Fri 26 Aug 2011
yeh, you. really. you.
okay, fine, not you. but you. and you. and me.
We Have Too Much Stuff.
all of us. i know this because last night i sucked half a century of dirt and dog hair into my lungs, and as God is my witness, before i expire from some dread disease caused by ancient vacuum mites it is on my heart to shout it from the rooftops.
Too Much! Clutter Kills!
i am thinking of having bumper stickers made, except they would sit in a box in some corner of my house and moulder, and i would trip over them, and that…well, yeh.
there is an estate sale at my grandfather’s house tomorrow.
i grew up in apartments, so this house is the last of the places i have known since childhood. my whole life, the very same.
i stand in the living room and i see myself in those grainy Instagram-esque Christmas 1972 snapshots, learning to walk on the moss green carpet. and i see him on the same green carpet in May, with the paramedics around us, and all the 39 years between. all equally vivid. it makes my eyes hurt.
yet as we dismantle and sort and clean, the bones of the house grow unfamiliar and strange. i see things i’ve never laid eyes on, things de-coupled from their stories and their contexts. and i am sad, sniffing about unmoored, a dog searching for its master. i look for my grandfather in the vacuum tubes and the tools and the dust and his 1931 First-Prize-winning hand-drawn map of Australia, marked Clifton, age eleven years, that we found in the back of the basement last night.
i look, but i find him again and again on the green carpet, until my brain clamps down and says no more. he is not here. he is gone. now you go, too. vacuum. wipe. sort.
my grandfather was neither packrat nor hoarder, and he was frugal for the most part and loathe to buy new what could yet be fixed or made serviceable. still, forty-five years in the same house yields Stuff, in copious amounts. stuff not touched or cleaned or seen for years. stuff with its stories forever untold, that none of us understand or can make sense of. stuff that my uncle and my father will take today to the dump, and pay to leave.
last night my uncle pried open the enormous canister of the 1967 Central Vac and i managed somehow to dump half of its contents on the basement floor. i inhaled things no human body has any business inhaling, including what i swear was the fur of a dog who’s been dead since i was in high school. you are welcome, eventual buyer of the family home: this is my body, broken for you. i think i have a hairball.
this is part of the circle of life, in our late 20th-century/21st century existences in this privileged part of the world. our elders grow old and die or move to nursing homes, and we cart away decades of precious things that have devolved somehow into crap, and make landfill, and squirrel a few items aside for another generation to deal with when we go.
there are a few billion of us living this way. the rest, we are taught to assume, aspire to it. we get pimped new stuff everywhere we turn.
the math is suspect.
before Dave & i die, we should probably clean the shed, for the sake of our children and the grandchildren who do not exist yet. but here’s the ugly truth: we don’t know what to do with the stuff in the shed.
it’s probably useful, if we could actually identify what’s in there or lay hands to most of it. same goes for the upstairs closet. we might need it. we don’t know. life is uncertain. there’s a hurricane on the way.
here’s the problem. stuff is stories. stuff is both aspirational and grounding, a tether to who we think we are.
even this so-called virtual, where we can trade in actual stories, is no antidote.
sure, i like the internet because my clutter stays mostly hidden, ephemeral. admittedly, my semi-defunct delicious account is a poorly annotated mess, and my laptop’s colonized with programs i ended up not using, but the absolute stunning beauty of the world of bits and bites is its immateriality. poof! now you see it, now it floats like a cyberjunk satellite in an orbit you need never encounter again. (this quality became a lot more appealing after auto-save was invented, admittedly).
and yeh, digital clutter is a marginal improvement, at least for safety purposes. paper burns, after all. i own more books than i will ever read in this life, even if you locked me in the attic for decades with nothing but books and a bucket of fishheads to sustain me. i have paperwork stuffed away in files that i vaguely suspect no one will ever look at again. every surface of my kitchen is plastered with folksy child-made art collages leaking glue and wasting trees left, right, and centre.
but. all of it, digital and trip-over-able, mostly gets in the way of living. it demands. it wants cleaning, curating, sorting, attending to. it wants time. it wants you to buy matching oven mitts.
someday, my children or their children or some poor sot will have to dig their way through what i leave behind on this planet when i leave it. you too. what the hell do i want them to find?
my grandmother’s Art Deco wedding china? my grandfather’s WWII documents? maybe, if i can remember to tell them the stories beforehand. maybe photos – whether albums or holographs, it doesn’t matter. maybe a couple of beautiful things that have some monetary value: art or antiques, perhaps, that they can sell or keep. that’d be thoughtful of me, if only i owned stuff like that.
maybe the blog. Thomas King said, “The truth about stories is that’s all we are.” but really. are they going to read it?
at least it doesn’t require vacuuming.
…what about you? what are you keeping? what do you want to be keeping?
(and while i’m cleaning the shed: anybody need a free Supercycle ten-speed, circa 1984? it’s on the street outside my house: finders-keepers. huzzah).