Stuff: Part One


This is some of our Stuff… I’m not quite sure what this is all about, this ridding ourselves of so much of our Stuff… But it’s been going on for almost two months now – drawer by drawer, pile by pile, shelf by shelf. And I’m thinking about it…

I can look back on a sequence and confluence of Events, although being able to name these Events sheds no light on what actually caused them, what they might mean, or how, in retrospect, they seem to have joined forces with the Universe and led to this. Logically speaking, it began when we had to remove a newly-defunct and empty oil tank from our basement. There was a lot of Stuff in our basement – all very tidy, but THERE. The tank couldn’t be taken out until a path was cleared. So that was the first thing the Universe presented, and my good man got right on it… And ordered a dumpster. (As I’ve mentioned before, having a dumpster is every woman’s fondest dream, no matter what you may have heard about red convertibles and pelts of dead animals.) We began filling it up, with two-by-fours, empty paint cans, leftover floor tiles, scraps of carpeting, broken snow shovels, empty cardboard boxes, and so on.

In the middle of this, my husband went to visit a good buddy in Colorado, whose sweetheart had just come to live with him in the house in which he’s lived for his entire fifty-ish years, full of his Stuff, his parents’ Stuff, his son’s Stuff, and more… Much more. Sweetheart arrived armed with a small book by Karen Kingston called Clear Your Clutter With Feng Shui/FREE Yourself from Physical, Mental, and Spiritual Clutter Forever. ( My husband – whose intimate familiarity with any Oriental spiritual practice is equal to his personal experience with breast feeding – was miraculously hooked on the entire concept… And we already had a dumpster. We were apparently ready for this. Who can “explain” these things? Sometimes – probably all of the time, actually – the “right” time comes without our really knowing it, and we realize that we are in the hands of the Universe.

That same week, I was in Idaho with a very dear GF, who left her expansive Long Island home a year and a half ago, moved herself, her sweetheart, and Splash, the Wonder Dog, into a thirty-four-foot RV, and has been happily living in it ever since, all over the northern half of the Western Hemisphere. (See my earlier post, Eight Days at Blackwell Island.) She used to have quite a lot of Stuff; now she doesn’t, and she’s more than fine with that. I liked it, too.

So those are the Events-That-Took-Place. But what was really happening? For twenty years, we’ve been pleasantly and regularly accumulating Stuff. We’re not particularly hoarders – except, maybe, for my collection of more than a hundred plastic souvenir snowballs; have to ‘fess up to that… Overall, we consider ourselves pretty tidy. We make our bed almost every day; we dutifiully and punctually recycle every possible thing; and rarely does a dirty dish sit in our sink for more than an hour. (I guess this makes us QUITE tidy, actually.) So why have we now suddenly found ourselves seriously compelled to rid ourselves of so much of our Stuff, and right this minute?

One of the most intriguing things about Kingston’s little book is that it addresses the reasons we accumulate our Stuff. “Just in case” is first on the list, followed by all kinds of other motivations like self-identity, status, territoriality, using a ton of Stuff to bury feelings of insecurity, and so on. No amount of trying to convince ourselves that all those magazines really should be neatly arranged on the coffee table is ever going to trump any of these emotional powerhouses – especially if we’re not even aware of their existence.

Instead of thinking of this as some reiteration of perpetual “tidyng up,” both of us began to consider how we really felt about our Stuff. What had each of us, without much thought, brought to our shared life from our individual former lives, living in different places, with different people? What were we hanging on to for no reason other than the fact it was there, and we were used to it? Were there things we’d never really liked in the first place…? Indeed there were. Major life transitions – divorce, moving, death – often necessitate this sort of reconsideration of Stuff, but this was coming from none of those. It was coming from the great Somewhere Else…

Interestingly enough, we started with the bedroom – the room where we spend that third of our lives, where we are most intimate in every way, and where, each night, we release ourselves to the still, dark, and mysterious unconsciousness of sleep and dreams… The most private place seemed the best place to start. We considered every item in that room, one by one. We switched closets. Bags of clothing we hadn’t worn for years went to the thrift store. I finally confessed to my husband that I’d hated his alarm clock for twenty years, and we got a new one. I told him I never really liked his nightstand, either – or my own. He kept his; I got a new one. Three paintings that no longer meant much of anything to either of us disappeared by mutual agreement. It was a fascinating project – especially for two people who pretty much thought they knew everything about themselves, about each other, and never kept secrets from either…

We’ve worked our way through desk drawers, bookshelves, file cabinets, kitchen cabinets, piles of things that had sat on the stairs for years, waiting to be transported to some long-forgotten destiny; overburdened horizontal surfaces all over the house; the linen closet (Why did we have almost two dozen adorable little guest towels, when we hardly have that many guests in a year, and, surely, not every guest needs his or her personal and unique hand-wiper…?); two china cabinets (Five sets of wine glasses? Four corkscrews?); and even my studio closet – an Ali Baba’s cave of treasures and trash of stunning magnitude. I had to really work my up to that one… And I began to seriously ponder the fact that I had chosen to make the unseen part of my personal “creative space” a repository for anything and everything of mine that had no place else to go. I had stuffed away quite a lot, without even thinking about it… The hidden clutter may be even more nefarious than the Stuff that’s right in our face.

