I’m fine, thanks

IMG_5504A few years before she died, my grandmother started giving me stuff at every visit. It wasn’t fancy stuff. My grandmother wasn’t fancy. It was more like dish towels and the occasional knick-knack. I tried to talk her out of it. It felt ghoulish, like she was preparing to die and didn’t want all this stuff surrounding her when she went.

I find myself in a similar predicament, though I believe my health is fine. We are moving. The last time I moved, I went from a house that was three times the size of the one we’re selling now. I was careful about giving or throwing much of my stuff away.

This time, I’m being brutal. My father left me a set of first-edition leather-bound books that are going to my son, along with the huge bookshelves I bought for them. I made the decision to pass these along far later than I should have. I’ve also made a sign that says “Free to Good Home” for the light pole out front, and that’s where I leave griddles, bundt pans and other things I’ll never use. So far, everything has been picked clean, and I’m glad. My husband insists he’s throwing out anything that wouldn’t fit into his Mach 1 Mustang — a car he owned back in the glory days, the ’70s. To one-up him, I’ve told him I will winnow and shift to fit everything into a backpack (which I did once, back when I moved off to Maryland to go to college). (OK, I shipped six large boxes of stuff that followed me a few weeks later, but for a while? I was awesome in my own head.)

The funny thing about stuff is that it takes on this incredible weight. I won’t get my stuff down to a backpack. I have probably 50 boxes of books I’m not giving away. I’ve still got photo albums, the occasional winter coat, a pair of cowgirl boots that follow me everywhere.

But what if you had to pick through your stuff and fit everything into a backpack? Or a Mach 1? What would you take? What would you leave?

Published by datingjesus

Just another one of God's children.

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  1. Been there. Done that. Both ways. More than once.
    This is where some experience with motorcycles comes in handy. You start with “absolutely necessary” and work your way around that.

    Books rarely survived any of my moves. I have only one that has consistently managed to follow me around. The rest I would pass around or sell. CDs and miniplayers made saving some music easier, until the backpack stage. Fortunately, by the time I was forced into that limitation, I didn’t have to worry about the doggies.

    When you’re living out of what you can carry, choices depend on where you’re carrying it to. Two things I always seemed to find some room for where my cigarette roller and some sort of coffee setup. Other than that, “warm and dry” was my principle criteria.

    1. I actually thought about you as I was writing this. This obviously comes from the kind of life where I’m privileged to accumulate as much crap as I want. This while it’s in my DNA to reject such gathering. What am I gathering it for? I’m not planning on a funeral pyre with all my stuff beneath me as someone sets it afire.

      So I have to ask: What’s the one book?

      1. My great aunt spent decades compiling nine generations of genealogy beginning with my father’s ancestor who landed in what is now Rhode Island in 1650. It was all done before personal computers and the internet and such. (I checked once. We could be cousins!) She had it printed up into books and gave my father one when my elder brother was born. I’ve always managed to keep it safe. I understand it’s been digitized and put on the web somewhere.

        I’ve never had much stuff. Moved around too much to acquire more than what could fit a van or pickup truck. Or a backpack.

        1. That’s an awesome book to lug around. I have one of those, too. I packed it yesterday, to keep.

          Of course we’re cousins. Why else would we like each other so much?

          1. It is a rather large tome. With tiny old typewriter script. I have a magnifier to use when I read it.

            Have you ever explored the Tiny House Movement? There’s a TV show. A blog. It’s been featured on various TV shows like This Old House.
            I lived in a 69 Econoline for the better part of three years. You really learn how to consolidate and prioritize.

            1. Great minds think alike. I would have to go SO much deeper into my possessions to fit into a tiny house. I just took some kitchen ware (including a fetching wire bread basket shaped like a chicken, if you’re in the neighborhood) to the curb. I am contemplating this battered old chair I’m sitting in. I’ve written a book while sitting here. The grandbabies cuddle here. But it’s big and the seat’s busted and really, maybe it’s time to share this chair so someone else can make memories. But that leaves two large love seats, a large leather chair, an ottoman nearly the size of my car…and so on and so forth.

  2. I’m almost finished with the first pass through my new place, encountering a few things that haven’t been unpacked since I moved from my house in 2009. Oddly enough, I have about the same amount of living space as then, but without the attic, basement, and garage. Havent thought in terms of absolute minimum yet, but of keeping only the useful, beautiful, and joyful. I have a lot of wall space, so several pieces of artwork that have never seen daylight are getting framed and hung. There are still many books, but I’ve got a moratorium on buying any more bookcase, so it’s self-limiting right now, even though I look around and see empty places where another bookcase could fit, and it makes me a little twitchy. I don’t really like clutter, but I was unwilling to make the effort until I realized just how stressful it was to keep all these reminders of my past lives around me. In order to move on, I have to let it go.

