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Monday, August 17, 2015

The House of Stuff and Things

This has been made into a vlog entry on my YouTube channel

I have a lot of shit in my house.  Actually, it’s stuff.  Because according to the late George Carlin, my shit is stuff and everybody else’s stuff is shit.

It’s amazing how much stuff we can acquire over a lifetime.  It’s amazing how many things we gather in life and think, “This is important and therefore I must hold onto it, forever.  I must place it in a box.  I must place that box somewhere in my life where I can find it and look at somewhere down the road.  That box will be in a corner of a room in my house where I will probably not go into and it will stay there for years.”

Why do we do that?  Why do gather so much stuff?

I still have various bits of my life as a wee thing, stuffed in a foot locker in my garage.  They are things from my childhood, my time at college in Myrtle Beach and Pittsburgh, and my life as a 23 year old bachelor.    And they are pretty much useless things but, I keep them around either because I’m too lazy to toss them out or because if I do toss them out, somehow I will forget my life.  The things that make me who I am will slip away and I will have no memory of someday back in 1987 or 1993 that somehow particularly meant something to me at the time when I collected that thing.

These memories, locked away in that foot locker, sit in the back of a garage underneath a bunch of stuff I’ve collected over the years of being a homeowner.  Somehow, at some point, I convinced myself that I needed each and every one of these things in that garage.  A hose, a nut, a bolt, a tie, a length of rope.  It’s more of a list of potential murder weapons from Clue than it is of any real use, and yet they sit there, gathering cobwebs, insect carcasses, and dust.  Each one of these things was put there because they served a purpose they were probably not intended to serve.   My hope was that they would serve a purpose, again, quantifying their existence in a place so full of stuff, it cannot hold a vehicle anymore.

In fact, in every room of my house there is something that is of no use.  Usually, it’s me when I’m standing in the room because I should get rid of these things that serve no purpose.   But, I’m working on that.  Recent changes in my life have allowed me the ability to start weeding through the things I don’t need… or really want, but I have just let sit in a box, on a shelf, behind a bag, in a corner, of a room, I hardly go into.   

At what point do we get like this?  At what juncture do we come to in our lives that we find ourselves needing to gather material items in mass quantity?  We’ve all seen these Facebook and YouTube posts of people living in tiny spaces and a majority of us say we could do that, but could we, really?  Where would all of our stuff go?  Where would we put the appliances that serve one purpose and no other?   That’s what I want to get away from, really, things that serve no purpose.  Now, you could say those memories in my foot locker serve a purpose.  They are a reminder of who I was or still am, in a sense.    And those things will stay.  But everything else in this house of stuff and things is up for grabs.

But when did it start to get this bad?  I remember for the first 10 years of my life, I shared a bedroom with my brother.  My family consisted of my parents and three kids in a three bedroom house.  Now, there’s seven years difference between my brother and me, so for a 16 year old to have to share a bedroom with a nine year old, well that’s pretty ridiculous, isn’t it.   In any case, all of my toys fit into a shelving area in the corner of the room, and for the most part of those 10 years, I barely spent any time in that room, except to sleep.  I mostly played outside or in the family room.  And I didn’t have much stuff those first ten years.   Most things were hand me downs from my siblings.  We didn’t have much stuff growing up, and maybe that was the best thing for us.

When my parents decided to upgrade the living quarters, and built a house nearby, I got my own room; and it terrified me.   I was so used to having someone with me at night that it was a scary thought to be in a room all by myself.  But, eventually, I got over it.   Actually, it was quite awesome.  I had my own stuff, now.  It was mine.  No worries about having to ask permission.  No fear that I may break something.   It was all mine.  My existence, my identity, summed up in a room of stuff and things.  So, my new room, that was all mine, accrued more stuff over the next eight years before I went off to college.

My parents’ biggest nightmare was not me going 600 miles away to college, but the idea that I’d have to have all my stuff with me when I went.  I needed all my things to make sure I remembered who I was, back home.   It was silly, I know, but it was me, my identity.    And, while I was at that school for four months, I accrued more stuff; mostly papers, and folders, and books, and a few clothes.  But then I came home and so did all my things.   At Pitt, I managed to keep only the essentials, because I was only an hour away.  All my stuff could stay in my room at home, because I was close enough to come home whenever I needed to.

It’s funny.  Most kids would never spend their entire college experience living in the dorms, but I liked it.   I lived in the same wedge shaped room for four and a half years.  I really only needed my room to sleep, study, entertain myself or another if I was so inclined.   I had a TV, a fridge, a computer, a microwave, and a phone.  I was set.  The rest of campus was my house.  I didn’t have to worry about roaches or overpriced rent or leaky plumbing or bad neighborhoods or utilities.   Why pay an exorbitant amount of money for sub-par housing in an apartment when I would only be in it a fraction of the time? 