So what are we doing with all that Stuff that we didn’t consider dumpster fodder…? My sometimes-awesomely-brilliant husband came up with the idea of a holiday “Good Karma No-Tag Tag Sale.” We’re having a two-day party, and giving everything away. Free. Whatever it is. No matter how “good” it is – things that were once “good” for us may now be “good” for someone else. The choices weren’t made on the value of the objects themselves; they were made on the value of the connections we have with them. Whatever’s left over will go to that same thrift store, just in time for the holidays – theirs and ours.

We had the dumpster for almost six weeks – until we realized, with a newly-familiar combination of chagrin and enlightenment, that even the dumpster, like so much of our other Stuff, was threatening to become a permanent fixture in our lives, simply because we had gotten used to it. So we called to have it finally, filled to the brim, taken away. We weren’t here when they came to get it, but we’d already said goodbye to all of it.

For those of us whose lives have allowed us the great luxury of being able to accumulate so much, it takes quite a bit of time, energy, and conscious thought, to move toward a state of greater emptiness… But that seems to be what it takes, if that’s what we want. Ask any Zen master. Ask yourself.

“We are not committed to this or that. We are committed to the nothing in between…whether we know it or not.” John Cage


Leave a comment


  1. We humans certainly do accumulate our stuff, which is never more apparent than now – the stuff-getting season of the year. Yours is a great example of the exercise of decluttering and, more importantly, letting go. LETTING GO. Exhale.

  2. And it’s letting go of Stuff we once loved, and realizing we no longer do, that’s the most interesting. I found I had many of my own Cabinets of Curiosities, for sure…! Love being able to consider myself a “co-blogger” with you. I still have a way to go, structuring-wise…

  3. The cyclist

     /  December 9, 2012

    I did not realize that what we were doing was so spiritual. All I did was to order the dumpster.

  4. pelican

     /  December 9, 2012

    “The hidden clutter…” Nefarious definitely. The invention of the (paper) file folder and the innocuous file cabinet to hide it made it possible for me to save, save, save, and never ask why. For whom am I keeping this rough draft and seven revisions??? I not only shed trash bags of old paper but, happily, a few delusions too when I cleared the stuff out of the file cabinets before we moved last year. An en-lightening experience!

  5. Leif

     /  December 10, 2012

    Aaaah, what a relief, to feel ultimate lightness of new beginning. I could feel the crud striping away as you both marched toward the “Golden Stupa” (dumpster).
    Well written Carol, we are on our way !

  6. Terry Waggle

     /  December 10, 2012

    Carol, I can empathize with you about “stuff”. I have a 3 car garage and there’s room for my car and a lot of “stuff”. My 3 grown kids have neglected to remove their “stuff” for the most part from said garage and my basement. When my youngest quipped that I never throw anything away I came back with the fact that most of the “stuff” in my house belongs to her and her siblings and they’d have to deal with it after I die. Her comeback was classic, “Oh, I’ve already talked with Karen (her older sister). I’ll take the silver and then torch the place!” – Terry

  7. I just love that your stuff will become someone else’s treasure. You are making so many people happy with your good karma, no tag sale!

  8. betseyc

     /  December 11, 2012

    I was amazed at how much stuff I had when I was packing up to leave the house to renters, taking only what fit in the RV. The surface of the house always looked rather spare. But by the time I was done washing and storing all the linens, pictures, dishes, and clothes that I wouldn’t be leaving out or taking, all I wanted was to have a huge tag sale and get rid of all of it. I remember leaving my basement toward the end of the whole massive endeavor, thinking “I will never, ever own this much stuff again.”

    And then to discover how little we really need. I have a tiny closet and four small shelves for clothes on the RV, and I still have clothes I haven’t worn in the 16 months so far!

  9. dcg

     /  December 19, 2012

    Glad to read that your husband has no known experience with breast feeding. That’s a relief.

    We got robbed by Gypsy kids while living in Spain. Smart kids, took only sentimental things like ancestors’ watches, things they could fence at the flea market. Before very long, we decided we didn’t miss any of it.

    In Brooklyn, where our daughter once lived, you could get rid of anything just by leaving it on the street in front of your building. Invariably gone the next day. No dumpster required.

    Another nicely written posting. Would you like to take over the ’60 NL?

    Class Christmas luncheon yesterday at the inn across the river attracted 46, a record. You two should have been there. Beforehand, some of us assembled by the Observatory for a brief memorial service for a recently departed classmate who had always helped with the annual tailgate in that locale. His widow deposited some of his ashes, topped by the contents of one bottle of his favorite beer, in a gallon-sized hole in the woods nearby. We all deposited dirt to fill it in and then drove to the lunch. We are considering starting a ’60 cemetery for future such ceremonies. It seemed to all a good idea. The College knows none of this unless they are reading your blog.


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