Monday, July 29, 2013

Finally, getting rid of "stuff"

     Most of us -- maybe all of us -- tend to hoard our "stuff," and it stays with us for years.
      But for the past few months, we've gotten serious about letting go of "the stuff." Last week, for instance, I began culling the hundreds -- thousands? -- of saved stories, the ones I've written and many more others have written.
      I keep thinking of George Carlin, one of my favorite comedians/commentators/life observers who introduced his "Stuff" routine on Comic Relief in 1986 and turned it into the basis for his ninth album -- A Place for My Stuff.
Awards/certificates are only a scanned memory now
      "That's the whole meaning of life," George explained in the original routine, "trying to find a place for your stuff."
      Last week the place for my stuff was the garbage can and the recycle bin, and my computer (I'll explain that in a moment).
      More Carlin: "A house is just a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff."
      Not here. Part of the reason we've reduced  our stuff is because we downsized, moving from a two-story duplex to an apartment.
      Here's another factor: In 36 years of marriage, we have moved 14 times, and we're thinking of moving again -- hopefully, one last time. We have moved some of this stuff every time -- from Louisiana to Hawaii back to Louisiana, to Florida, to Tennessee, to Texas. So the less we have to haul around now, the better.
      Another reason, and this took a long while to develop, is my decreasing lack of sentimentality. The books, photos, video tapes, clothes, plaques/certificates and awards, letters and clippings that meant so much to me for so many years don't matter any more.
      So they've gone to Half-Price Books, and to Goodwill, and to the garbage can and the recycle bin. And I've had to tell myself -- and Beatrice -- over and over again that, hey, I don't really need this "stuff" anymore.
      Bea, too, has been letting go, of clothes, household items such as cookware, linens, blankets, boxes and boxes of school papers, cards and letters.
      We've found that the most difficult things to shed were those that belonged to the kids. But those kids are in their 30s now -- one of them for only one more year -- and their drawings and papers from kindergarten and first grade just don't have a place now.
      We were wistful when we looked at Jason's soccer uniforms, a dozen or so from about as many years. That was a lot of afternoons and nights, a lot of games and road trips. But when we took the box to Jason's house, he had little interest ... and we're not sure where those uniforms wound up. Storage room is a problem at his house, too.
      We took Rachel a box of her Babysitters Club books, her big jar of marbles, her CareBears (about 15) and her other stuffed animals. When she reunited with Boppie -- her long-eared fuzzy hound dog who was in her crib even before she was all those years ago -- that brought tears.
      Boppie had been in hiding for a couple of decades. So he has a new home. But the rest of that material, I would guess, is down in Rachel and Russell's garage.
      But it's not at our place; that's the point.
      For the past two years, I have been taking clothes that no longer fit -- thanks to a 20-pound weight loss -- to Goodwill. I have shed dozen of books that I no longer needed, including some historical books on baseball and the Dallas Cowboys.
      Still have more than enough clothes and more than enough books, and maybe soon I'll get to another round of elimination. My favorite baseball books, Dynasty (on the 1949-64 New York Yankees) and The Boys of Summer (on the 1950s Brooklyn Dodgers), are keepers, though.
      I had three weighty boxes in my closet (have had them for years) -- one with most of the awards/plaques I received in my career, and two with the aforementioned clippings, magazines, stories, letters. Kept these items because they had sentimental meaning.
      But, aha, I found a way to keep the memory but not the items.
      Our printer has a scanner. What a revelation.
Gone to the scanner: one of my favorite old T-shirts
      After we've owned the printer for 5 1/2 years, I only recently learned to use the scanner (thanks to our friend Frank's help). I figured out that I could (1) scan my awards/plaques or (2) take a picture of them, and then save the image from my computer to a USB flash drive. Same with my clippings/stories.
      So a few weeks ago I scanned the awards/plaques -- I did keep a couple that were more special -- and then transferred the scans from my computer to a flash drive. Then discarded the box of plaques; a few pounds gone.
      Last week I spent a few hours pasting some clippings into a couple of semi-complete scrapbooks, then scanning others into the computer and transferred them.
      I had a package of old, worn-out, too-small specialty shirts/sweaters -- linked to Dutch soccer, the Shreveport Journal, my Jerry Byrd Alumni Club T-shirt, a Honolulu Advertiser hurricane T-shirt, etc. -- and I took a picture of each one. Same process followed.
      Went through part of my letters/memorabilia, and decided I could let go of a great many -- and didn't feel bad about it.
      There's plenty left to do. We still have many handdowns from my parents -- including items that come with us from Holland -- and Bea's parents, and we'll probably keep those, and hand them down to our kids.
      I have years and years of my photos, letters, e-mail printouts and my bylined stories/columns (although I probably kept only about 30 percent of what I've written), and I'll continue culling and scanning.
       There is a time for letting go. Trips down memory lane are nice -- as I've noted several times in these blogs -- but we just can't take all this "stuff" with us. It weighs a lot less on the flash drives.


  1. From Marty Mule': Nico, as kind of a hoarder myself, I encourage you to keep every last thing you've accumulated -- no matter how crowded it gets. Even years from now, you'll look at the stuff from years and years before, and still get a sentimental feeling in your chest about your memories, old friends and events. My wife nags me about my stuff constantly, but I've manage to fight her off. At least so far.

  2. From Thomas Youngblood: Well thought-out article, as always. We made a blanket of all the basketball T-shirts for one of our kids. Know the problem. They are where we were a few years ago. The cycle continues.

  3. From Jackson Thigpen: Great article -- can relate as we also have just gone through this with our move to Monroe. My mother threw away my baseball cards when I was in the Army -- and I had a large drawer full. Every time I got 5 cents as a young kid I would walk to the neighborhood store and buy a pack of five cards that came with the piece of bubble gum. After my mother did this, I have not let Ann throw away any of the kids' things. Let them throw them away if they want to; not us. So we moved boxes of their things with us to Monroe. We could not get them to come over and get them before the move. Now our new large attic is full of their STUFF. I guess when I move to the cemetery, then it will be their problem.
    I did keep some pictures and STUFF from my career and hung them in our office. Ann said that was the only room that I could hang my STUFF. All this was put in prospective by you and our preacher who reminded us a few weeks ago that all our stuff would some day be found in a pile at the junkyard.
    Relationships are far more important than STUFF. But STUFF does bring back a lot of memories.

  4. From Harrison McCoy: I think you have officially retired, my friend.

  5. From Ike Futch: I think you might have more "stuff" than I do!

  6. From Beverly C. Porche: I can relate to your experience. When John and I moved almost two years ago, it was unbelievable how much we had kept and stored. At that time for things we couldn't throw away, we each made an "heirloom box" and put that away. Probably if we went through these boxes again, we could downsize the boxes! It takes time...

  7. From Ralph Kraft: Catharsis for the soul; house, body and baggage along for the ride.

  8. From Vince Langford: Read your blog on "stuff" and that was spot on, as they say. Sentimenality is trending downward.