DETRITIS AND 'STUFF'
19 July 2002
Jeri has been sorting through boxes for the week that she's been
here. She's decided that after ten years, it was time to clear out the storage compartment
she rented when she graduated from college, and move a few things into the garage here (a
miracle in itself--that Walt could find room in the garage for more things!), throw
things away, give things away, and further simplify her life, rather than pay money for
things she hasn't used (or even seen) in all this time.
Wow...my daughter continues to inspire me. (Like she did at age 5
when she was eating pancakes--one of my favorite foods--and had eaten all the outside part
of the stack. When she got to the middle, she said "Darn--I'm too full, and that's my
favorite part!" Never in a million years would I have been able to walk away, leaving two
bits of "my favorite part" sitting on the plate because I was too full!)
Sorting through boxes and getting rid of things we haven't seen or
used in years seems such an overwhelming and hopeless task. And yet "stuff" is
burying us. The two of us live in a 2100 square foot house with 4 bedrooms, and and
"office" and yet we are so horribly cramped because we can't seem to throw away
Occasionally one or the other of us will get into a cleaning frenzy
(admittedly, it's usually Walt, rarely me). Yet it seems that for all we might toss out,
it will come back double. It's the "stuff" equivalent of the Sorcerer's
Apprentice...splinter the "stuff," as the apprentice splinters the brooms, and
you'll find that you do not have less stuff, you have lots and lots more stuff.
What is it with "stuff"? Why are some of us able to keep a
house relatively uncluttered, while some of us can't bear to part with anything?
I began keeping "stuff" in high school. I can still find
match books from restaurants I went to in college, leaves collected on camping trips,
programs from just about every theatrical program we ever attended. As I look around this
office, I see an apron that one of the kids' classes made for me back when the kids were
in grammar school. I see a pillow that Paul's kindergarten teacher made to thank me for
working in her class. My pencils sit in a marmalade jar that once held Gilbert's pencils.
If we were to stop doing everything and sit and do nothing but read
from now until the end of our lives, there is no way we could even make a dent in
the bulging bookcases upstairs. We have more books than some small libraries and yet we
can't seem to even give them away, let alone throw them away (and, as Walt
will point out, I still keep buying them!)
The same is true of videotapes. When we got our first VCR, I began
taping all of my favorite movies. It rapidly became an obsession and I videotaped through
most of the 80s and well into the 90s. This leaves me with close to 1,000 videotapes, most
of which hold 3 movies each. If I stopped reading and everything else and spent the rest
of my life with a remote control in my hand, there is no way I could view everything I
have videotaped. Yet, I can't bring myself to give the tapes away (even if I could find
someone who waned them)...and they probably are no good any more anyway!
But books and videotapes are easy. It's the little things that are
hard. Slips of paper with cryptic notes on them, cards from people long since passed to
the other side, artwork the kids did in kindergarten, faded photos, etc. etc. Why can't I
let them go?
In truth (my deep, dark secret), a lot of these "things"
don't even mean much to me any more. Or their purpose has long since ceased to be
important. There was a time when I diligently made certain that I had collected a full
history of our family life to pass along to grandchildren. All those scrabooks. All those
photos. All those movies. All those videos.
There are no grandchildren, and the story of the family now brings
as much pain as it does pleasure. Happy, smiling faces--so hopeful, so naive. I go through
scrapbooks from time to time to use photos for this journal, and it never fails to depress
me. Yet I can't bring myself to just get rid of them all. Someday one of the kids might
want to have them.
It's crazy to have a house full of things that someday one of the
kids might want to have (especially since Marta has on more than one occasion said that if
she and Ned ever have to close up this house, she'll just set fire to it so they won't
have to deal with it).
In an entry for the If
Collaboration, I examined the question of what I would take with me if I knew a
natural disaster was coming and I only had moments to gather my most prized possessions.
In that entry, I realized that I could walk out of this house and not look back, not feel
sad to be leaving any of it behind (well, except for Delicate Pooh).
If I could really walk out and not look back, why can't I just back
a couple of large trash collectors into the driveway and dump it all, and leave the house
neat and orderly, for one brief shining moment?
It's what Jeri is doing.
Maybe I can pay to bring her back and go through the rest of the
house for me!