I often wonder what it would be like to live without stuff. You know, the stuff we move around all the time, like books, knick-knacks, furniture, dishes, bed linens, family heirlooms, appliances, gadgets, mail, and such. I remember when I graduated from college, with my life before me, wanting to live one of two ways: either being able to put everything I owned in a backpack, or having a house complete with all the stuff. Guess which one I got!! Sometimes I feel completely overwhelmed by stuff. It seems like I'm always moving stuff, putting away stuff, loading stuff into the car, unloading stuff out of the car, sorting through stuff, organizing stuff, throwing away stuff, giving away stuff, deciding whether to keep stuff or get rid of stuff, cleaning stuff. Stuff, stuff, stuff!!! It doesn't help that Robin and I have had to dismantle two households after an elderly aunt and uncle died, or that both sets of parents have loads of stuff to pass on to us and our siblings. And we can't forget that we humans actually buy stuff with our hard-earned money. There comes a point when one just can't handle any more stuff. I'm almost there.
I recently spent a couple of days with my two sisters at my dad's house. He's 91, and since Mom died a couple of years ago, stuff has been weighing on his mind. He'll say something like, "What are we going to do with all these books? You all need to go through them and take what you want," or "We need to get those old trunks out of the basement before they ruin. You all should take them if you want them." We three daughters are determined not to empty the house around him, but let's face it: a house full of stuff can be a burden to a 91-year-old man. Contrast that with the descriptions of moving into a new home in the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Her family of five could pack and load all their possessions in a morning, and unpack and settle into their new abode in less than a day. The thought of having to pack up our house after filling it with stuff for the past 20 years scares me silly!
Life, however, does require some stuff. The basic need of shelter means we need a house. And with a house comes at least the bare necessities of furniture: beds, tables, chairs. Another basic need is food, which dictates a kitchen and all the appliances and gadgets that make cooking possible and easy. Water is another requirement, which gives rise to our convenient bathrooms. Once the basics are in place, then comes the smaller stuff that makes them work: dishes, pot and pans, linens, lamps, etc. Most folks like to put their own personal touch on their surroundings, so in come the pictures on the walls, the figurines that reflect our interests, the books we love to read. Add to that the gadgets for entertainment, the family heirlooms (that may or may not mean a lot to you), and the tools and supplies we need to fulfill our responsibilities to family, work, church, and community. First thing you know, you have a house chock-full of stuff! It doesn't take very long to accumulate it, but down-sizing or disposing of years of stuff is a monumental task.
This need to get rid of stuff has created an interesting event known as the estate auction. When the older generation has passed on, there usually remains a houseful of their stuff. Everything is displayed in the yard, people come and look it over, and bid on and buy items as they are auctioned off. I used to wonder how families could put out such nice antiques and vintage things in an auction - the tangible evidence of life and living - to be looked over and bought by strangers. Didn't they want to keep these reminders of family and days gone by? The answer is yes and no. You can and do keep some things, but there's just no way you can keep everything and cram it into your own house, which is already full of stuff. In my opinion, deciding what to keep and what to let go is one of the biggest challenges of life after 50 (I'm 51).
As I sit at the computer writing this post, I can turn in my chair and see a lot of stuff. Right now, most of it can stay put, but some day I, or someone else, will have to deal with it. That reality gives me pause: just how important is all this stuff, anyway? I certainly hope I can leave a more valuable legacy for others than material things. How I treat people, how I've shared my faith, and values like honesty, kindness, and compassion are far more important than any thing I could leave behind. Although I am thankful to be blessed with stuff that can make life a little sweeter, I don't want to be burdened and overwhelmed by it either. All my contemplations about stuff have led me to a resolution. When I turn 75, I will start giving something away every day. But then again, maybe I should make that 55???