The Power of Stuff

July 8, 2013

Over the last few years, Linda and I have been spending way more time than I could’ve imagined going through the remaining possessions of relatives who have downsized their living space or have died (the ultimate downsizing…). What I’ve seen time and again is that accumulated belongings possess an inordinate power over their owners to the point where it’s more important to them to sit amidst their stuff than be with the people they say they value more.

My Aunt Frances’ possessions stored in a unit to be sorted in eight months.

So much time and energy was spent boxing, storing, and otherwise keeping things which would eventually be sorted and trashed by us or others instead of doing something more meaningful that would leave themselves or others better off.

My Aunt Frances slipped into my grandparents’ house after my Papoo died and took a bunch of furniture and other things before her sisters arrived. She locked the stuff she’d taken into a storage building behind her house which eventually leaked and ruined almost everything she had poached. What she left behind has either been thrown away or is now being held in a storage facility at an expense of several hundred dollars to her estate to wait for her remaining relatives to sort through.

To what end?

One effect it’s had on us is to examine the accumulation of our own stuff. We’re in the process of cleaning out our own storage spaces. We’re donating or discarding stuff we don’t use. We’re examining the way we spend our time more closely.

I have been greatly moved by a quote from Annie Dillard, “The way we spend our days is the way we spend our lives.” I’ve been reading and meditating on that thought for several weeks.

Our days seem to pass in a flash with little to show for many of them. But added together they become the legacy we leave. I don’t want the sum of my life to be closets and storage units full of meaningless stuff somebody has to sort through. What’s the point?

I want my legacy to be something I wrote or said that made someone else’s load a little lighter or at least more bearable to bear. I want you and others to know that you’re valued. What we all need are more experiences that shape us into our better selves. Not to become vessels of stuff that other people waste time discarding.

How about you? What are your thoughts?

Charles

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

simong July 8, 2013 at 5:25 pm

Have been going through this since 2005. It was incredibly liberating to get rid of stuff accumulated over 20 years in a studio and to have an open unencumbered space to work in. It’s a constant battle. This past January I realized I had spent $9000 since 2005 storing stuff that wasn’t worth a small percentage of that. Didn’t make sense…so I closed it. The minute I cleaned out the garage, I inherit my fathers workshop…wanting to provide a place that he can work, but at the same time knowing that it probably won’t ever happen…I now have a garage full of stuff that really needs to be used by someone else.
Years ago, I sold an old MGB in good condition for $3500, only to get a tax bill the very next day for that same amount. At the time I swore I would never sell an MG that I owned again which I did. It ended up rusting in the garage for 10 years without use before I finally realized it was crazy to hold on to it. The first time I should have appreciated the fact that the MG paid my tax bill instead kicking myself because of my own selfish reasons. I was fortunate that I was able to get $3000 for my second rust bucket.
We tend to hold onto things because they invoke memories. Photographs do that, but I tend to think that we hold on to way too many photographs today and spend way too much time looking back at them. I treasure the few photographs I have of family from the early 1900′s, but a few is all I need. I only have a few of me as a baby, but only a few is all I want. I have a gazillion photographs of my daughter, zillions more of the last 30 years….some may have value…most have little, but I tend to hold on to them still.
As I get requests for images from 30 years ago, I find myself going down memory lane again…pulling images out that I may or may not scan for some possible use. I still make some money from those images, but the reality is that it doesn’t pay for the storage of the work. At some point it will have to go and the importance of such will have to be decided on by someone else.
Recently I had this same discussion with another friend whose wife told him that they should always be looking forward and not spending as much time looking back. I tend to agree. It’s just hard to do with a bunch of stuff looking at you in the basement, garage, attic. Getting rid of most of it might help us to look forward a little more.

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