Hey – we may as well have fun as we go sliding into old age, right?

Posts tagged ‘stuff’

Lessons On Stuff…

Sometimes life has to hit me over the head multiple times to get a point across.  But as I head into my mid-fifties, I’m finally beginning to understand that most of the “stuff” I’m trying to drag along with me is absolutely worthless. 

I’m not talking about mental stuff (although I’m dragging a lot of that around, too).  I’m talking about actual physical things.  Furniture.  Books.  Clothes.  Art.  Memorabilia.  Chotchkies.  Lots and lots of chotchkies.  A chotchkie (I like that word!) is defined by the Urban Dictionary as “a small piece of worthless crap, a decorative knick knack with little or no purpose.”  That, in my opinion, is the perfect definition for too many things currently in my possession. 

I tend to personalize material things, and give them far more importance than they should ever have.  I think I learned that from an early age (sorry, Mom, but you know it’s true!).  Precious “things” have long been saved in our family, and used to decorate every nook and cranny.  Mementoes from vacations, gifts, family heirlooms, clever finds, pretty things, collectibles and things we call collectibles that really aren’t.  I have a hard time parting with any of these items, especially if I’ve had them “forever”.  It feels cruel to me in some bizarre way to discard an item that has traveled through life with me, even if I know I’ll never, ever use it again.  After all, “it’s still perfectly good”. 

To be fair to Mom, it’s not really her fault.  My grandparents on both sides were classic survivors of the Depression, and they frugally saved everything, used it up completely, and even then they wouldn’t part with it.  My Iowa grandparents used bath towels so thin and worn you could literally read through them, while in their closet was a box of plush towels from the famous Marshall Fields department store, a gift from their daughter.  A gift carefully put away for years, because “there was nothing wrong” with the old towels.  They were perfectly good.  When my New York grandmother passed away, we found similar boxes in her closet.  Fancy gifts of bathrobes, towels, and purses, all carefully saved and labeled (“Christmas 1980 – Keith and Darlene”).  Never opened because she hadn’t used up the old ones yet.  This was the generation that didn’t throw anything away.  Ever.

My first wake-up call about stuff was the death of my husband’s 2nd cousin.  Mary was basically a second mother for Hubby, as his own mom passed away at an early age.  Hubby was her sole heir, so we had the task of clearing out her humble 1-bedroom apartment.  Every cubbyhole was filled with her treasures.  While we kept a few things in her memory, most went summarily into boxes and headed off to the Good Will store.  It struck me that all those things that were so valuable to her simply held no practical value for us, and I began to look at my own saved possessions with the realization that when I’m gone, they’d probably suffer the same fate.

The second wake-up call was the task of packing up my parent’s home of nearly sixty years after my father died.  Mom was selling the house, and we spent months sorting and trying to prioritize stuff accumulated throughout a lifetime together.  This one was much more personal – these mementoes were part of MY memories – the things I’d grown up with (and a lot more stuff stashed in the attic that I’d never even seen!).  My first reaction was “save everything!”  And then reality struck – I already had my own house that was filled to the brim with things from my husband’s and my life together.  I simply couldn’t cling to and transfer everything from my parent’s home into mine (not to mention my brother might have something to say about it).  And that’s when I had the epiphany – my memories didn’t live in those things.  My memories lived in my heart, and I didn’t need a 30-year-old coffee mug to remember my dad, nor my old toys to remember my childhood.  I did pretty well at staying true to that epiphany, but there were still way too many “exceptions”.  After all, some of those things might have collectible value, so I had to keep them “just in case”.

I parted with even more chotchkies during our recent move. But as chronicled in my previous post, too much useless crap still moved with us.  And then Hurricane Irene took aim at our new home last week, which was now filled with our most precious old and new belongings.   

I spent that very long Saturday at our rental home up in New York, frantically watching The Weather Channel and surfing the internet for news on our North Carolina neighborhood.  Nothing I saw was good, and it got worse as the day stretched on and Irene pounded our home for nearly 24 hours. 

I’m embarrassed to admit that I started the day stressing over things.  The oak heirloom from the mid-1800’s.  The brand-spanking new entertainment center that spanned an entire wall.  The Stickley dining room set.  The nearly finished custom kitchen renovation.  What if a window broke?  What if the roof gave way?  What if a tree crashed into the house?  All of our STUFF would be ruined!

And then Stuff Lesson No. 3 kicked in.  Houses were flooding.  Trees were crashing down everywhere.  The relentless wind and rain were changing the landscape entirely.  And my friends and neighbors were living through it – riding out the storm inside their homes there.  While I was worried about things, there were people swimming to safety, clinging to roofs and trees, watching their houses literally float away, or burn down, or fill with murky, slimy, muddy waters.  I felt suddenly ashamed of myself.  And again, developed a whole new attitude toward STUFF, and realized how inconsequential it all really is to my life. 

Over the past week, thousands of people in the East are busy stacking ruined things at the curb to be discarded.  And that is terribly sad.  Many of those things can’t ever be truly replaced.  But those people will live on, and they’ll do just fine without the things that a week ago seemed so important to them. 

When my dear friend lost her home to a tornado earlier this year, she was shocked at how quickly she stopped caring about the things in her once-beautiful home.  Dashing to the basement as the house disintegrated around them was a distinctly clarifying moment – her husband and children were the only priority for her.  Nothing (and I mean NOTHING) else mattered to her.  She didn’t mourn the loss of stuff.  She was too busy celebrating the lives that had been saved.

