Thursday, December 20, 2012

Stuff It! by Jenny Gardiner

After a long discussion with friends over wine, I've concluded that the dilemma about what to do with one's "stuff" falls into two camps: one, the people who want to unload it all, ASAP, and the other, those who simply can't part with it. Ever. For clarity, I mean not just the belongings that you've accrued over the years, but also your home, where you're theoretically rooted. I get this, on a deep psychological (some might argue even neurotic) level. My parents engaged in a bitter divorce after I graduated from college, and in the battle that ensued between them, our mementos were held hostage by enemy combatants in a vitriolic emotional war. Over those tumultuous years, I lost all connection with my past: our things were either purged by a parent or hidden so that the other wouldn't get hold of it. The family home was gone, there was no place to return to recharge, no comfort zone that children often expect to exist forever. My husband on the other hand, has always been able to return at will to his childhood home, where his parents have lived since he was a small boy. There must be an element of comfort in being able to return home and quasi- flash back to a time when you were cared for, when your troubles aren't yours, they're still your parents. Obviously this can't last forever, but still. So for me, the idea of selling a home that is too big and involves too much maintenance, despite the logic in so doing, is anathema, even though our kids have grown and are embarking on their adult lives now. Yet I feel the need to always provide for my kids what my parents failed to do for me: a home, forever. But the logical me (yeah, believe it or not there is one, somewhere) knows this is crazy: You can't freeze your life in amber like a prehistoric insect for the infrequent visits from your adult children who have carved their own lives elsewhere in the world. Which brings me to that darned stuff. When my friends and I were talking, it became clear that we are of an age in which downsizing makes abundant sense. And I fully realize that 80 percent of the things taking up space in my home are imminently get rid-able: I have boxes in the basement from when I moved 15 years ago I've still not unpacked, so clearly I wouldn't miss them if they disappeared tomorrow. I think for me its more like I want to purge but I don't want to do the purging. I just want it to be gone. Another friend, took the opposite tack. She's even hanging on to very old sheets in case they ever buy a beach house. Only reason I save my threadbare linens is in case the basement floods (been there, done that). When it comes to what to do with our children's things, wow, do we diverge. One friend hardly waited till her daughter left for college before she took to her room in a maniacal cleaning binge, pitching half of what was there, convinced her daughter wouldn't notice. Which she apparently hasn't, so I guess she was right. But in my childhood household, all of my things just disappeared, leaving me no relic, no touchpoint of my upbringing, and I've always hated that. So you can safely assume I'm not ditching their stuff without their consent. It's tough to decide what to do with the kids' old toys. I wrestled with this for a while, but then I realize that half of them are made of plastic and will likely be revealed to be toxic by the time they have kids of an age to play with them. A handful of treasured toys is worth keeping, but most, not so much. The books are harder, as the memories of reading and re-reading, and re-reading some more are more embedded in my memory, thus inextricably linked to the books themselves. But I think I'm ready to bid farewell to all forty (or more) Magic School Bus books. They've served their purpose, and now it's time for another child to enjoy them. Nevertheless, part of me wants to just go wild on eBay with all of our junk. We have some tchotchkes from when a relative passed, things that showed up in a few boxes from UPS one day years ago that clearly no one in the very extended family wanted. The high point of this stash was a pair of the world's ugliest textured china poodles. To begin with, I have no fondness for poodles. But I really detest super ugly china poodles, and would actually enjoy winding up and smashing them against a wall, just for fun. But we can't do anything with them because they're Staffordshire, and hey, Staffordshire, for the uninitiated, is very high-end china. Never mind that these are the most hideous-looking fine china canines ever to grace the face of the planet. Someone out there might want to pony up a couple of hundred bucks for the things. Leaving your stuff for your kids to deal with is sort of a cop-out, because you leave them with the guilt of keeping or tossing. My sister-in-law finally reconciled herself that her grandmother's stuff isn't part of her life, and holding on to it won't mean her grandmother remains with her. It's merely an anchor to someone else's past. I've long joked that in the end all of our garbazh (read that with lower jaw jutted out with a pronounced French accent) is just that: crap that will end up in a flea market in Front Royal for strangers to pick through some day. I might as well collect my money for it now before it's too late! And the great thing is now I feel the same thrill in getting rid of this stuff I might have once felt in acquiring it. I say this, but as I watched the devastation unfold from Demon Storm Sandy, I appreciated even more the need for things, and the attachment to it. The ties that bind us can as easily ensnare us in their web as well as cocoon us in their security. To suddenly be without any of them? Unfathomable devastation. Because we naturally seek out the comfort of what we have when we're in the most need, and to not have it then is to remove the basest of security blankets. So I will temper my need to purge with my children's (and my) need to maintain a sense of home, no matter where they are. Jenny Gardiner is likely to be appearing at a yard sale near you, along with a whole lot of things she hopes you want. You can also find her at

  Sleeping with Ward Cleaver

Slim to None

Anywhere But Here

Where the Heart Is

Winging It: A Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Parrot Who's Determined to Kill Me

Accidentally on Purpose (written as Erin Delany)

Compromising Positions (written as Erin Delany)

I'm Not the Biggest Bitch in this Relationship (I'm a contributor)

And these shorts:
Idol Worship: A Lost Week with the Weirdos and Wannabes at American Idol Auditions

The Gall of It All: And None of the Three F's Rhymes with Duck

Naked Man On Main Street
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 find me on my website


Cathy Shouse said...

I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this, Jenny. I'm pondering the "stuff" issue too. My grandmother gave me the 100+ year-old family pipe organ (whatever it's called). It's a lovely antique that no one plays and takes up quite a bit of space. It is truly amazing how much "stuff" passes through our lives--and how much makes its home with us. My mother just handed me back some banking dishes from decades ago. I was heading out the door with them to Good Will and had the slightest hesitation, for sentimental reasons. Plus, I wondered if they are worth anything. Now they are in danger of becoming part of my domestic landscape. No, I tell myself. I can't let that happen. lol Kind of like the 5-second rule, if something sits in the house X days, it's hard to remove!

Pat Cochran said...

It is awfully hard to refuse to take things
left by family members. I have had my MIL's
dining room suite for 40 years and my child-
ren will not have room for it when we are
gone. What to do? It's over 75 years old and
I would hate for it to just be discarded.

Pat Cochran

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