Stuff is Us

One thing I have discovered is that impending guests, whether they be overnight or just for the evening and moving are about the only things that really spur people to action when it comes to cleaning and purging. Christmas brought us multiple overnighters which meant that the main room in the basement had to be cleaned out to make space for another bed. Cleaning out lead to a pile of junk in our backyard which meant a trip to the city dump in Edmonton was now necessary. Because a trip into Edmonton takes time and gas, it made sense to also purge the garage a bit for anything else that might profit us with a good dumping off.

The Edmonton dump is located in a section of town near the river called Clover Bar. No doubt the first pioneers who came west found a verdant expanse that lead up to the water’s edge and entranced them with the smell of clover. I wonder what they would think of it today? It is no longer flat but a huge mini-mountain of refuse hidden by the packed mud and towers over what is left of the river bar. It’s just a guess but I am betting clover doesn’t grow there anymore. More people should have to haul their own waste away because it is an eye-opening experience that I find humbling and not in a good way. Visiting the dump, or the recycling center in town, has the same effect on me that purging and cleaning do. I feel ashamed and angry. Ashamed that I am such a materialistic consumer. Angry that I allowed myself and my life to be laden with crap that I don’t use and shouldn’t have bought in the first place.

I have right now four boxes in my office to sort. Two are photos. Two are full of papers that I was too overwhelmed to sort through before I moved. I wonder sometimes that if I had never met Rob would I be complacently tossing junk into my basement, waiting for the day that sorting through it would be easier? Sorting is never easy. Many things I simply gave away or thew away with little more than a quick glance back in June. There is a box of Will’s collectibles in the basement here that I couldn’t bring myself to pitch or sort and when I think about it all I can do is curse him out for acquiring stuff that has no value to anyone but him. And now I am stuck with it.

I was not much of a materialist before I met Will. My big weaknesses were jean and running shoes and books. Aside from that, I had few major possessions aside from my house, my car and my computer. I was and still am not much on kitchen gadgets, cutlery and cooking apparatus. I could live with just a sofa in my living room, a table and chairs and enough beds for those living with me. Matching accessories? Color coordinating? A rec room with paraphernalia? A decked out deck? These were Will’s ideas of the perfect home that he got from someone or somewhere. I used to think that he thought having these things made him like everyone else and he wanted that more than anything after the kind of upbringing he had, but maybe it was more than that. Aren’t we all raised to equate stuff, or material gain, with substance to one extent or another?

I was admiring my friend Char’s home the other day while we were having tea in her kitchen. The kids had just headed downstairs to play. We’d been out most of the afternoon on a nearby sliding hill and the remains of hot chocolate were still evident. Her home is on the large size as far as livable space goes but unlike many people I have known, hers is not cluttered. The walls are bare for the most part but for a few family pictures and a wall hanging or two. There is a single sectional in the living room off the kitchen. The kitchen has just a dining table. The bedrooms are beds and a dresser each. The family room in the basement has two small sofas facing each other and a tv. It’s simple. And it’s nice. It’s the way I would like to live myself. But right now there is still stuff to be dealt with. Will’s, Shelley’s. The girls – all three of them. I would love to pack up just our clothes and whatever toys we can limit Katy to and take just that to Texas. A bit unrealistic.

In our kitchen cabinets we have no fewer than three sets of dinnerware and a plethora of glassware and cups. Rob was telling his younger daughter recently that we were going to pack all of it away and just use the dinnerware I brought with me from Iowa. A cheap Correll set I got on sale at Kmart to replace the daily ware that Will and I had gotten as a wedding gift. Why? She wanted to know why we would give away perfectly usable stuff. Memories is only partially the answer. I bought the Kmart plate set because I couldn’t stand being reminded of Will every time I ate off a plate or drank from a cup. And I was reminded and not of the good things generally. It was a way to preserve the sweet and my sanity at the same time. But even more important now is that we don’t need a cabinet overflowing with plates and cups and glasses and bowls, and perhaps someone else could use these things. Someone without the resources to buy brand new or at all.

My daughter tends to hang onto everything. There are drawers in her room stuffed with school papers from two years ago. It is a pack rat tendency that is somewhat related to her age and part inheritance from her father. Children, I think, tend to need physical reminders of the past more than their parents do. But I know there are many adults who can’t part with their stuff anymore than Rob and my daughters can.

One of my goals, and this is not a resolution – those are far more mundane and flexible – is to become a minimalist and give up many of the things and trappings that have come to symbolize the middle and upper class lives of North Americans. My gadgets will have to have meaning. My computer obviously does and my iPod but I am seriously rethinking the cell phone – something I have never wanted and have regretted since Will gave me the first one seven years ago. Clothes will need to be purposeful and worn. Styles and trendiest will not be considered. Books can be purchased but should be borrowed first from the library. There is no need to own cd’s or dvd’s as long as one lives near a library too. Furniture should be for using and not decorating or filling up space. As long as we have family and friends to photograph, we haven’t any need of wall decorations. Though I haven’t completely fleshed this all out, someday I want to be able to pack and move without purging.

One response to “Stuff is Us

  1. Very thought provoking. My husband hangs on to a lot. We have an insane amount of stuff for five people. Of course, the kids are constantly handed stuff – I’ve never understood that – why kids with an illness “get” more “stuff” is it to make up for what they’ve lost? Anyway, we’ve slowly been going through all their stuff too. THANK GOODNESS!

    However, I will never give up the cell phone. Given the choice, I’d sooner get rid of the ipod.

    🙂 Thanks for stopping by my blog.

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