My life would not have truly changed if all that stuff in North Carolina had been destroyed.  Well, there’d be a lot of work and inconvenience for a little while, but fundamentally my life wouldn’t change as long as I still had my family and friends.  Which makes me realize how totally unimportant stuff really is.  Which makes it a lot easier to sort through it and start donating or selling it.  Right now.

Let it be someone else’s treasure.  In this phase of my life, I’d rather my treasures were of the human kind.

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Dreaming of Boxes….

I see boxes in my dreams.  Big boxes.  Little boxes.  Boxes overflowing with crumpled newspapers and bubble wrap.  Stacked boxes.  Flat boxes.  Empty boxes.  Heavy boxes.  Piles of boxes.  Everywhere, boxes.

My life reduced to boxes....

While shopping the other day, I heard the sound of someone using clear packing tape – that scratchy, screechy sound it makes coming off the roll – and I shuddered.  

Perhaps it’s my own personal form of PTSD – the result of moving.  Twice.  In two weeks.  Including to another state.  It’s a horrifying fact of life for many Boomers as we downsize and head to warmer climes.  And the current housing crisis is not really helping (but then again, it kinda is).

A long, long time ago (2008), we bought a house

in warm and wonderful North Carolina.  We’d fallen in love with the area while owning a small vacation condo there, and the glut on the housing market was perfect for buying a nice home at a really nice price.  All we had to do was quickly sell our New York house and we’d be heading into the warm sunset of southern living.  Well, that was the plan.  But you know what they say about plans….  The same buyer’s market that gave us a wonderful house in North Carolina made it next to impossible to sell our New York home, which went on the market early in 2009. 

We waited, and we waited, and we waited.  We dropped the price.  We packed away every family photo and cherished knickknack to ‘depersonalize’ the house as everyone tells you to do.  We changed realtors.  I staged the house.  We dropped the price.  We hired a professional stager to reorganize the layout.  We changed realtors.  Again.  We dropped the price.  Again.  We gave up and said “screw it” and put the furniture where we wanted it and let it looked lived in.  We dropped the price.  Again.  And, after a mere 2 ½ years, we FINALLY sold the house.

Naturally, after all this time on the market, the buyer wanted in right away.  So we started packing.  And we packed.  And we packed.  Every waking minute of every day, we packed.  While I was at work, Hubby packed.   Box after box after box after box after box.  How the heck did two people accumulate so much crap?!  Our time frame made sorting a challenge, so we ended up moving a lot of stuff that we certainly didn’t need to keep.

The day the movers arrived in North Carolina with our belongings, the heat index was 108 degrees.  Hubby went golfing (with my blessing).  Landscapers were pruning our shrubs with power clippers.  Our dog was barking non-stop in protest of being shut in a room (which she escaped from several times).  Lowes showed up to deliver new appliances.  And the moving guys were coming through the door in rapid succession, constantly asking the question “where do you want this?”  After several hours, I thought of several graphic suggestions for them, but I kept them to myself.  I definitely felt too old for this effort.

The tipping point came sometime around noon, while all this was happening, and I was suddenly acutely aware of the pandemonium around me and the sweat pouring down my body.  I had a choice of running from the property screaming at the top of my lungs…..or coping.  I took a deep breath, and told myself “This is one day out of your life, Joanne – that’s all.  Just one day, and you can cope with one day.”

As the afternoon ground on, I told one of the movers firmly that I didn’t want him to bring any more boxes into the house.  Boxes were piled everywhere, and there was barely room to move (did I mention that the kitchen and family room were in the midst of a total remodel?).  The poor guy looked at me and wasn’t sure if I was kidding.  He said “But there are more boxes on the truck!”  I calmly explained that those boxes must belong to someone else, because we surely didn’t own enough stuff to fill all these boxes.  He was still staring at me in confusion as I said “those boxes can’t be ours!”  With a smile, he looked at me and said “Lady, you’re the last delivery – it’s all yours.”  I cussed, laughed, and went back to work.

Once everyone left, and Hubby returned, I sat and looked in amazement at how much junk we owned.  And how sore and tired I felt.  And how much I smelled (I was in the shower shortly after that). 

The next morning, we started UNpacking.  And that was only slightly more fun than packing.  Because it involved boxes.  And boxes.  And decisions to be made.  Where to put things. Whether to keep things.  What to give away.  Where to put the empty boxes.  A-r-g-h!  Those damned boxes!!!

Four days later, we were headed back to New York.  Remember I said we moved twice?  The second move involved clothes (way too many) and a very few possessions to a partially furnished rental house in our hometown.  We’re not fulltime southerners yet.  Why?  Well, with all those price cuts on the hosue, I can’t exactly walk away from my steady paycheck to go freelance right now.  So after partially settling things in North Carolina, we came right back to start unpacking BOXES in the rental house.  More freakin’ boxes.  Everywhere.  Including in my dreams.    

I refer to this as the beginning of phase 2 of our “master plan”.  It’s a temporary phase.  Within a year, we’ll be starting a new life in North Carolina.  And this will all be just a fuzzy, messy, exhausting, and box-filled memory.

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