The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Stuffed December 14, 2021

“You got a lot of stuff,” the minor rock god had said as he lay in my bed, actively surveying his surroundings for the first time. His words stunned me; it was the first objective observation from an outsider regarding my inner world. My closet doors had been left open – I hadn’t worried about keeping them closed. I had nothing to hide. Or had I?

I’ve always harbored a tiny bit of disdain for folks who have too much stuff. Of course I know that I too have stuff, but it’s tidy, it’s organized. I don’t have a walk-in closet of clothes, nor do I have a wall of shoes. Just a modest closet in a mid-century ranch house. I’ve always thought that if it was a visual treat to behold, and if it was easy to locate things, then what I had was just enough, and therefore not too much. So, it surprised me to hear these words. They’ve stuck in my thoughts over the past year.

It seems I’ve been fooling myself.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a lot of crap in my house. But the ‘bump under the rug’ has been pushed to the basement (“cellar” is a much more apt term; there’s so much goddam water down there that every last item must be stored in a plastic tub packed with desiccants). The saying “out of sight, out of mind” is very true.

It was about a decade ago when I began to employ my system for keeping the out-of-season stuff along with all the other miscellaneous memorabilia and household detritus in plastic bins downstairs. Cardboard boxes made many decisions for me; mildew, rot and mice removed a good third of the hold. Overall, I’d thought the current situation was fine. I’ve long made annual campaigns to skim the top and get rid of the most obviously irrelevant stuff (like gifts of clothing Elihu no longer needs and broken airplane parts), and so I’d thought my possessions were at an acceptable level.

I’d thought that I pretty much owned just the stuff that I used. Not so. A closer, more honest look at the contents of my basement shows me that in fact, I’ve held on to so much more than I’d realized.

A recent inventory of my ‘backup’ closet downstairs has revealed something to me. While I’ve written about it, spent hours upon hours examining my collection of clothing and culled a good portion of it, as of yet I’d only made the easiest decisions. A few days ago I set about to whittle my household down to only the things I use in my current life. And as deeply heartbreaking as it is, I have come to understand that I will never be wearing those tiny size 6 sundresses ever, ever again. No matter how successful any subsequent diet or health campaign may be, those days are gone.

I held up a tiny pink dress and flashed back on the last time I remembered wearing it. My former husband and I had been in Italy, in a small town on the banks of Lake Como. We had gone for a walk and stopped to watch the local boys playing a game of soccer. The village was steeply graded; I recall us hanging our elbows over the top of a chain link fence, looking a good distance down onto the field, the lake and mountains behind. I was either newly pregnant then, or just about to be pregnant (yes, Elihu was made in Italia). The dress is tiny, the fabric is thin. Yet I hadn’t worn a bra. Probably just a G string below. Good Lord. Yes. Things have definitely changed.

I suppose it was this dress which catapulted me into a storm of activity which I like to call “facing the monster”. Until now I hadn’t been able to summon the emotional fortitude to face all of this shit. Some of it, but not all of it. A few days ago, I dug out every last piece from my downstairs collection and layed them on the bed. Memory after memory, “someday” after “someday” came with every garment I rediscovered. After an hour of agonizing over what to do with it all, I realized that I myself had to do as I would advise any friend. I could make this grueling – or liberating. I could make this hard on myself, or I could just choose freedom over anguish. After all – I have lived a life of very few regrets. (Even the regrettable experiences can themselves be seen in hindsight to have opened up exciting new paths in my life.) Casting these items out of my house shouldn’t bring heartache; I’ve fully enjoyed them, they served their purpose in my life, and I don’t need them anymore. It was time to give it all away. Simple as that.

Kinda.

Me, I’m still a backward-looking gal at the heart of it all. Can’t say that I haven’t savored the hell out of my life, and I certainly chose every adventure that became available to me, and yet still, some tender sense of longing prevents this process of letting go from being as simple as it seems it should be. And so, I will document. Take pics. Archive. Because these items bring to the surface memories which have been dormant for a long time – and I’m grateful to have them. These are images and stories which I’d like to revisit through my remaining years.

I’m taking a trip to the Midwest soon, to visit my old home. To see old friends whom I dearly miss, and to drive through old familiar neighborhoods which will likely no longer be all that familiar. Going “home” may be exactly what I need to remind myself of the impermanence of everything.

Going forward I wish to learn what it is to know contentment. To know acceptance. It seems that’s precisely what this post-childrearing era is good for. The sexy stuff of youth is gone, the tumult of raising a family is done, and empty space ahead is all that remains. A fresh, new inventory feels due.

Picture this, I say to myself, with hope growing in my heart: a home free of things I no longer need or use. A house free of “what-ifs” and the lamenting sighs one utters upon finding an ancient relic of a former life. One or two pieces can remain, I suppose. There’s no need getting uptight about this. No need to get overly pedantic; the point here is simply to lighten my load. To get rid of those things that don’t serve me anymore. To move into my future with a refreshed sense of lightness. To get rid of my burden.

To get unstuffed.