Yes, I mean stuff.
Tell the truth: Do you have too much stuff?
Not like food in the fridge that turns into a science experiment—anyone else recall a George Carlin bit from back in his I’m-clean-enough-to-be-on-regular-TV-during-prime-time days when he said, “Ever have someone open the refrigerator and ask, are you going to eat this because if you’re not, I’m throwing it out.” Hmmm, yep, I’ve kept a clean icebox throughout my life, not needing green-covered things greeting me when I open the door. Same with the food in our freezer never getting to that burnt stage. Except for Alex’s beef bone broth. Yech. I’ve no idea how long it’s been in there or what he plans on doing with it.
I keep strange things—like my parents’ bank statements from 57 years of marriage. Seester isn’t sure what my point is in doing that. What good will they do us, what stories can they tell, what will I gain from that box on top of my office closet? I’ve moved too much—admitting to only the whole-household relocations racks up 18 times (that doesn’t include college apartments)—to even keep my own bank statements. I haven’t bothered downloading the documents from the bank in years. My transient state has one uncle accusing me of being in the witness protection program. Which, of course, doesn’t explain how he keeps finding me.
Living with Alex is the longest I’ve had the same address since I left my parents’ home at eighteen.
Throughout my life, I dreamt of having a devoted library room with books lining the deep red-painted walls. But over the years I’ve sold/donated over 700 lovingly-purchased and read books. My friends refused to help me move after it took an hour just to unload boxes of books. Aren’t they happy I now have a Kindle and go to the library?
Our parents died and archivist that I am, I volunteered to be the one to go through those near sixty years of marital paperwork—and the youthful items they had before that. Mom died in August of 2008; dad died in April of 2009 and it’s taken me this long to truly tackle one big bin. I’d search through a few things, cry and quit. What can I say? I’m an emotional girl.
I laugh at some of the items I’ve found—from the envelopes for bills (why?) and those bank statements to cards attached to a bouquet of flowers from dad to mom, “I love you, Grumpy. Gil.” That tells a whole story in one little sentence.
I can easily shred my own bills and records. Who cares? But my parents? Not so much. Is there a story to be pried out of these bits and pieces? How about the loan papers? They show us part of what we learned from our parents—if you don’t have the money for something, you don’t buy it unless you get a loan and pay it off early and you only carry one loan at a time. None of their four kids have ever carried debt because of this practice.
Maybe one I’ll write a story from one of these sheafs of marital detritus.
I think I understand why they kept this stuff, because back in the day, it was what you did. If it came from the government or a large institution, well, it must be important, so therefore, keep it. We no longer live that kind of life. Our utility bills come electronically to our inboxes or straight into our banking programs. Our bank statements dump into our electronic checkbooks and can be downloaded as pdfs.
While I still love my hardback books, or delight in bending the spine on a paperback while on vacation, I’m addicted to my Kindle HD Fire for the lack of clutter it permits. The physically kept books belong to certain authors: Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Raymond Chandler, Dick Francis, Isak Dinesen, a small bundle of others like the Myron Bolitar series by Harlan Corben … what better mystery to settle down with on the deck on a hot summer day?
But other material objects? Not so much. Many things go out of my life with ease usually right when they are supposed to. When I find that I have created a pile or kept a box of something I know it means I haven’t made up my mind what to do about it. Being a decisive person, this malingering makes me crazy. At that point I dive in and scan paperwork, then shred it, I take photos of an item, then pass it along—a church’s yard sale, the Vietnam Vets, Dress for Success—whomever I think can use it the most.
I travel light these days. At least stuff-wise. See Alex and I share a vision of someday spending a whole lot of time traveling about using a camper. I don’t want to be like Lucille Ball in The Long, Long Trailer movie and weigh us down with “stuff.” So I’m starting now. The parental bin (at least this one) is down to a container a quarter the size of the original one. My own kept-trinkets from childhood and life is in one box, my books are constantly rotating as I look again at what remains on the shelf and think: will I reread that one and if so, can I get it at the library?
What I want to keep in my life are the close relationships I share with my siblings, my family, the marriage I share with Alex, fun friends, life enriching experiences…
Hmmm. Strange that nowhere on that list are “things.” I don’t want my family—maybe my niece and nephew—to some day have to go through too much paperwork digging for the small snippets that will describe my life outside of what they knew of it. I want who I was to be easily known, found, residing right on the surface.
How about you? What do you want to be a keeper, a collector of?
What can you make a decision about today that will lighten your life and keep your archivists from spending too much time wading through belongings when you’re gone?