I remember visiting my dad and stepmother’s house years ago, and opening a kitchen cabinet and finding four plates, four glasses and four coffee cups in it. That’s it. Just four plates, four glasses and four coffee cups. “Strange,” I thought. In the bathroom cabinet, there were only a few basic items: denture-cleaning paraphernalia, hemorrhoid cream, a bar of soap, and a toilet-paper four-pack. “Stranger,” I thought, and then, “Eeww!”
This incident was in the late nineties, and Sarge and Betsy had gone through the Flood of ’94 in South Georgia. The waterline had come to my eyebrows when I walked through after the waters had subsided. (The one humorous spot was that the table their jigsaw puzzle was on floated to the top of the room and came back down without losing a single piece of the puzzle). They lost virtually everything and started over in their late seventies. They did qualify for a low-interest loan, but the sparseness of their cabinets made me wonder if they were okay financially.
I gently broached the subject, and their response surprised me. When they started replacing things, they said, they decided that they would buy only the things they needed. They had enough money to buy whatever they wanted, within reason, but they had made a conscious choice to limit their “stuff” to what they had need of. If all four coffee cups are dirty, wash them. “They’ve flipped,” I thought.
I’ve noticed the same attitude in other people’s homes, especially people with many decades under their belts. Owning lots of “stuff” just doesn’t appeal to them anymore.
Personally, I have owned a lot of “stuff” over the years. And I shall now rationalize why I needed it.
Teachers often need a variety of materials in their classrooms, and I bought and made a lot of activities and games. I had taught grades one through four, as well as gifted students on all levels. When I left Americus in the mid-nineties, my thought was to take with me only the things I would need for whatever grade I would be teaching next. But I wasn’t able to get a job in a new system before I moved, so I didn’t want to get rid of my “teacher stuff,” not knowing what I’d need. So I moved it all. That’s Cluster Number One.
I wound up teaching Fifth Grade, which I had never taught before, so I couldn’t use a lot of that stuff. I had to acquire and make new stuff. And I did. But that other stuff still sat in my house.
I loved my fifth-graders at Winship Elementary Geography and History Magnet School in Macon, Georgia. I loved pretty much everything about Winship. It was “the pearl of the Bibb County School System.” I bought and made tons of new stuff to use in our social studies-themed units. It was great. I planned to teach right there until retirement, only a few more years. Unless I was still having fun when I reached thirty years. If it was still fun, why stop?
But an unforeseen event happened, as they often do in this life. A decision was made by the school board to close down our precious little school. It was the smallest school in the system, with only fourteen classrooms; the building was old and in need of much work.
And so they “fixed” something that wasn’t broken. And I didn’t want to commit to the new school they were founding from ours and another magnet school. I was commuting about an hour each way already, and the new school promised lots of mandatory evening activities. I just couldn’t.
So I started taking my “stuff” home in boxes. And boxes. And more boxes. When I had filled all the shelves in my husband’s big storage building, he asked me if I was about finished bringing boxes home. Not even close, I said. He suggested that I buy a new storage room for my stuff, and I did. I wound up with an 8 x 10-foot building full of teacher stuff.
I got a job in my little rural county and finished my last three years there. I taught third grade, so virtually none of the stuff from Winship was applicable. I did, however, plunder through boxes from Americus and find things I could use.
When I retired, I did give away a lot of the materials I had been using in my classroom to other teachers at the school. But some of it came home. That’s Cluster Number Two.
After retirement, I began to help my husband in his business. Neither of us was a businessperson, mind you, nor wanted to be, and we weren’t good at it. It wasn’t long before I realized that the company was in debilitating debt and could barely pay the workers, much less make a profit. So I began to look for ways to supplement the income. I sold Avon. I got a booth in a flea market. I sold things on eBay. All those enterprises involve stuff. Inventory, so to speak. I bought a few storage rooms at auction. I visited flea markets and yard sales and estate sales. I moved some stuff. And I made enough to keep us afloat for a little while. That’s Cluster Number Three.
But Husband couldn’t seem to stop buying things. Big things, I mean. Like a dump truck and a backhoe and a bucket truck and a cabin in the mountains and all sorts of stuff. And I, as Wife, was not consulted on these purchases, though some of them were made in my name and with my credit.
After a foreclosure, a bankruptcy, and a variety of other unsavory adventures, Husband still hadn’t learned his lesson, and I, as Wife, decided I could no longer participate in the marriage. I moved to my sister’s house in another state and took my Stuff with me.
I had so much Stuff that it took several Penske truckloads and six storage rooms to hold it. Some big, some little, but six in all.
Now, I gotta say, that’s too much stuff. I didn’t have to pay that monthly storage room fee for very long to decide to lighten my load.
So I got busy. I had yard sales. I moved most of my Avon inventory for cheap on eBay. I got a little booth at a weekend flea market. And I donated about a ton of Stuff to women’s shelters and libraries and thrift stores.
And soon I only needed five storage rooms. And then four. And so on. And by the time my sisters and I made our last move, to a house with a big basement, I was able to rent only one storage room, and we celebrated the day we moved the last of the Stuff from it to the basement, and I at last had all my Stuff under one roof.
I still have too much stuff, and I’m still working on lightening the load. But I’m not paying someone for space to store it, and that’s a good thing.
And my attitude toward Stuff has changed. At one point, Stuff was my lifeline, my way to survive in desperate personal economic times. Now, I just want to reclaim the money I spent to move and store it.
Also, I started an online course in January called A Year to Clear What’s Holding You Back, and that’s helping me change my attitude toward Stuff even more. You might like to check it out, too.
Who knows? By the time I hit my mid-seventies, my kitchen cabinet may match Sarge and Betsey’s. But I hope my bathroom cabinet never does….