I got such a good grade on something. Robin’s comment was smart, about making a scrapbook. It would be fun to have a scrapbook of my finer kindergarden moments, and somehow include the genius scribbles on paper that were once thought of as works of art. (Actually, maybe if I do a few more like that and start a collection, I could have one at MoMA or Mass MOCA someday!)

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