Sunday, June 26, 2011


My friend Cindy and I have been exchanging emails about her upcoming yard sale. Cindy, who lives alone (not counting the horses, dogs, cats, and other assorted animals) in a small space, is focused on purging her life of unwanted articles (and hopes to make some money while she's at it).

When her marriage ended a few years ago, Cindy moved from a larger house (and barn and outbuildings) to the place where she is at now. Many of her possessions got packed away and stored under tarps or in a shed. Cindy is ready to get rid of items she has held onto but not used or even seen for years.

Not surprisingly, our emails all come down to talking about "stuff." Because that's what a wholesale purge of unwanted items is really about: it's about getting rid of stuff. Cindy wrote:

Realized i have A LOT of crap to sell! And i haven't even started thru boxes yet!!!  Found a NICE flat seat saddle in the mow i had forgot about.  It cleaned up really nicely! Have a set of harness to clean yet...

Cindy's house is on a country lot next door to her parents' house. Her parents have lots of stuff. Her mom loves stuff so much that she started giving Cindy a hard time about the yard sale:

Mom is already giving me grief about some of the stuff i want to get rid of.  DUH....can't imagine where i got my hoardingness!!!!  You think i have a lot of crap???  You should see her basement.  This is a full basement TOTALLY full top to bottom with crap!  A lot is food and supply storage (which has come in very handy) but a lot is just STUFF!!!  All nice but STUFF!!!  And WHY an i even talking about someone else's crap!!!!

Cindy's complaint struck me as humorous:

HA! First thought, it's YOUR stuff. You can toss it if you want. Second thought--she could buy it from you and then put it in HER basement!!!  HA! That'll solve the whole problem. I'm with you - it's all just STUFF. I am getting so tired of STUFF! 

(And this whole discussion so reminds me of George Carlin's classic routine on stuff. A gentle reminder to sensitive readers: this is George Carlin.)

As Cindy dug deeper into her stored goods, her comments kept coming back to stuff:

Found major more Yard Sale stuff and still haven't opened the boxes!  Shed is FULL of stuff that can go. IT will take some time to pull everything out and go thru.  Haven't gotten into that shed in......months. Maybe even a year!

I know that feeling. I have moved twice in the last five years. Each time, I have ended up making large donations of stuff to our local Goodwill. One of my criteria was whether I had used the item in the last year. If the answer was no, into the pile it went.

Quite often, I look at what remains and feel the urge to get rid of more of it. I wrote Cindy that her emails make "me want to go home and get rid of stuff - of course, some of the stuff I would get rid of is not mine to discard, so just my stuff, I guess." As I look at what remains, I have a feeling the next major purge will be to a dumpster and not Goodwill.

Warren, who is a collector and keeper of many things, cringes when I refer to the trash dumpster. He knows I am talking about my elementary school grade cards, old papers, and thank you notes. He knows I am talking about the flotsam and jetsam that we all accumulate as we move through life - precious to the recipient (in this case, me) but fairly meaningless to the world at large. More than once, he has gently suggested that I consider my sons' feelings and whether they will someday want these things.

My response tends to be a little blunt. I am pretty sure Ben and Sam aren't going to want my miscellaneous stuff (but I will check with them just to be sure). Given that Warren will probably outlive me, he will be left with the rest of my stuff after my sons take those items they want. Given his genetic predisposition not to be able to get rid of stuff, Warren will not part with my leftover stuff, so it will still be around when he dies. Frankly, as much as I love my stepchildren, I don't want them to be the ones to throw out my stuff.

Warren grew up in a family that did not put a high premium on shopping for or acquiring material goods, and I am grateful he inherited that tendency from his parents. Most of the stuff Warren owns now either is related to his profession (percussion equipment, music, and his machine shop, and therefore not stuff as far as I am concerned) or is items he inherited from his parents, much of which in turn was inherited from their parents.

All the same, it is a lot of stuff. Especially by my standards. While Warren knew before we became a couple that I didn't live a materialistic life, he recently said even he was surprised by how "sparse" my lifestyle and attitude towards materialism were. (I remember looking at him and saying "Sparse?" That was a new label even for me.)

My reaction to living with all of Warren's stuff is to cull my stuff even more. Don't get me wrong. I don't live in a bare building with only one pan to cook in and one chair on which to sit. I live in the modern world and have many of the accoutrements that we consider part of everyday life, including the computer on which to type these words and the internet access through which to post it. I like living in the twenty-first century! I just like living in it with less stuff cluttering my life. And much of what I want now to cast off is merely the accumulated detritus of my fifty-five years on this earth.

As Cindy nears her yard sale, she has grown reflective, as we often do when we sort through our stuff:

This Yard Sale is letting me see things that are going on with me i'm not sure i would have  otherwise seen.  SO many things i was keeping.....because i might need them someday.  Someday is here, kinda sad in a way, and i DON'T and WILL NOT ever need them!!  But also very freeing!  Yes, that can go!!!!  Storing that stuff is a huge pain, the emotional baggage is a huge pain too.  The emotional is gone, good feeling!!!

I know that feeling. I wrote her back:

I like your observations about the yard sale showing you stuff about yourself you may not otherwise have seen. It is always really fascinating to "let go" of stuff - because you get a point in your life where you realize "you know, I'm never going to do that, or do that again, or learn that, or I'm not that person anymore, or I'm never going to be that person."

Getting rid of stuff is freeing. Letting go of tangible items - the mirror you never hung, the boots that never fit quite right - frees up your living space and allows you to see your environment in very different ways. Letting go of intangible items - the old relationship, the hobby that defined "you" thirty years ago but no longer interests you - frees up your emotional space and allows you to see yourself in very different ways. Letting go of the tangible evidence of the intangible - the thank you note from the class you student taught 23 years ago when you were working on the teaching certification that you then set aside - is the most freeing of all.

The novelist and poet Herman Hesse wrote "some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go." I need to let go of some stuff. I'm ready.


Jackie said...

Hi There April! I'm not a collector and I like my home to be somewhat clutter free...although I do like to decorate. Your post reminds me that I have a room in our basement that needs to be cleaned out and most of it can be donated. I gave up on the garage sales long ago...too much work and not enough profit. BTW, LOVE George Carlin...and miss him!

Hope all is well and you're enjoying your summer.


Sharon said...

Thank you for the reminder that I must continue to declutter my home. I'm so close to the 1,000 item mark, that I may be able to double it before the year ends!

Jenny Woolf said...

It's fascinating seeing what different attitudes people have to "stuff." I have been really enjoying getting rid of it but it amazes me how I accumulate more, so I always feel cluttered no matter how much I give away (and let's be honest I AM cluttered). T has always wanted to get rid of "stuff" and he's totally unsentimental about it, but right now he's almost buried in it. Someone should write a book about "stuff"!

Anonymous said...

Sigh, we go round and round about this at our house. We have far more storage space than we actually need...and sometimes DH lectures me on my stuff. When this happens, my jaw drops--as in terms of volume his "stuff" occupies far more space than my "stuff" does. I taught the book Affluenza a year ago and I used this Carlin clip to kick off the class.