The Stuff of Life
My husband and I moved into our new home a little over a month ago. Because the floors weren’t finished when we moved in, we’ve had to take our time unpacking – making it more of a room-to-room effort than a whole-house project. It’s interesting to look at the things we’ve acquired and moved, apartment to apartment and house to house. We have items from our childhoods, both our parents, John’s grandparents, my sister and her first and second husbands – along with the things we have personally added to our now rather sizable collection of stuff.
I was reminded a few months ago how personal a collection of stuff really is. I was on my way home from a book festival, my SUV full of all of my “important” book festival supplies: tables, chairs, table cloths, stands, wood crates, books, bookmarks, lights, pens, etc. Stopped at a traffic light, I noticed a man next to me who was hauling his own cart full of stuff – as homeless people in the Phoenix area (and probably other places) are sometimes inclined to do. It occurred to me as I watched him attempt to maneuver his over-full shopping cart that although I might think the things in that cart are just a pile of junk, to that man, they may be the world. Who’s to say what has value to someone? Chances are he might have found my books – the most personally valuable of the possessions I was hauling that day – unimportant, perhaps worthless.
We found out recently that Eric is going to be an uncle. His sister Jill and her husband are expecting a little one in August. Now that they are just about full-time empty nesters (Eric will graduate from college in May), Kathy has alluded to the fact that she and Bruce might be thinking about downsizing and moving closer to their daughter and new grandbaby. She told me that when they first began talking about this eventual possibility a handful of years ago, she was worried that Eric would resist the idea because the home where they live now is the only house he’s ever lived in. He was fine with the plan; it was Jill who was a bit upset. “You can’t sell the house where we grew up!”
But it’s what we do: we move through the cycles of life – and often that includes physically moving house, as the Brits say.
The thing is that with downsizing comes the sorting of a lifetime’s worth of things. Much of my stuff stayed in my folks’ garage until we finally moved my mom into a nursing home and sold her house – then those inevitable decisions could no longer be postponed. Presumably some of the things that would need to be sorted at Kathy and Bruce’s house are Eric’s, and he will have to make those same decisions about what to keep and what to sell or give away. Little League trophies, books, photos, sports equipment. It all mattered once upon a time, but does it still?
When I moved back to Phoenix from New Jersey, I brought only what I could transport in my Volkswagen Passat and the car carrier on top of it – namely, my dog Moondanz, my cat Gracie, my Mac, a couple of boxes of photos, and my clothes. The rest of it went into storage. I was temping and money was tight when I first arrived, so I within a few months, I didn’t pay my storage bill. All those things that had been too precious to get rid of at the time of the move were impounded – and gone. The vintage chalkboard Eric’s birthfather had bought for me at the indoor swapmeet down along the 1/9 (now a multiplex movie theatre). The very cool totem pole I’d bought during the six weeks I temped in Washington, D.C. for a white collar defense attorney with a Napoleon complex. Boxes and boxes of books (remember how valuable I mentioned they were to me?) and scads of craft supplies and completed crafts. All of it likely won in an auction by someone who might have gone on to star in the A&E series, “Storage Wars.”
At the end of the day, most of it is really just stuff. You often hear the question, If there were a fire or flood and you could save only one or two items, what would they be? After my husband and our pets, the only really important thing to me is my laptop (more specifically, the contents of said laptop) – but having paid a lot of money to restore it following a recent crash, I’m getting much better about automatically backing up all of my files, so even the things on the laptop are already recoverable.
Life itself is what’s precious. The things we collect while we live it just make it a bit more comfortable in the process.
Laura Orsini is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.