    1. I get the twitchy part, very much. I have, at last count, six bookshelves and two of them fill up a wall (those are going to my son, but don’t tell his wife). I do like giving books away and have been trying to do more of that, but some are like favored pets. I cannot let them go.

      1. P.s. I just started reading “The Big Tiny: A Built-It-Myself Memoir,” by Dee Williams, who was featured in a NYT story about her 84 square foot house on wheels. (At the time, I was looking at bathrooms and kitchens on Houzz, and the reactions ranged from envy to outrage. Interesting. ) Anyway, her story is very illuminating, how she arrived at this point, and how she has designed a new life for herself. I highly recommend it.

        1. I read that same piece. Do you recommend the book? (I will, of course, load it up on my Kindle.)

          1. I can’t imagine being outraged that someone else could choose a tiny house, but I also can’t imagine living in such tight quarters. I think you’d have to live a true life of the mind, and not have interests or activities that involve equipment or tools or machines unless you can afford to make other arrangements for their use.

            And as I’m aging, I’m thinking of what a friend talked about recently – older people who downsize drastically might not be so happy in the coming years because one doesn’t get out as much, perhaps, and one is then trapped with not much variety in one’s surroundings.

            I think about the 500 sq ft shack I lived in for 20 years, part of that with a partner (and his kids on weekends) , and even now it makes me feel claustrophobic. Of course these are all first world observations, I’m very aware of that.

            1. I just dragged my favorite chair out to the curb and ran over my toe and it hurts. And as I was limping back to the house, I thought the same thing “Boo-hoo, wah-wah. First world problems.”

            2. As long as I am mobile, I’ll be able to step out my door and go to the coffee shop or the library or the farmers market in the summer, or catch a bus to New Haven. In fact, I was thinking about all that when I choose this location.

            3. A lot of the regulars on Houzz arevcintractirs who make a living convincing homeowners that they have to remodelvevery five years or get left in the dust. Many others are those same serial remodelers. The idea that some one could choose to live as Dee Williams chose is very threatening to them.

  3. I agree – been there, done that, and have the T-shirt to prove it. After college, then two years given to Uncle Sam in the US Public Health Service, and having just married, we packed up the car with camping gear and embarked on a 9-month 26,000 mile journey meandering around the lower 48. Summer in the north, February snorkling in the Florida Keys, that sort of thing. The tent was large enough (10′ x 10′), but of course it got rolled up practically every day so was no good for storage. Our accumulation of stuff pretty much followed what leftover mentioned. Bare. Minimal. Only what really mattered for the here and now. Leftover’s “warm and dry” ruled.

    Then careers, kids and the like happened, and we landed in a big house, our first and only, where we now have been for 40 years. We accumulated stuff. Lots of stuff. Had storage space galore (unfinished basements are “stuff magnets”), and we filled it (“can’t throw THAT out, we might need it someday”). Now when we visit the kids we take boxes of their old stuff and give it back to them (“unload” would be a better word, maybe). And we are avid fans and users of Freecycle.

    Now we are thinking maybe we should dump this monster house and move closer to one of the kids (and grand kids). Never had a motorcycle, but have had a backpack. In fact, when we travel we follow Rick Steves’ rule – only take a single carry-on, nothing more. More and more it is looking like it is time to adopt that for the rest of the ever-shortening journey…. After all, we can’t take it with us, nor would we want to. Anyway, disembodied spirits don’t have arms to carry stuff in, do they? And somehow saying to St. Peter something like “Hey, dude, could you please take my great grandmother’s china set off my hands” doesn’t sound either cool or feasible. Also, just like the “one man and one woman” definition of marriage, there is no biblical basis for it.

    1. I love this. I never took that trek you mentioned, the tent trek where you travel around, but I very much want to. I just have to figure out how to let go of my books. I love them. I do. But they’re anchors. And I’m heading out today to unload some stuff on one son. He’ll thank me later, maybe.

  4. I’m glad you’re fine. Honestly, the paring down sounds freeing. I feel like it’ll be a long time before I can do that in a major way. I think it may be a relief, but finding my way there may be tough.