Then I graduated, and my small collection of stuff and things, which had grown with more papers, clothes, mementos of college, and such, all came home and joined the rest of the things that made up me. 

Then, I moved out of my parents’ house and lived on my own.  With each residence; an apartment, a townhouse, back to my parents’ house; and then into a home, I managed to gather more things and stuff.  By the time I closed on a home, I had planned out all these new things I would need.   It was called a registry.   A wedding registry is like a license to check your brain and create a wish list of splurge.   Yep, when we get married, we ask other people to fill in the gaps of things and stuff that we want.  And that was probably the point, it got out of control.   A coffee bean grinder, a water filtration device, a set of knives, complete with a block and sharpener.   A lot of things that served one function and therefore, I had to double up on things to perform all the tasks I needed things to perform.  Then, as things got out more of control, I needed things to store my stuff, organized in a room I hardly ever go into.  Knickknacks, tchotchkes, baubles, all these things acquired over years of living on my own, just be displayed for 8 months out of the year, only to be replaced, for the remaining months by the same stuff, only holiday themed.   It’s madness.   Then, those things have to be stored as well.  Now, I have twice as much stuff stored in twice as many totes, in a room I hardly ever go into, and it’s only for display.   

When I got a full time job and ventured out on my own, I wanted a collection of movies I liked.   But that became a flawed concept because my VHS tapes suddenly became outdated, replaced by DVDs.   Then, after replacing most of my collection with DVDs, Blu-Ray came out.  Now, I’ve begun getting Blu-Rays and soon that format will be replaced by something else… probably digital.  Speaking of digital, I’ve amassed a few (like four) multiple terabyte drives for work stuff and things.  These take up less space, but they are vulnerable to being rendered useless if they tip over, apparently.   I’ve now become a digital hoarder, too.

It’s my fault, really.  I wanted these things.  I felt that having a house full of stuff was important.  While I sat in my apartment, which had five rooms, and a townhouse, that had seven rooms, I would daydream about when I would have a house big enough to prove some superficial point about myself making it to that level of materialism.   I would watch shows like Fantasy Open House, with host Claire Berger on HGTV.  (Not sure if it’s sad or hilarious that I remembered that show and host, by name, from over ten years ago.)  These huge homes in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and Maui were listed for millions of dollars and I wanted to live there.  Hey, a bigger place for all my stuff.   Frankly, all my stuff would have probably fit in two rooms of these ridiculously sized homes, but I had plenty of room to get more stuff.  

But, now, I finally get it.   I recently had to tear down a pool that hardly worked or was ever used but I had to have it.  It’s a pain in the ass and I cringe at the thought that it will get stuffed into totes and stored somewhere for the next 10 to 15 years.   I have junk rooms that are filled with things I couldn’t care less about and it’s a panic attack of chest crushing magnitude to stand in the room and think, “Where do I even begin?” 

I know what I have to do and I know what I want.  I want to have only things that I either use on a regular basis or that can serve multiple functions.  No more quesadilla makers or coffee bean grinders.  I drink coffee regularly and yet it took me two years to see how pretentious and stupid I was for wanting such a thing.  Also, I have a Foreman grill which can make muffins or skillet items, as well as grills.  That serves three purposes and therefore is useful.   A six small wing capacity deep fryer that takes up counter space and is the size of an old CRT monitor for a computer is not.   I have other things that can accomplish that task.  

Now, I do want to get new things, or more accurately, things that are new to me that accomplish tasks.   I want things that I can enjoy and that serve a function.  I don’t need a lot of stuff.  A few tools that perform all the basics… not as seen on TV, enough dishes and silverware to handle my needs and maybe some folks who stop by, and just the bare essentials that qualify for performing all the tasks I need to do.  It would be nice to have a place to put all my shoes and shoes of guests when they come into my home.  It’d be nice to get those cubbies that you have in roller rinks or bowling alleys; something conversational, re-purposed, and cool.  I also need a place to hang coats, other than the backs of chairs, so why not take an old window, you know the kind with those cross bar things and turn it sideways, add some coat hooks, and then fashion the back to hold pictures. 

I recognize my house of stuff and things as a problem, now, ahead of my impending demise, hopefully many decades away, because I do not want to bequeath to my child the inevitable task of having to sort through my stuff.   My parents, now in their 70s, have a multitude of things in their house, things that are probably of good build and use, just packed in boxes, in the garage rafters.   I do not look forward to the day I will join my siblings in going through their stuff.   Not so much because of the task, but the reason.

Storage seems like such an insane concept.   If it’s not something you are going to use in the next year, why do you have it?  As you get older, that year metric should be reduced.  As you near the end of life, perhaps it’s a weekly thing.   By death, your house is no longer the house of stuff and things, but the house of you, the thing, which will one day be nothing.  And then, you, too, may be packed into something and stored somewhere, and hopefully people will go there to see you on a regular basis.

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