There are two competing arguments about clutter circulating now – one is prompted by the Marie Kondo book about finding happiness by letting go of things that do not bring you happiness, and the other opposing view is that clutter is something to celebrate. There is very little room for a middle ground, that wonderful overlapping space in a Venn Diagram where both worlds sit together, but it might be time to look hard for it.
Whenever disaster strikes – fires, tornadoes, floods – media outlets love to get on the spot of the most terrible damage. They stand there with a collapsed house, a ruined school, or a car set perilously on its side and then interview the residents of the area, asking them how they survived, how they got out, how they were able to withstand the fury of nature. And invariably, someone weeps at the loss of their possessions. They say something about how grateful they are their children are safe, but they don’t know where to start picking up the pieces.
I have always wondered how it was that these unfortunate souls could lament the loss of their things – after they acknowledge their children are safe. How could you even think about your couch, your bookcase, your television set? How could you equate these things that are easily replaced with something of real value? And for the longest time, I just didn’t get it. Be grateful, get out of there, move on, there are lots of places that will help you.
But I have been reading a lot about the stuff of our lives lately and I am coming around to the understanding that our very stuff, the bits and shreds of our lives, our daily, boring lives – that’s what matters. My stuff defines me.
I spent this past Lent getting solidly engaged with the 40 Bags Challenge – to remove 40 bags of stuff from your house during Lent so you could embrace spring and Easter all that more unencumbered by clutter. And I did. I must have taken out 60 bags of clothes, books, random objects, kitchen things – stuff. And I still have stuff. My house is far from cluttered, because routinely, I do throw things out, give things away, send things to the Goodwill, or to someone else. It’s what is left that I am taking a closer look at these days.
Marie Kondo, or KonMari as she is also known, asks her organization clients to take objects into their hands, thank them for their service, and let them go. And this works fine for the royal blue pantsuit you thought might make you look like you were running for office. Thank you, pantsuit. You have served me well and taught me not to buy royal blue pantsuits.
Dominique Browning in the New York Times, argues the opposite – that your stuff lines your nest, made up of the detritus of your daily life. She wants to leave it all to her children, hoping against hope that some day, they will appreciate HER stuff.
But that’s just it. It will never really be THEIR stuff. And while Kondo is happy to let the pantsuit go, I would want it hanging in my closet to remind me every time I went in there that royal and Anne do not mix or match.
My stuff is uniquely, personally, only me. My opera scores, the poster from that concert in Italy, my high school text books, the post cards I bought when I traveled, the knife I swiped from a hotel opening reception when I was 16, my first Paris Metro pass. This is the stuff that tells me who I am. I am my stuff. I cannot let it go and my children won’t know what to do with it if I get hit by a bus on the way home. But it’s me. It’s really me. Along with the books and toys my children no longer need or want that remind me of when they were children. They don’t need Happy Meals toys and Beanie Babies, but I do.
I worked, years ago, for a woman who was over 100 years old. When she died, we went through her stuff to clear out her apartment – the one she had lived in for decades – and we found her stuff everywhere. Too small, too outdated fur coats, too many handbags and baseball cards, too many things. But it was a long life well lived, surrounded by her stuff.
So, my heartfelt sympathy goes to the people in Texas and Oklahoma and Nepal who have lost their “stuff” and so much more. Losing your stuff means that you have lost a bit of what defines you to yourself. It’s not that it can’t be replaced by similar stuff or by new, even better stuff, but it’s diminishing and it’s terrible. It’s even less about what you have to show for yourself and more about what you have that shows you yourself.
Anne Born is a New York-based writer and storyteller who has been writing stories and poetry since childhood. She blogs on The Backpack Press and Tumbleweed Pilgrim and her writing focuses on family and life in a big city after growing up in a small one. She is the author of “A Marshmallow on the Bus” and “Prayer Beads on the Train” and a photographer who specializes in photos of churches, cemeteries, and the Way of St. James in Spain. Most of her writing is done on the bus. www.about.me/anneborn. You can follow Anne on Wattpad, Instagram, and Twitter at @nilesite. She is also a contributing writer in the upcoming collection “Love Her, Love Her Not: The Hillary Paradox,” curated and edited by Joanne Bamberger, available for pre-order now!
Image via Wikimedia Commons/CC License