Sunday, August 03, 2008

Dealing with the "Stuff"

I've been thinking a lot about “stuff” lately, not the heavy “stuff” as in pondering the mystery of life, but rather the physical “stuff” that seems to be overflowing my house. Whether I want to be or not, I am definitely at the acquiring stage of life. Much of that has to do with my children. I truly try not to overindulge them. They have a fraction of the items that they feel that they actually “need.” In fact, just today, they were telling me that they wished they had “nicer” parents, translated as “parents who would give us whatever we want whenever we want it.” So, yes, I am doing my job! Despite this, they seem to have an overabundance of toys. They also generate a wealth of items through their creative efforts. I try to deal with this by hanging them for a while and taking photos so that we don't need the originals, but still they don't like to part with their hard work. I understand. This is why I have totes full of projects they have done stored in my basement. I know that these items will most likely never see the light of day again, but they haven't been thrown away and that matters to my children. When they are twenty, they will no doubt ask me why I kept all this “junk!”

My older sister had been living with us for eight months. We spent last weekend moving all of her belongings to her new small home, emphasis on small. While we enjoyed having her living with us, it was good to get all the boxes out of our basement. However, there simply wasn't enough room in her new home for all the items. With much prodding, we actually weeded through some of it and gave a good amount to Goodwill. She did have a small extra bedroom which she was using as a storage area until one of her grown children called her this week and asked if he could move in with her for a while. Guess where the things are going that were in that spare room. Yes, back to my basement.

In addition, my husband and I both work from home, which means that we have computers and office supplies and files. My kitchen table is currently piled high with binders of church bulletins I am using as reference materials to write a parish history. I have craft supplies and a collection of paintings that I did years ago. I have no one to give them to, but somehow I can't seem to throw them away. We have books and clothes and sports supplies, and well, you get the idea. I try to weed through regularly and give away what we don't need, but still, there is just so much.

I know I'm not alone with this problem. That is why organization and clutter management is such a big business. Am I the only person who finds it strange that we spend good money to buy more stuff to organize the stuff that we already have? Doing that causes me such pain.

I recently went to visit an older woman who lives in a senior citizen facility. She has this beautiful little one bedroom apartment which I complimented her on. She said that she used to live in a fifteen room house and that this was the best thing that had ever happened to her! Imagine the downsizing that took place to make that transition! The very next day, I visited a woman in a nursing home. She is in her nineties and has literally a handful of items to her name – a few clothes and photos and that is it. The progression made quite an impression on me – big house with so many material possessions, to small apartment with a manageable number of items, to a nursing home with almost nothing, to death, in which items are not needed at all.

Add to this the Christian ideal of living simply and giving all to the poor and I feel at a loss about my relationship to the “stuff.” Giving it all away simply isn't an option at this point, and honestly, I'm not ready for the nursing home level of possessions right now. I know the toys will eventually be outgrown and I accept the clutter as a necessary evil in the parenting experience. I would much rather have the kids and deal with the clutter than not have them and have a spotless house. The work items are also necessary. I am thankful to be able to be work at home and so that clutter must be accepted as well. It is good that I have the room to help my sister out in keeping her possessions, much of which is photos she can't bear to part with. It is definitely true that we don't need all the things that are in our house, and I will continue to wage the battle against the clutter, but in the meantime, the stuff is a sign of a busy, happy household. When I get frustrated with it, I need to remember that this is just a temporary state. Yes, I need to be thankful for the mess!

Dear God, please bless my well-lived in messy house.


Wing said...

My mom is also a "pack-rat". I would say that 99 out of 100 items she stored away belong to the trash can; but on the other hand, that remaining 1 thing sometimes turn out to be a real gem! The problem is, that 1 thing is only special to someone at the right place at the right time. When I first got my own place, my mom handed me a bunch of stuff she saved during my childhood days. I sorted through them at one time and really found nothing that I thought was particularly useful or memorable ...etc. I just kept them in a box, I really could care less about these "stuff". A few months ago I happened to stumble across that box of stuff again, and when I read through my "report cards" from kindergarten, that brought smiles to my face. Now that I have a toddler of my own, those papers that used to mean nothing to me suddenly commanded my full attention. I'm hoping that someday my daughter will appreciate some of the junk I stored away for her too :)

Stephanie said...

What a timely post! I definitely am struggling with this right now, as my husband and I are preparing for a new baby in our family and MUCH more stuff than we need. All the stuff that we've both inherited from relatives over the years, stuff from our own lives, from our married life...AARGH! It's so hard to sort through the stuff that brings up fond memories, but as someone very wise just told it away helps these items start on a new journey. I LOVE that idea!

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