The Life and Times of Stuff, Part One

I have many opinions about “stuff.”  First of all, I believe it to be the bane of our existence.  In fact, on a global level we are in danger of “stuffing” ourselves OUT of existence.  But I am closer to home.

My days are consumed with stuff.  I am buying it, selling it, cleaning it, breaking it, fixing it, arranging it, transporting it, storing it, admiring it… to infinity and beyond.  I have had the epiphany, I have disposed of so much stuff that I have furnished houses for, decorated homes for, clothed and fed many people.  I still have stuff.  I have enough stuff to create two livable houses.  Sadly, too, I still buy stuff.

This may be a genetic predisposition.  At the very least it is a socialization imposed on my personality at a very young age.

My mother was into acquisition.  As a child of a serial single parent and a survivor of the depression she longed for possessions.  Clothing, dishes, sets of books; these things left in plain view created surroundings that fed her soul.  Her cupboards and closets were stuffed with toilet paper; extra sheets; bottles of water; and large glass jars filled with beans, rice, oatmeal and flour.  The bench at the foot of her bed was piled with fluffy blankets and downy pillows in case she should be cold or uncomfortable.  She was engulfed in stuff.

My father and my oldest sister were keepers of history.  This meant that no scrap of paper, no book, and nothing that held sentimental meaning could ever be thrown out.  Pay slips from the 1920’s were passed from my father to my sister.  Both made carbon copies (if you remember what those are) of every letter they wrote, no matter how short or mundane.  Although my father had been married to his second wife for 45 years, he retained his divorce papers.  He had every original deed for every property he ever bought or sold and every work order for any repairs to any of those houses.  Dusty, torn, yellowed and worn these were passed (after weeks of sorting) to my sister whose house was already filled to the brim with what seemed to be everything she had ever owned.

My second sister was more a keeper of beauty.  She was an eclectic collector.  Her house decor must be changed out for every season and for every holiday.  The table was laid with seasonal dishes.  The mantel was covered with tchotzkes befitting the time of year or celebration. Her kitchen counters were reminiscent of my mother’s with treasured dishes, useful appliances and extra edibles three layers back so that only 6 inches of workable space was available at any given time.

My third sister was also a collector of beauty.  She was a world traveler and her house had international style and flair with museum pieces of art and workmanship from every country she had visited.  She was much more selective about what adorned the walls, exquisite tables and shelves in her home.  Not so much with the storage areas, however.  While she lived overseas the “stuff” was transported back on summer trips, placed in storage units and retained for twenty years.  When she and her husband returned and bought a large home, the lower level of storage cupboards were crammed with unused items.  Her jewelry filled cabinets in the home office.

And then they were gone.

Who wants the stuff?  Who can manage the stuff?  Who can decide what stuff is important? What is valuable? What is absolutely vital to the continuation of life and family history?

What to do?  What to do?

How can it be distributed equally?  How can everyone be made happy? How to get rid of all of this stuff?

But I grieve for these people and their love for their stuff.  Because it mattered to them.

To be continued….



  1. I love your blog, and I’m looking forward to the next installment on the absorbing issue of stuff.

    My parents were at the other extreme. They coped with their experience of childhood depression-era poverty by priding themselves on investing little sense of self in their stuff. As her only child, I had trouble distributing mementos of my mother to the family members (both of origin and beta) who wanted something to remember her by–she simply hadn’t left behind enough plausible objects. And I was surprised when I cleared out my father’s house after his death to find absolutely no record of his previous two marriages or any life lived before he met my mother.

    One consequence of this extreme lack of stuff is that the things left behind are not nearly momentous enough–and yet it’s really hard to get rid of them. So even though it only amounts to a few cardboard boxes in my basement, I, too, feel plagued by stuff. Funny, huh? The problem, clearly, isn’t the quantity or intrinsic quality of the stuff–it’s the unshakable past in which it was acquired.


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