Sunday, October 17, 2010

Stuff

We’ve made two Goodwill trips in a week’s time, had one successful Craigslist sale of a weight set, sold some books to the used book store and tossed out a pile of otherwise useless junk, and I doubt that will be the last of it. The savvy, Better Homes and Gardens word for this would be: decluttering. I can translate that as getting rid of stuff. As much as Americans seem to have issues with our expanding waistlines we also have issues with our expanding domains of material goods and piles of junk. People are more like crabs than I would have thought given our differences in outward appearances. Both species, however, certainly grow to fit our shell. We moved from a small cabin in the woods to a considerably larger urban home and I suppose for want of filling rooms with the pitter patter of little feet, have instead filled them with things. Now we are to the point where we stand on a precipice of stuff.

I suppose on some levels I’ve always been a collector of sorts. As a child I took good care of and held on to what things I had. I kept my toys and odds and ends in good shape and enjoyed their use in all likelihood much past what would be expected of a childhood plaything. This habit continued on into adulthood. I acquire this and that and kept it in relatively good, usable shape, which in and of itself is not a bad thing. I also suffer from a sickness of over sentimentalizing material possessions. I hang onto things because of some intangible ‘meaning’ associated with it. The net effect of this syndrome is boxes of mementoes and random bits of otherwise useless trifles which gets hauled around from place to place marking the passing of time not in hours or years but in pounds. This hording behavior coupled with my fastidious care of things makes it a shame to get rid of a perfectly good, ‘valuable’ item. And therein lies the trap of it all, the accumulation, the personification or sense of comfort in this stuff, the ease of storing things in a back corner room and then the eventual suffocation on junk.

What compounds the issue is my accomplice in crime:  Kate is a collector as well. One is bad enough, but two under one roof; watch out. While I think she suffers from a similar psychosis of sentimentalizing things, she has a knack for finding things that nobody wants and then brings them home. A rescuer of sorts, this is at face value not a sin but a merit. However in excess or unrestrained, it translates into wonton accumulation, albeit a cheaper and more environmentally friendly version of it. Bits of unwanted office furniture, chairs, odd bins found on the sidewalk, things pulled out of dumpsters, dead or dying plants, unwanted and largely unsalvagable bicycles and other miscellaneous things. This stuff piles up, and while there's a tremendous value to repurposing and reusing old items, one household shouldn't look to be the savior of the world's island of misfit toys.

Better to not accumulate the stuff to begin with, I would say. There is something to be said for the untrammeled simplicity and beauty of a clean room with very little in it. Turning off the supply chain of things certainly would make the seasonal ritual of purging and cleansing more manageable if not altogether unnecessary. And when an item has long since run its life of purpose, best to be done with it and pass it on to the next person. There’s something quite cathartic about seeing otherwise unused items head out the door in another person’s hands to be otherwise purposed and reused. It helps to reinforce how silly it was to hold on to it for so long, and how worthwhile it can be to just let it go.

So now that our purging is well underway, at least for now, I’ve got my ‘clutter’ sensors working on overdrive. Every likely candidate for the recycle or thrift store bin gets a nod towards the door. I’ve declared a war on things, and I have to say I’m doing a pretty good job. Hopefully this lesson won’t be one that I’ll repeatedly learn over and over again throughout the years, but I have a feeling that’s easier said than done. Maybe I’ll enact a one in-one out policy on stuff…that way our balance of equilibrium here doesn’t get too out of whack--if not for peace of mind, for peace of back. Al this stuff at a point gets pretty heavy.

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