STUFF by Sylvia Cary
This is what “stuff” looks like. This happens to be mine all mine as I unpack from a recent move. Photos: Sylvia Cary
I love stuff. I love pretty stuff, practical stuff and decorative stuff. I love stationary supplies, hardware store items, dishes, glasses, books, and containers of all kinds. I love cooking appliances even though I don’t like to cook — but how can anyone resist a brand new rice cooker for $4, even if you already have two others?
Where to Get Stuff
I don’t get my stuff at stores. I go to garage sales, Goodwill, Salvation Army, and the Discovery Shop (a chain of stores that raises money for breast cancer research), so at least my stuff is helping a good cause. I would never go to an actual store to buy some of the items I end up buying at Goodwill or garage sales. I do it “Forrest Gump” style – I drop in to Goodwill and it’s like a box of chocolates, “You never know what you’re going to get.” I’d sure like to take all my stuff with me when I leave this world, like those people who get buried with their sports cars. I’m going to be really upset if it turns out there’s no stuff in heaven. Hell? Hmm.
A Writer’s Stuff
My “writer” stuff is a story in itself. I have my laptop computer and the box it came in, which I’m keeping because it has information on it which I should probably read. I’m also keeping my very old desktop computer because what if there’s something on it I need? I have a bunch of removable hard drives, too, mostly back-ups of my old computer. I know I’ll never use them because they’re outdated. Newer desktops don’t even have slots for them. I have printers that don’t work — but they might if they were fixed.
And files – OMG – files! I have two 4-drawer file cabinets, a desk with three more file drawers, a single wood file cabinet that doubles as an end table, and I have a bunch of those files boxes with handles that you can carry around, plus two files on wheels that I can roll into another room. Worst of all are the wire baskets of paperwork “To File” and stacks of papers that haven’t yet made it to the “To File” basket. A perfect set-up for losing important documents.
And books, books, books! Many I’ve read. Many I’ve read and forgotten so I need to keep them to read again. Many of them I’ve read and have even taken notes — but where are the notes? The hardest thing for me to let go of as a writer is my research – boxes full of 3×5-inch cards and stacks of print-outs from the Internet along with typed notes on topics I’m writing about — or have written about. I can’t let go of them because maybe I’ll write about those topics again. And finally, drafts. I’m drowning in drafts – fourteen versions of a single screenplay. I’m hanging onto them all because each one is just slightly different from the earlier version.
Moving Your Stuff
Much as I love my stuff, it has its downside. When you have a lot of stuff it’s hard to move it from place to place. Recently I moved from a tiny one-bedroom apartment to a two-bedroom apartment to share with one of my adult daughters, herself a collector of stuff.
My cat, Smokey, nervously makes his way through Box Canyon looking for the kitchen
Prior to the move I spent weeks packing boxes – books, papers, china and all the rest of it. When the movers arrived and saw all my boxes of books, one of them said, “Ever think about getting a Kindle?”
It took eleven hours for the movers to move my stuff to the new place, and cost a fortune. I probably could have bought most of those books as Kindles for less than it cost me to box them and transport them.
Once I’d boxed up my apartment, I tackled my daughter’s one-bedroom apartment with her thirteen years’ worth of “stuff.” She has, for example, kept every greeting card ever given or sent to her, even if it’s just a gift tag — the “To”/“From” kind, as well as every stuffed animal since childhood, some falling apart at the touch, like pages of an old book, and VCR tapes by the hundreds, all numbered and alphabetized: “I’m OCD,” she explained to the movers.
My Heroes of Got Junk. When they drove off with the dirty white couch and a truckload of other stuff I felt relief
I called Got Junk, a service that removes the junk in your life, and we spent the next day putting signs “4 Got Junk” on things, starting with the dirty white couch and the four tall, swaying bookcases, and we took it from there. They came the following day and in only two hours they whisked away an entire truckload of stuff. As they drove off, I felt a huge sense of relief. A burden was lifted.
Arrival: Once we got into the new apartment, the stack of boxes three-deep once again seemed overwhelming. We’d never get them unpacked!
Weeks later we’re still unpacking those boxes. Now my back hurts.
The Solution to Overwhelm is almost always the same — the Twelve-Step way — “One box at a time,” 5 or 10 boxes a day. Here are the opened boxes, piling up!
Lessons Learned about Stuff
Affording your stuff isn’t the issue. The “cost” of having too much stuff is high, no matter how much you paid for it.
Goodwill or Tiffany’s, it’s all the same. It’s stuff.
- Stuff gets in the way of writing;
- Stuff drains you of creative energy;
- Stuff is a ball and chain;
- Stuff means somebody else will have to clean up after you when you kick the bucket;
- Stuff is hard to move around, like those homeless people who’ve acquired too many shopping carts;
- Stuff needs too much personal attention – even if it’s only dusting it;
- Stuff just plain takes up too much time;
Last Saturday to test myself I “dropped in” to Goodwill and there was no stuff there I wanted. I left empty handed. It felt good.
Too bad you can’t put your whole life on a Kindle.
Almost There: Smokey, now a happy cat, sits on my lap with his tail up to let the world know it’s beginning to feel like home again. There’s even a Danish flag to honor my late husband’s spirit stuck in the bookcase. Just a few more boxes to unpack, some pictures to put up on the walls, books and china to put away, framed photos to place around, and we’re done! And not an inch of space left for any new “stuff.”
Copyright 2015 by Sylvia Cary, LMFT, author of The Therapist Writer, Timberlake Press