Down t'Home: Stuff, Stuff and more Stuff
Editing (definition): to expunge; eliminate (often followed by out)
As a writer, editing has long been a part of my life, whether editing my own stuff or being edited by copy writers, or editors, without whom many errors would get by me, particularly when it comes to grammar and spelling. I’m lucky to get my name right.
But what about other areas in our lives to "edit," like actual "stuff?"
I usually get around to my "spring cleaning" about now. Time to edit-out. When one has lived as many decades as I have, you can find yourself surrounded by a lot of "stuff." I’ve lived all over the country and each move resulted in weeding things — editing out — but also bringing along new stuff acquired in the new place, like a piece of furniture snagged at an auction in N.Y. or a handmade bookcase in the Berkshires, a collection of Ironstone picked up wherever they showed up, paintings by fellow artist friends, a vintage rock maple chair from a friend in one state, an oak one from another friend in another state, my collection of baskets — including one given to me by an Indian friend and one she taught me to make — my collection of colanders of all sizes, design and colors — I have a thing for colanders — books, books, and more books from everywhere, enough clothes — top quality from thrift stores, dropped off from folk that can afford the original prices, "editing" their "stuff" — to start my own thrift shop, and so on.
Problem now is that I haven’t moved for over 20 years. Stuff is gaining the upper hand. My granddaughter, Laura, on her last visit from down south, went around my house taking close-ups of my stuff. ”Gramma,” she remarked, “Your house is like a museum.” (Too bad my "stuff" doesn’t have the worth of a museum collection. Well, moneywise. Almost every object has a personal worth with family/friends connection. For example, on my walls hang paintings either by myself or artist friends or my grandmother, or passed down by family. No bought art simply for decoration. Same with my furniture, an eclectic collection of what might be called “Victorian-cottage-country-Shabby Chic” — 98 percent of which was acquired at auctions, shops, hand-crafted by family or passed down.
I collect "stuff" that has memory connections to my childhood days on my grandparents farm, like kerosene lamps, old kitchen tools — like the wire-caged soap savers — old cast iron pans, anything Iron Stone, etc. It’s almost as if "stuff" just follows me home. I’ve tried to adopt the rule, “one thing out for every one thing in." That has not been very successful. At this point, to make a dent, I’d have to do 10 things out for every one in.
There’s a new craze toward paring down, called "Minimalizing.” That involves tossing everything not considered honestly needed in your life. People pare their homes down to a bear minimum of furniture — uncomfortable looking cubic pieces with not an ounce of personality and other things — no "stuff." I have another name for minimalizing. Stark.
American Indians kept their possessions down to the level they could easily pack up and move to another area with. Every year, they would hold a "potlatch.” They’d have a village gathering and bring the things they had no need of anymore — things that were still useful, but had maybe replaced with a new one, like a new bow or buckskin shirt. It was rather like a thrift shop for those who had need of the items. And a good time and eats was had by all. (This is where our “Pot Luck” gatherings come from.)
But "honestly needed?” There are different kinds of "needed.” I don’t "need" the exquisite petit points made for me by a late friend when she was 100 years old. I don’t "need" the paintings given me from artist friends. I don’t "need" the step stool, the boot jack, the clay pot, the ceramics and other treasures that my kids made me years ago when they were little. (I even have a little sculpture of a “Mickey Rat” head that one son made out of a kneaded eraser nearly 50 years ago.) I don’t "need" the hand made, hand painted bird house one of my grandchildren made for me when she was about seven years old and that has an honored place in my dining area.
Looking at magazine photos of living rooms and bed rooms of minimalized decorated homes, I think: “How cold and impersonal they look. Is that living or merely existing? Is that a home or just a house one lives in?”
I’ve concluded that I "need" my "stuff" that has piled up over the years. Most of it has personal connections to family and friends. They are reminders of my whole life. To clear down to the bare essentials of living would be like canceling out my life.
Besides, how could I choose which colanders to keep and which to toss? Hanging onto "stuff" is in the Maine DNA. If it’s still useful, we hang on to it. Even if we have no need of it or if it’s broken or otherwise looks like it’s something to be tossed, we hang on to it because “it can be fixed” or “it might come in handy one day,” or we’re going to use it for that project we’ve got tucked in the back of our heads — like those boxes of old ties and pieces of clothes for a quilt — “one day.”
Nope. I’m cozy surrounded by my “stuff," my memories, my life.