    I know I have way too much stuff. It wasn’t until I read what DickG said about “the here and now”, did I think of it as living in the past, present, and future, all at once. (He said, “Our accumulation of stuff pretty much followed what leftover mentioned. Bare. Minimal. Only what really mattered for the here and now.”) I have stuff from parents, siblings, aunts & uncles, grand parents, great grandparents…even great, great, great, great grandparents. I’m from a family of savers, I suppose. There’s responsibility that comes with the stuff, to keep it safe until it can be passed down. Then there’s the useful stuff I keep stowed away for my kids – for their future. I feel obligated to keep the stuff until they launch out into the world, so as to not be wasteful. There is stuff from my childhood, I can’t part with yet. I have toys I’ll save for future grandkids.

    I don’t know how I’ll let go of some of these things. From almost anywhere in my house, I see something that ties me to the past – see memories, relatives who have passed. A lot of my stuff is them in a way, and I have to respect them and take care of them. Weird, I suppose. Then, I read “Ladder of Years” every now and then, and dream of walking out on my stuff.

    It looks like I’m the oddball here.

    1. Not at all. I just packed up three more boxes of books and I ended up jettisoning maybe 10 books on top of that. I have books signed by my friends, the authors. I have books I bought on a whim (“Deer Hunting With Jesus” remains one of my favorite books, ever) and can’t turn loose of. I have maybe four plastic tubs marked “Memories” that are things from my family of origin and my family of making (kids’ school papers I can’t turn loose of). Please don’t think I have a handle on this. I don’t. But it’s been a really interesting process to discover just how attached I am to some Stuff.

    2. Heirlooms are a special category all their own. If they mean something to you personally, go right ahead and keep them. But just remember that the thing is not the person, and the person who loved you intended for that item to bring you joy, not a burden. Also consider the possibility that your kids may not want any of that stuff when they set up their own homes, that they may go to the thrift shop and pick it out themselves.

      1. I have pitched a few things I’ve been hanging onto, though I still have my Grandma Marrs’ house dress framed and hanging over my writing chair. We retired her jersey when she died.

  5. A short New Yorker article about Cassandra Wilson ends thus:
    “The questions one never thought to ask the dead pile up.”

    Some of my antecedents, like those of several others here, came to this continent before there was a U.S.A., and in the 1756 family house MANY pieces of historical ephemera ended up in the attic. When it was time for my sister and me to sell the house (the first hard choice), we tried to sort it all and keep the important stuff. But time ran out, and we ended up discarding…. who knows what. We did have the 1727 deed for the property and the letter my great-grandfather wrote to his son, guilting him into coming back from his career to run the family farm, and photos of relatives known and unknown.

    Last year, when it became clear that my sister was dying, she became very anxious about the family memorabilia and its future. Her son and daughter don’t have much interest in it and I don’t have kids to pass it to. I have some of it here, and while I’m organizing following some overlong renovation, I’m also trying to sort these things out. Probably just to try to answer some questions…… that I never got around to asking.

    1. Wow. That’s a treasure trove. Just about anything my father touched and I came into contact with after his death, I have. I have a few scattered things from my grandmother and grandfather — including, weirdly, a beautiful little square cardboard box I’ve kept since I was a kid. Why? Because my grandma gave it to me. I don’t remember the circumstances. I just remember thinking as a kid, “Hey! That’s a great box!” So I’m toting plenty of stuff with me to the next place, but I’m sure toting less.

      1. Wow back. I have very little of my father’s stuff — his second wife kept it, and I don’t know what she did with it after his way-too-early death and her remarriage. But there’s stuff that’s here because “X gave it to me” and also because, like Jac, I feel like I’m still connected somehow to those who are gone.

        1. Same here. I sometimes wonder who will be interested in this stuff when I’m gone. I am already telling the babies about their illustrious ancestors, but whether they’re listening…well…

          1. WE listened to the stories….. hopefully they will too. I think. IS it important? That may be a good question.

                1. Like you belong, like the world didn’t just start with you, and the world didn’t end at the end of your street, either.

  6. I starting taping some of those stories as an interview of my parents. This reminds me to finish that project and do the same with Mr Jac’s parents. Then – maybe I should interview Mr Jac. Finally, maybe I should record my story and even my kids. Someday, future generations might appreciate knowing our stories. I would have loved to hear the voices and first hand stories of my ancestors. It does make you feel like a part of something bigger.

    I do feel like a caretaker of the stuff and the family. It started waaay back, when I was a child, when my grandmother started giving me things that belonged to my deceased aunt. I took on responsibility with each thing. Stuff is weird for me that way.

    I think the framed house dress is awesome.

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