Today was one of those days when the idea of actually sorting through and giving away or packing our stuff seemed pretty overwhelming. Part of our search for greener housing includes this process of dealing with our stuff. How did I get so much stuff? I remember being able to put almost everything I owned into a backpack, along with a tent, and carrying it on a bus when I went to join the Women’s Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice in 1985. I must have had a few boxes of stuff stored with a friend back in Chicago, but not much. Now, our stuff fills a house.
Maybe some people feel happy having lots of stuff, but I often feel uneasy about it. I grew up with St. Francis of Assisi as a role model, the patron saint of voluntary simplicity. I had to learn to appreciate the value of creating a beautiful and welcoming household. I was reminding of that value when a friend visited this weekend and remarked about how wonderful it was to be in such beauty. And I do love our home, and the stuff that helps to bring it alive. Some of it is practical–a kitchen table, chairs, beds, desks, bookcases, dishes. Some of it is sentimental–gifts from friends or a few cherished pieces from family. Some of it is just for beauty–the pitcher and cups on our mantel, a wall hanging of the tree of life.
But when I think about having to move it all from one place to another, it feels daunting. Today we were cleaning up some of our clutter in preparation for a visit from an appraiser. Not quite as daunting as preparing the house for showing to prospective buyers, but that will be coming up too. It is funny that as Americans have become more mobile, we have also accumulated more and more stuff. Is our attachment to our stuff trying to make up for our loss of attachment to land and community?
There are a lot of guides out there for helping to get rid of excess stuff. Common questions to help in the process include these: Have you used it within the last year? Does it give you joy? I have added another: Is this worth saving for my permanent personal archives? That one covers the fact that as a writer I am attached to keeping all of my personal journals. The last time we moved I even purchased archival quality boxes to store them in. I understand the process we need to go through. I just can’t imagine how we’re going to find the time to get it all done.
I am reminded of a quote by Wendell Berry. It isn’t really about stuff, but about anything that feels daunting or too big. I have it posted on the bulletin board next to my desk:
“It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, and that when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.”
Or perhaps it would be helpful to take the advice of Dory in Finding Nemo: “Just keep swimming.”