All Stuffed Up [Learning to Let Go]

I have a huge job ahead of me.  I’m loving and hating every minute of it.  I have too much stuff.  Some of the “stuff” I have hasn’t seen the light of day in years.

My husband lived in this house when he met me.  He had stuff already when I moved here, and when I added my stuff to his “stuff,” the house was stuffed and we both had to give things up.  The years passed, and we each tossed some stuff and bought some more stuff to take its place.  Before long, he lamented to me, “we have too much stuff.”

I did my best to pare down the stuff.  I went through the boxes and tossed some stuff, but there were things that held too many memories.  I couldn’t bear to give up some stuff, so I stuffed it back into (fewer) boxes.

Some years later, my mom and dad moved from their four bedroom home into a two bedroom apartment.  They had to get rid of stuff, but they let me go through their stuff before they sold their stuff at auction.  I loaded up a car or four with more stuff.  I was opening my professional office, so some of the stuff went there, which made room for more stuff at the house.

More years passed, and the ‘rents moved into an even smaller place with less room for stuff.  Once again, I carted boxes of stuff to my house.  I couldn’t bear to let them get rid of the stuff that I had grown up with.   The stuff has sat, stuffed into boxes and untouched since I stuffed it into the garage, basement and attic.

Mom got sick, then Dad got sick and died, and Mom got sick again.  I was so stuffed full of feelings that I couldn’t bear to go through the boxes that stuffed the corners of my life.

I [re]discovered thrift shopping (thank you, Macklemore!) and brought home even more stuff.  Recently I needed to get something from the basement, but the floor was so stuffed full of boxes stuffed full of stuff that I couldn’t find the stuff I wanted.  I realized I had a stuff problem.

My darling, patient husband understands.  The stuff is stuffed full of memories.

When I hold my grandma’s old root beer mug, it ceases to be just stuff. It takes me back to Grandma’s kitchen.  I can see the Hires root beer bottle (the glass kind that you have to open with a bottle opener).  I can taste the vanilla ice cream that has crystallized root beer on the edges.  I feel the long-handled spoon she gave me with my root beer float.

The caddy of red-striped glasses stuffed with newspaper take me to the dinner parties my parents would host.  Mom’s fancy glasses would come out only on special occasions. I felt like a grown up when I could drink my iced tea or lemonade from those glasses instead of the jelly jar glasses or the plastic cups we used for every day.

There is the birch bark tee pee and the Indian chief doll that my Dad bought on a trip out west before I was born. I hold them and hear Dad tell about the steak dinner he bought in Texas for 10 cents with a steak that was bigger than the plate that held it.

It’s all stuff.  The real value is in the memories that are stuffed in this head of mine.  The older I get, the more my house looks like my parents’ home circa 1975. I have my parents’ coffee table, my Dad’s desk lamp, and the piano that Dad taught dozens of kids to play on.  I almost brought home the church organ that he had… but there was no room.  The place was stuffed.

My head is stuffed full of memories.  They are sweet and bitter. Each doo dad and knick knack triggers a mental movie. Dear husband brings the boxes for me one at a time. It’s like Christmas when I unwrap the stuff that was carefully stuffed in newspaper years ago.

I have to let go. There is so much old stuff – mine, my parents’ and my children’s that there is no room for new stuff to make new memories.  I have to part with my stuff.  I’ll keep the treasures that hold extra-special meaning.  The other stuff stays only if I would buy it if I saw it in a store.  As I send the other stuff on to other people who will appreciate it, I will savor the memories that I unwrap. Perhaps I will photograph the items that have the best stories.  As I stuff boxes full of stuff that has no place to be displayed, I should save those memories somehow.

Perhaps one day my children will receive an album stuffed full of photographs and words from their mother recalling moments from the years she spent collecting the stuff.

So far, all but one item has been unpacked intact. The lone casualty is a painted cookie jar.  I’ll admit I nearly cried when I saw it lying in piece.  I asked my husband to glue it.  He said he would… but I’m not sure it’s necessary.  As “stuff,” it’s not worth much.  There’s nothing special about it.  I have the cream pitcher, tea pot and sugar bowl that match. Any one of those things would evoke the same memories.  I’ll never use it as a cookie jar.  Now that it’s broken, nobody else would want it.  Instead of repairing it, I think it’s time to (reverently) stuff it in the trash.

When it comes right down to it, it is, after all, just stuff.  The memories are inside me, waiting to be shared.

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