Posted by: Ingrid | July 21, 2012

A Requiem for Stuff

Last weekend we visited a friend’s house.

Or more accurately, we visited the place where her house had been.

The day before, when everyone (even the dog, fortunately) was out, a fire started and the house burned down.  At first, when she wanted us to come out so she could give us a tour I thought it was a little strange.  But after spending time with the family I realized it was just another way to grieve a loss.  Grief demands an outlet.  Just like there is something healing about telling stories and remembering someone who has died, there is something similar in walking around someone’s charred house; there is the fridge we replaced two months ago, that was the dresser my grandpa made, this was the living room.

It was sobering to walk gingerly around the blackened skeleton of a house I’d never entered before, bringing back childhood prayers said as a good luck charm; God, protect us from fires and tornadoes and volcanoes (I am still unsure why my six-year-old self thought we were in danger from volcanic activity in South Dakota, of all places.).

In the end, the family said, it was just stuff.  Gone, but for the most part, replaceable.

I wish that my grasp on stuff was that loose.

As we approach what is starting to feel a little like a precipice between normal employment and the great beyond, I am discovering just how deeply I am attached to my stuff.  It’s not like we even have expensive (or even terribly updated) stuff.  We have no television, no wii or gaming anything.  You will find no motorcycles, boats, or fancy vehicles.  We have two cars, but they are both from the 1990’s and one has been making monthly trips to the mechanic for quite some time.  We have a ton (if you want to be literal, perhaps two tons) of books, but they are beloved friends and not collector’s editions.  Our small space is definitely filled with stuff, but none of it is worth much.

As we come closer to a point where we need to scale back as much as possible in terms of budget and spending, I am finding that I really like stuff.  I want cars that don’t have to frequent the mechanic.  I want a house with lots of room, with kid’s rooms that are not adjacent to the kitchen.  I want a dishwasher, a deep freeze, hard wood floors, a beautiful library, more kitchen space than I know what to do with, a finished basement or playroom, a large back yard with space for playing and a garden, a swing set, a garage we are actually allowed to use, a large wrap around porch, and, to go with it all, maybe a part-time house cleaner and a gardener to help care for all the space and stuff.

The church does an enormous garage sale next week, during which they seemingly sell everything for $0.50 and somehow manage to raise $25,000 for missions.  I am trying to go through our stuff and cull things that we won’t need in the near future or don’t need now or simply don’t want to pack up and move in the next five months.  I am having trouble because I suddenly want to hold onto everything we have, as if having one more shirt that I never wear or baby sleeper that neither boy has worn will make me feel more secure in this time of uncertainty and transition.

I know it won’t.  I know that one more book that we picked up at a used book sale or one more baby thing from Goodwill is not going to make things better.  If anything, it will make things more cluttered, be one more thing to pack.  I also know that with small children and more to come in the future, I shouldn’t throw all our possessions out and cut all ties with worldly goods.  Plus what if I ever want those jeans that my sister passed down to me that only fit me between weeks 16 and 22 of pregnancy?  What then?

We need our stuff.  With kids it’s nice to have options; swing or bouncer?  Crib or Pack n’ play?  But perhaps my grip on it all doesn’t have to be quite as tight.  And perhaps our friends, with their burned out shell that once was a home, can remind me of that.

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