Stuff and More Stuff

I’d thought the battle was won. But no. I am still overrun with stuff.

Elihu is in Dekalb with his father this week for winter break, and so I’ve turned once again to the job of housecleaning. Taking stock, assessing my mess. How is it, I wonder, in a life so simple, that I still have so much goddam stuff? I have no idea.

While I made a good start putting my house in some kind of order this past fall, I realized that many boxes were still unpacked from my moving here three years ago. Having recently helped some friends in their own unpacking and mess assessing, I thought it finally time to see what lay in those yet-unpacked boxes. In my excavation I find the mice have long beat me to it. Cardboard is no barrier, nor are plastic bags, for the relentless onslaught of diligent rodents. I have revisited many artifacts of my past tonight, most of which have been rendered garbage due to my tiny roommates. Once again, I renew my campaign to take back my home.

I’m completely overwhelmed. I find bags of boys clothes, given to us by kind friends whose own sons are a size ahead of Elihu, all needing to be sorted through. I find hastily stashed remnants of holiday decorations, party favors, wrapping paper and craft items – all mangled and tossed together in plastic tubs, my intention having been to tend to them one day. All of the clothing has become a tangled mess, seasons and sizes have long lost their proper places. Winter hats we’ve meant to wear but never have, single gloves which I’ve kept in hopes of finding their lost mates – all these things and more co-mingle in large plastic bins awaiting some serious inventory-taking.

I only wish it were but a day’s job. This may take me all week. It took me a while to get going tonight as I didn’t quite know how to begin. There’s just so much crap. I did finally get into a groove, and for the most part it was easy to decide what should stay and what should go. But then things got a little trickier for me as I began to uncover pieces that still hold meaning for me. Of all the many things I own, I have just a few favorite things. I find most destroyed by mice. A scarf brings me back to a day long ago when Fareed and I spent an afternoon Christmas shopping at Marshall Field’s. I’d picked up the scarf and wrapped it around my neck, asking him how I looked. “Like a princess” he’d said. Although the few other scarves I’d saved lay undisturbed, my princess scarf had been pulled apart and made into a nest. It was hopeless. There was no saving it. I wonder, if Fareed were still in my life, would I have been so moved, so saddened to find it destroyed? I have also kept a blouse – too small for me to wear these days – only because he’d once said how lovely I’d looked in it. Is not the memory alone enough? In spite of my desire to live a simpler life, free of things I no longer use, I find myself clinging to things as if I could bring my past back and keep it alive through the physical evidence. I’m hard-pressed to take the advice I often give to others; the thing is not the memory. Let it go. So I tell others. Can I let it go? I toss the scarf into a pile of ruined garments. I tell myself if I write about it; if I can broaden the witness to my memory, it will help me to say goodbye. I just wish I could do it with more conviction.

My favorite shoes were long lost – discovered last fall when I first realized how bad the mouse problem had become. I’m still not entirely over that. So much for detachment. So much for my zen country life. As I continue my clean up, I find an old pair of platform boots I’d worn for many a gig – again totally dissected by mice. That’s ok. I can’t seem myself as a fifty year old woman wearing those again. Out they go. In fact, out go most of the shoes and boots I’d saved.

Out go so many, many things. I wonder if the mice might not be a gift after all; they are certainly forcing me to lighten my load. I think of the people who live in Japan, whole families in tiny apartments – without the benefit of storage lockers. I think of most of the people of this earth, living free of the burden of stuff. The way of stuff is dangerous. One doesn’t even need to watch an episode of “Buried Alive” to know the power stuff can have over us. I remind myself that I’ve done it before, I can do it again. Lord knows I let go of a whole lot of stuff when I left Dekalb. There was no way I could have done it alone – so I’d hired someone to conduct an estate sale. I marveled over the way in which the women had displayed the articles it had taken me two decades to acquire, making each display as compelling as any upscale vintage boutique. I half joked that it all looked so good I’d like to buy it myself! (Having enjoyed the hobby of grazing through some pretty fine estate sales for several years I’d ended up with some beautiful mid-century finds.) I was in such a daze as I planned my escape from Dekalb that I’d simply had to detach myself emotionally, with my only goal to free myself and start over fresh. Knowing that my things had found happy new owners made it a bit easier. That gave me consolation.

I need to complete the job I started three years ago. My divorce will be final in a few weeks; a thorough cleanup seems fitting. I had to slog through a lot of crap to complete the divorce, and it seems there’s just a bit more slogging to be done…

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