Stuff — mine, ours, and other

It is amazing how much a family can accumulate over years of being in one place. As we sort through our treasures and junk we are constantly amazed at the things that pop up that had been forgotten about or thought to be long gone. It offers a chance to relive past events and stir memories. Memories which anchor us to our home, to the people we have known, and the places we have been.

This past week we officially sold our house and with that act, we realized that much of the stuff we have; stuff we had painstakingly saved for that time when we would do something with it, or put it into another project, or (insert useful idea here) will not happen. It won’t happen here, at this place, in this house, and in this time. Ever.

Releasing these scraps of intent is ultimately freeing, but sometimes tinged with regret and it’s the regret that sometimes gets in the way of this process. It’s a heavy emotion that clings to memory and permeates the present with the idea that somehow, and in some way, we could have been more, done more, and explored more.

We’ve been releasing bits and pieces all along, but never really digging in deep, drawing a line in the sand, and saying, “NO – this STUFF does NOT need to travel to Alaska with us!” The motivation of a timeline coupled with the limiting factor of space, work together to create the cathartic  release of those items which are not needed.

Moving to a remote village in Alaska where everything has to be flown in and out dictates packing the belongings we are choosing to keep into large plastic containers (30 x 20 x 14). Each container will cost us about $100 each to ship. This encourages us to trim things down to the most wanted or needed items we own. We have to decide how many of the things we have acquired that are we willing to part with forever, and how many we just can’t release yet and want to store to revisit later. For some items the choice comes easy but for others it is more difficult as there are deep memories associated with them.

Now there is the question about storage – to store or not to store. There are these amazing pieces of art. All precious, signed pieces, which mean so much to us but that won’t fit in a small tub. The decision before us is to either take them to a family member’s place to store until we are able to transport them, or to place them in a storage facility. The first option is free thanks to the goodwill of relatives; the second option will cost us a monthly fee. It bothers me to have to pay for these items twice but it also bothers me to leave our possessions like so many abandoned children at the home of someone else. This is one of the decisions that we are still grappling with. We’ll let you know how this one turns out.

One thing we have noticed is how attached folks are to their stuff. Well-meaning people look at us, as we describe this undertaking, and still ask us if we have lost our mind. Others have definite opinions about what to keep and what to release. And at our two yard sales, we learned so much about how other people view stuff as well as how we view stuff. An example from the most recent sale is this. There was a person interested in our ax. An ax is a handy thing and we’ve had this ax for years. It’s been used to chop all kinds of things and when we need an ax, we are happy to use it. This person picks up the ax and says, “It’s really rusty and the handle is warped – how much?”

WOW! An object that holds such meaning and reverence for me is reduced to a rusty, warped-handled, five-dollar object at a yard sale. I learned a lot about myself through this transaction and there is more to say about stuff and how we value our stuff and other people’s stuff. More to say about how and why we acquire stuff and discard stuff and why. It’s a much longer conversation so suffice it to say that I have “stuff” on the brain.

A co-worker recently told me about his “scary box,” that he didn’t ever open but shipped to Amsterdam when he moved there, still never looked at it, then shipped it home when he returned. The “scary box” concept is interesting to us because we have left nothing unexamined or intact in its original container. In some ways it’s like a self-inflicted burn notice. I keep hearing a TV voice in my head saying, “When you’re a spy, sometimes you have to unearth every last possession you own and decide whether or not to keep it.”

Eight weeks ago we started the process of sorting through these treasures and memories and it has taken us this long to finally pack our first few boxes for shipment. With only 13 more days to go, we will definitely have to step up the pace. It has been interesting to see what we are distilling our lives down to and what is non-negotiable and what is easily released. Often times I’m surprised at the items that fall into each category.

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