All This Stuff

Earlier this week, a widowed neighbor was picked up by an ambulance and taken to a local hospital to be treated for pneumonia related to a chronic illness. Widowed after a long marriage, he contracted a bacterial disease that nearly killed him. Now, he lives alone in a 2200 sq ft two story home full of the stuff they accumulated over a long and happy marriage. Neighbors and family ensure that he is well and help with chores. All of that is unfortunate and unrelated to the subject of this post except as an introduction to life. What is relevant, is that someone is going to have to figure out what to do with all that stuff in the house.

I'm approaching a point in my own life (a) that has lasted three-quarters of a century and (b) is within reach of the 78-year average life expectancy for a Caucasian male. Those two facts give me license to reflect upon the fact that more years have passed than remain.

Consider the paths that we have each taken. Each is similar in many ways. We revel in our childhood, attend school(s), experience the craziness of our teen years, and the multi-level stress of the 'productive' years. We have jobs to support life. We find mates to support life. We reproduce because, in the end, that is why we are here. It doesn't really matter if I'm referring to the lives of my grandparents, my own life, or that faced by my grandchildren. I've described life. Having, then, performed the functions for which we are put on this earth --- what next? Wait. That's a topic for another post on another day.

That's not really what I want to write about. As I've stumbled down the rock-strewn path of my life, I've accumulated stuff. And that stuff is the subject of today's mental and literary adventure: the stuff we accumulate during a life and its ultimate disposition. The philosophers are right on this one. You can't take stuff with you.

I hope that my life isn't demonstrably different than most other lives. I grant you that, as a middle-class citizen, growing up I didn't suffer the problems of poverty. Neither, did I have the advantage of financial security as I grew up. In truth, I didn't know that my parents lived from paycheck to paycheck. That's how good they were (or weren't … opinions vary) at managing it. We had what we needed. But we didn't have much stuff. My mother was a tireless reader, and we did move 22 boxes of books when we left Cleveland in 1959, but do books count as stuff? The jury is out on that one. Most of 'the stuff' she left fills two totes in my spare room along with a few boxes of books and a collection of 1950s costume jewelry. The stuff she had was the collection of a life that was just a bit longer than I have lived.

Today, people really have stuff. Not only do they have stuff, but they appear to need to renew their stuff with regularity. In my part time job, I find myself in many homes, as we install new kitchen cabinets. I've seen countertops loaded with, in no particular order, rice cookers, instant pots, toaster ovens, pizza ovens, hot water heaters, coffee pots AND single use coffee makers, stand mixers, one or more food processors and carbonated beverage makers. Great Scott! In a cupboard will be another trove of pots, pans, and other single purpose cooking paraphernalia. And this stuff is just the stuff in the kitchen -- stuff overflows into the garage and pantry and storage unit.

The proliferation of storage locations around any city is another indicator that we are accumulating 'all this stuff'. Homes are twice the size as the one in which I grew up, yet families are half the size.Walk-in closets are becoming 'crawl-over' clothing dumps. Attics are full of boxes unopened since last century.

We have smart phones, smart TVs, smart watches, tablets, laptops, media players, and internet interfaces (Alexa and Siri). They all talk with each other while listening to us and guessing what form of entertainment we might like next. Perhaps Big Brother really is watching. But the record shows that no one is going to want any of this stuff when we're gone.

Now, if you want to spend your hard-earned wealth on stuff, I guess someone has to keep the Chinese economy afloat. That's where most of this stuff is made. Recyclers can recover some of it when you move up to the newest model. But don't expect to hand your stuff down to the next generation. For the most part, they have little interest in your three-year-old flat screen TV and even less interest in Aunt Gertie's 150-year-old sideboard or grandma's Wedgwood bowl (yeah, the one with all the matchbooks in it). Recent studies show that our kids have no interest in inheriting all our stuff.

Which brings me to the point. Who's going to deal with all that stuff? Our kids are too busy raising their own kids and pursuing their own lives to honestly consider how to deal with two totes of photographs; only some of which are dated and identified. Maybe they'll recognize immediate and secondary family, but that fantastic shot of a sunrise at Yosemite Falls that you took the morning your wife told you she was pregnant with your first child is going to go unidentified; and likely by the very child that was the subject of that memorable day.The wedding dress is out of style, and both kids are married anyway. Your military uniform is no longer the style worn. And what about that wall of plaques and pictures from your service years, along with the copies of your service record, your framed Shellback certificate, and your flag box? And let's not talk about drawers and closets full of clothing, shoes, ties, and other out-of-style garments. From personal knowledge, I can tell you that 75% of all clothing donated to thrift stores winds up in bulk sales for rags despite how good that dress looked on her.

But, hey. It's just stuff. Right?

No! It's OUR stuff, dammit! We earned it. In the end, it's proof that we lived. It's unreasonable for us old fuddy duds to tell our children, as they start out on their own roads, not to accumulate stuff simply because they'll have to deal with it fifty years down the road.They can't see past kindergarten for their kids. Fifty years? Not happening. And it's just as unreasonable for us to take the stance of 'let my kids deal with it after I'm gone.'

So, it's incumbent upon us to deal with it – as hard as that will be. I have no idea what to do with all this stuff.

Help me out here. What DO I do with my military career memories wall? I'm certain that it holds no value for my kids. The brass in the plaques has more real value than the memories and experiences that those plaques represent.What about my high school yearbooks, my cruise books, my enlisted uniforms (1967 – 1969). We have totes of photos, piles of report cards, and drawings made by the kids; and not enough time or the intestinal fortitude to go through them and certainly not to destroy them. I have files older than my kids and framed certificates that only I know the significance of. I suppose I could box up my books and donate them to the library. They 'll probably wind up in the semi-annual book sale, instead of on the shelves. But at least that's one thing our kids won't have to deal with.

I'm certain that I'm not the only aging citizen facing this problem. I might be only one of a few actually thinking about it, though. It's much easier to kick it down the road, to mow the lawn or wash the dishes. Let's plan a vacation or have the kids over for dinner. Anything to avoid thinking about 'all this stuff'.

I just had a thought. Maybe that's why King Tut's tomb was full from floor to ceiling with his stuff when Howard Carter opened it a hundred years ago. What do you think? Maybe the problem isn't so new, after all.

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Friday, 23 February 2024