Friday, September 3, 2010

An Analysis of Stuff (Part 1 of as Many as it Takes)

Ahhhhhh.  So smooth.  So sleek.  So dang clean.
I've been doing a lot of thinking about "stuff" lately.  Not "stuff" as in random thoughts that don't add up to much, or "stuff" as in general activities that don't merit specification.  "What are you thinking about Alan?"  "Oh, just stuff."  "Reed, what have you been doing today."  "Oh, just stuff."  I'm talking about "stuff" as it pertains to the things that we own or keep on hand.  I really couldn't say that I own a bag of Cheetos, but from time to time, I might keep one on hand.  I come from a family of Stuff People.  We love our stuff.  I'm trying to figure out  how we became Stuff People and not, say, Minimalists.  When did we develop the need to surround ourselves with odds, ends, this, that, and the other.  Was it genetics or environment?  We have attics full of stuff.  Our closets overflow with stuff.  When I look at pictures of  minimalist home designs in magazines, I feel a twinge of envy as well as a pang of guilt.  Minimalism will never be a possibility for the likes of me.

A brief analysis of the "stuff" I actually keep on hand led to the thought that I have stuff that I use and stuff that I look at.  I use my vacuum cleaner.  I look at the centerpiece on my dining table.  I would definitely choose my vacuum cleaner over my centerpiece if someone put a gun to my head.  If someone came to my door and said, "You have 2 minutes to give us an item that is somewhere in plain sight in your home," I would run through the house eliminating all possibilities.  "I use that!"  "I like to look at that!"  "My mother gave me that!"  "I've always had that!"  

I went so far as to break the two categories of stuff ("use" vs "look at") into subcategories:  "every day," "sometimes," "never," and "never ever ever evvvvvvvvvver. " Strangely, I could come up with items that fall squarely in the "never ever ever evvvvvvvvvver" category and justify their existence in my permanent collection of things I can't seem to live without.  Case in point:  the huge tub of legos in a back corner of the attic underneath a pile of old luggage that the boys played with when they were little (the legos...not the luggage).  I've tried to convince myself to give them to some nonprofit childcare program or some mom with 3 little boys.  But, when it comes right down to it, those legos are a part of my motherheart.  I have visions of grandsons building castles and bridges and giant towers with them on long summer afternoons at Mimi's (the grandmother name that I have already chosen for myself).  

I've also tried to come up with some algebraic equation with which I can determine when I have become a borderline hoarder.  My mother was very, very sure that she needed to take 5 sets of sheets for her bed in her one bedroom 906 SF apartment at Raider Ranch.  Housekeeping changes her sheets once a week.  My math equates her need to be 2 sets:  one on the bed and one in the wash.  Her equation factors in having enough sheet sets to last her for the rest of her natural born days.  [83 years old + 10 years] divided by # of washings = 3 more sets of sheets than a 53 year old would ever need.  "Why not keep the sheets (that she's had for YEARS) instead of having to go out and buy new ones?"  So, she now has 5 sets of sheets - one set on the bed and 4 sets crammed into her bedroom closet which also houses all of her clothes, her shoes, holiday decorations (don't even get me started), and a small dresser with all of her "office supplies" (scissors, tape, glue, notepads, notecards, paperclips, envelopes...).  Oh, and a small resin pink, blue and yellow carousel that "still plays music."

At 2709 Rockview in Waco, she had a cute little 3 bedroom home which housed one person.  All of the closets were crammed full of stuff.  She would make a bit of space in the closet for our hanging clothes when we came to visit, but we never even dreamed of trying to stow our luggage in there.  Oh, no!  There was absolutely no room to fit it on the floor because of the blue dresser (containing old dress patterns, piles of fabric, rickrack, zippers, and old shirts for hiking or working in the yard - summer & winter) that was squeezed into the left side of the closet, the bookshelf (containing old college textbooks, science books from her teaching days, and books like The Cross & the Switchblade and I Ain't Much Baby But I'm All I've Got) that sat just under her out of season blouses and jackets next to yet another bookcase (that came with the 1962 set of encyclopedias that she kept just in case she ever needed to "look something up"), the Kirby vacuum cleaner with it's 22 attachments, a one-armed, bald little boy mannequin, groovy floral slumber party sleeping bags from the early 70's, 10 extra pillows (some with questionable stains), and a 1950's Singer sewing machine.  I haven't even mentioned the things that were stacked on top of the blue dresser and on the shelves above the hanging rod.  She would have probably scored pretty low on the hoarder scale due to the fact that all "like items" on the shelves were tucked neatly away into xerox paper boxes (collected from the teacher's lounge when she taught school) and labeled neatly:  "Easter,"  "Kathy," "Carolyn," "Kirk," "Cards from Friends."
Plastic tubs from Target could legitimize all of these treasures.
If all of her collected items were amassed in waist high helter skelter piles, she would be called a hoarder.  However, meticulous organization elevates these things to a new level of "need this."  Disposing of a box full of 8 1/2 X 11 brown envelopes labeled "Christmas Cards from Carolyn's Friends,"  "My 70th BD Cards," "Interesting Articles" and "Good Household Tips" seems to be both irreverent and disrespectful.  Which leads me to a whole other subcategory of stuff:  "Stuff I've Had So Long I Hate To Get Rid of It Now."

Many are the times over the years when I begged Mom to let me help her "go through" the things in her closets.  
Mom:  "Oh, no!  It's all organized!  Everything is exactly where I want it to be!"
Me:  "But, Mom, don't you think that it would be OK to get rid of about 50 pounds of cute fabric that you thought would make cute pantsuits back in the '80s?"
Mom:  "You never know when that fabric might come back in style!"
Me:  "Mom, you're legally blind.  How on earth are you going to thread your sewing machine much less a needle?"
Mom:  "I don't know, but if I need to thread my sewing machine or a needle, I'll just have to figure it out."
Me:  "What about the encyclopedias?
Mom:  "I told you!  Sometimes, I like to look up things!"
Me:  "But, some of those countries don't exist anymore.  And, the space program has really advanced since 1962."
Mom:  "I know, I know. But, still."

To be continued with photographic proof and examples...

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