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Stuff — Treasures or Trash? by Amy

This post originally appeared on my blog StyleSubstanceSoul.com.

I am a big fan of stuff, of things, of visual stimulation and mementos of experiences. Plus, I am a saver.

I admire minimalist — I love the look of clean and sleek and contemporary. But when I think about streamlining for myself, it is hard — ’cause I’ve got a lot of stuff. A friend of mine once said he loved my house because everywhere he turned there was something interesting to look at. This is just the look I was going for. My taste is eclectic and my style is — well, if I like it, it goes!

As of late, I have been rethinking stuff. I have cut way back on acquiring stuff – the economy and the size of our house were the biggest external factors but now I have a few internal ones as well. First is the whole greener, reduce, reuse and recycle movement. I finally realized that this should apply to more than just shopping bags and plastic food containers. So, in addition to cutting back on how much I buy, I have changed what I buy. I try to always purchase from independent retailers or resale/antique stores. I also try to donate whatever and whenever possible.

The major internal factors came in the last year since my dad died. This was a more profound shift and I haven’t really wrapped my head or soul around it fully. But once my dad died and the chore of going through his stuff fell upon my mom mostly, some wonderful family friends who helped, and my sister and I secondarily, my feelings about stuff changed dramatically. Because my dad died suddenly — he unexpectedly died in the middle of his living his life — there were all kinds of everyday stuff to go through. Pockets of clothes, desk drawers, the car trunk, places where stuff accumulates. My dad was a bit of a hoarder –he never threw anything away and he was a pile maker. In that way and many more, I am my father’s daughter.

Going through this layer of stuff was upsetting to each of us for different reasons. I felt I needed to defend my dad as a fellow collector and pile maker to my more organized and sparser mother and sister. I was also taken by the feeling we were invading my dad’s privacy. Not that we uncovered any scandals — far from it — but just the indignity of us going through his stuff without his permission, without his explanation and without him being able to defend his stuff. Stuff he would not have wanted us to go through under normal circumstances. It sounds weird, but it set me off on a rampage of my own house cleaning and pile purging. I haven’t been able to keep up with it and the piles have reformed but I am a little sick at the thought of anyone ever needing to go through my stuff. And I feel like it is my obligation to the people I love to leave as little mess as possible for any of them to clean up. I am working on changing the way I live daily, but first I have to clean up the junk drawers, the piles, and the undone projects.

After the daily living stuff, there was the real stuff. The sentimental and the practical. I am not sure how other people feel after a death but even the practical became sentimental, which was crazy. We couldn’t possibly incorporate all of my dad’s stuff into our lives. There was some stuff that just had to be thought of as “stuff” — no longer a piece of my dad. That was hard to do, but a transition that was absolutely necessary. Even my dad’s sentimental stuff couldn’t become ours — there was too much, 70 years worth. Every gift we had given him, cards the girls had made him, things he had collected . . . what to do with all that wonderful stuff full of memories? How do you throw away something someone had saved for so long?

That made me think of the stuff I have saved. Other than the fact that I have saved it, how important is it really? And by keeping it am I making it someone else’s burden? I am starting to think many of those things are unimportant and that just because I have saved them, doesn’t mean I should continue to. It also makes me think differently about my home. Not the stuff that is out — hopefully that stuff will be important to my girls, or my friends, because those are the things that were a part of their memories in the house. But the stuff in boxes and in drawers and closets. My childhood stuff, boxes of pictures in albums, pictures waiting to be framed, pictures that I am out of wall and counter space to display, books I can’t part with. The boxes of childhood stuff from each of the girl’s rooms. Their high school rooms which will need to transition at some point to rooms they visit when they are at our house or our extra rooms, not theirs at all . . . . . and all the stuff that they have that they feel connected to, that they can’t part with, that they care so much about now but probably won’t sooner than they think.

It seems endless and overwhelming but little by little I am trying to rethink my stuff, pare down. I won’t ever be a minimalist but I hope to leave little behind to burden others and hopefully lighten my load while I am here. And while I am now the butt of many jokes over the many hours I spend purging and sorting in the garage and, as my girls say, my “anti hoarders disease,” hopefully my kids will thank me later when they aren’t spending their precious time sorting through my old stuff. Plus they will need all that time saved for their father’s stuff because he is a bigger collector than I am!

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