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* * The creeping insidiousness of stuff

A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it – George Carlin


There’s a cartoon floating around the internet these days that shows two men, standing abreast in front of an open double garage door, with stuff piled to the rafters. The older man, leaning on his walker, says to the younger man, “Son, someday this will all be yours.”

Two events in my life have spurred introspection on the creeping insidiousness of stuff.

First, my father died a year ago and my mother recently relocated to Maryland to be closer to my younger brother who is fighting cancer and my younger sister. The house in which she and dad lived since the mid-1950s and in which I was raised needed to be vacated. A lifetime of stuff needed attention.

Second, we’re remodeling our kitchen, and everything that was once in it is now stored elsewhere within our small house.

I’m not going to be critical of my parents, because they were/are wonderful people with an abundance of fine, admirable qualities. But I will say that the house was far more crowded with the two of them in it than 50 years ago when six of us occupied it in the 1960s.

And I won’t be critical because most Americans, even poorer ones, are overwhelmed with stuff.

And I won’t be critical because I’m seeing the same thing at my own place.

Can we categorize this stuff?

  • ·       First, there are heirlooms, which fall broadly into three sub-categories: Stuff we’ve made ourselves, such as my stained glass panels and lampshades, and grandfather clocks, and my wife’s artwork and knitted clothing. Then there are family heritage items, like grandmother’s fine china and silverware. Then there are family history items, like school annuals, photo albums, and scrapbooks. There are framed photos on my wall of ancestors who died before I was born. I don’t even know their names. Wait; maybe they were my wife’s ancestors.
  • ·       Second, there are daily items, housewares, beds and bedding, clothing, shoes, appliances, cookware and dinnerware, couches, chairs, and so much more.
  • ·       Third are entertainment and enrichment devices, things like televisions, stereo systems, books, computers and the like.
  • ·       And then there’re

What this stuff seems to have in common is that it’s excruciatingly difficult to get rid of.

As the years go by, moderation tends to get annihilated. For example, at my house, we have 14 pairs of scissors. I recently threw in the garbage over 100 coat hangers. We have hundreds of ink pens, some operable and some not, and enough scratch pads to last my lifetime. I wear out three or four pairs of walking shoes annually, and the old ones are painfully difficult to throw away. I have T-shirts that date back to my decade in Seattle (I moved from there 27 years ago.). With the addition of two I recently inherited, I now have five staple guns. Two dozen screwdrivers. Five hammers. Twenty retired toothbrushes. Outdated technologies like film cameras and cassette players. My wife and I have 2 smart phones, 3 tablets, 3 laptop computers, and 2 desktop computers, and I have another in my office.

I sense that I’m not alone in this. Donald Trump’s second wife Ivana, said “I go to Bloomingdale’s, to the fourth floor, and I buy 2,000 of the black bras, 2,000 of the beige, 2,000 of the white. And I ship them around between the homes and the boat and that’s the end of it for maybe half a year when I have to do it all over again.” Lessee, 6000 bras over 180 days, that’s 33 per day, 1.5 per waking hour, worn only once. Tough life.

Put a million psychologists in a room and they’ll tell you that material wealth does not create happiness (Nor, now that I think of it, would being Donald Trump’s second wife.). But that hasn’t stopped most of us.

The options for ridding oneself of this stuff include: throwing it into the landfill, giving it away (so it becomes someone else’s burden), recycling it, or selling it. Craigslist and eBay are active sites indeed. All take effort.

I hope to have at least a couple more decades on this blue planet, and I can’t know when my final days approach. But I’m determined not to burden my only child with my stuff, as she’s already got more stuff than she can fit into her own current living arrangement.

My kitchen remodel will be completed soon (please, please!), and those mixers, blenders, spatulas, saucepans, spices, plates, soup bowls, and will find new homes. A group yard sale is coming soon and I’m determined to sell more than I buy.

What’s the stuff situation at your house?


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