Look At All The Stories

My Stuff

My stuff.

It is ironic to me that I spent the previous two years divesting myself of stuff. When I moved to Kenosha last October, the truck was filled mostly with paintings, art supplies, and books. If I excluded those things, I could carry my worldly possessions on my back. And, I did for months. I now know without doubt what is essential and what is luxury. Mostly, my story is no longer entangled with my stuff. Well, in truth, there are still a few things that are sacred: the box that held DeMarcus’ brushes, a treasure or two from Bali, grandpa’s nutcracker, Bob’s tools. I gave away many useful things because of the story they held!

Since moving I’ve been helping Kerri clean out her house. Each week we take stuff to the Goodwill or place bags on the curb. She has been twenty-five years in her house and raised two children. The things we sort through have layers and layers of story. Children’s toys and books, sporting equipment, old electronics, and clothes; everything comes with a memory. More than once Kerri has held tightly to a box or shirt, saying, “I can’t get rid of this! Craig used this when….” We’ve saved many things, not for usefulness, but for story.

Several times we’ve made the trip to Florida to sort, box and store the contents of her mother’s house. Kerri spends hours each week on the phone with her mom, Beaky, as she pours over an enormous list of her possessions. Beaky is now in assisted living and will never return to her home. She wants to make sure that each item goes to the right person and that the story held in the item goes with it. In fact, the designation of recipient often has more to do with the story than the item. She is reaching into the future attempting to build a story link with the past.

A few weeks ago we walked by an open house. It was an estate sale. People were lined up out the door to go in and buy stuff cheap. The people in line were anxious and jockeying for position; they wanted to get in before all the good stuff was gone. The stories associated with the stuff died with the homeowner. The new story begins with a bargain found at an estate sale.

Last week while in Denver for my grandfather’s funeral, I crawled under Ruby’s house to pull out the boxes that Bob had stored there, mostly things they hadn’t used in years. Ruby said, “I didn’t even know that was down there!” Forgotten stories resurface.

My parents’ house is filled with the accumulated possessions of a lifetime. Their sedimentary layer of stories includes children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. They’ve added no small amount of my grandfather’s possessions now that he has passed. The layers of story sediment compounded. “What are we going to do with all this stuff?” my dad asked. “Someone must have use for it!” He might just as well have asked, “What are we going to do with all of these stories. Someone must have use for them?”

It’s the question Tom asked when he found a trunk plastered into the walls of the family’s ranch house. The trunk contained the worldly possessions of an ancestor, a young boy named Johnny who died a century earlier. Little slips of paper written by his mother accompanied the layers of clothes and toys. “She wanted to keep his story alive,” Tom said. “What am I going to do with it?” he asked when he knew his life was on the glide path to the finish.

Someone once said to me, “You are not your stuff.” No. But we are people of commerce. We are people who identify ourselves through our stuff. We place great value in what we accumulate and what we accumulate becomes the vessel for passing on our value and our story. Look around you. Look at all the stories that surround you! Stand in your home, close your eyes, and spin around. Open your eyes and look at any object, any thing. What’s the story? What is essential? What is luxury?

title_pageGo here for my latest book

Canopy by David Robinson

Canopy by David Robinson

Go here for fine art prints of my paintings

One Response

  1. Hi David,

    This blog post hits close to home. My ex husband’s parents were Bob and Ruby; his name was Tom. All those names appeared in your story. I’ve been the “keeper of the stuff” in my family. I thought I was the only person who hung on to things because of their stories. Most of my friends seem not to have all this “stuff”. That misperception got a big correction when I won two tickets to Antiques Roadshow and saw a huge auditorium of people carting around wagons of old possessions — all with stories to go with them. With that experience, some of the preciousness of these things started to soften.

    Thanks for sharing your stories with us.

    Warmest,

    Susan

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