Monday, October 11, 2010

Life vs Stuff of Life

I keep reflecting on the meaning of the Stuff.

As I touch for perhaps the last time something like the wedding invitation for my grandmother's wedding in the 1880s, I feel connected to her.  Her dreams, her hopes for a happy life.  The expectations of her parents - is this young man a good match?  And that means something to me.  Pieces of life.

As I pick up a china bowl, I hear my mother's voice telling me about dinners at her mother's table, and how mashed potatoes always went in this bowl.  Pieces of life.

As I dust the microscope from my grandfather, the science professor at Columbia and then later at Washburn college, I think of his career and the stories of his work.  He started at Washburn on the day my mother was born in 1920.  He wept seeing the devastation to his old classroom from the tornado in 1966.  I connect to him, to his life.  Pieces of life.

Or ... is it?

I remind myself that it is the life itself that is life.  Not the detritus that we leave behind.  I don't want people hoarding my high school annual or my girl scout sash or my wedding invitation.  These aren't "me".  Why would I feel that the detritus of past generations should be hoarded, preserved as sacred somehow?

Life is life.  Not objects, not papers, not china or silver.  These may remind us of a life lived, but we don't need a dump truck full of stuff as if it made the life more real, more valid.

And my expectation is to meet these people in their/our resurrection on earth soon.  These people whose Stuff I cared for for so long. What do I need with their detritus when I can see them, know them?

Life is life.  Stuff is stuff.  Simple.

Holding on... and letting go

I'm tackling the other really difficult challenge in my pack/purge efforts ... going through the many many articles of family history that I have carried.

"Carried" is the operative word.  It has become a burden to hold onto this - both physically (a significant part of 'real estate' in various closets and shelves contain these items) and emotionally (I am the family member unofficially designated - I should admit, self-designated - to 'hold' the family memories).

Family history has been an interest, even a passion, for me for years.  My interest led me to compile a couple of books that will hold and share the information for myself and for others.  The books contain charts of ancestors, and reproductions of key photos, stories, records like census reports, and other information that tell the story.  I dedicated months to these books, and they are fascinating, and they are DONE, and I am done! Check that box, I'm ready to move on!

What's in the boxes and bins? Family photos, wedding invitations from 1880s, drawings and paintings of family members and vacations, teaching materials left over from my grandad the science professor, WWI maps and French postcards from my other grandad's service in WWI.  College and high school annuals. Scrapbooks - several - filled with great little bits like dance cards, school play records, nametags from special events.  Great stuff - but I'm drowning.

What else is around the house?  Teacups. Sterling silver flatware.  Haviland china.  Stemware.  Silver salt/pepper shakers. An old microscope - maybe 100 years old.  Sterling silver platters, bowls, pitchers. Old china bowls (like the pink "mashed potato bowl" that my grandmother always used for mashed potatoes), porcelain platters. Decks of cards that my grandmother played bridge with constantly. A large cedar chest, a platform rocker, a glass-topped table. Art, lots of art.  Again, great stuff, but I'm carrying all this and it is holding me back from moving easily to my next phase of my life.

My wise sister has long been in this place of not holding on to scads of things from earlier generations.  So she's not eager to receive more than what she already has, and she speculates that the grandchildren (my daughter and nieces/nephew) won't be particularly interested in great amounts as well.  So, I will make sure they have what they want, and then either sell, give away (to friends) or discard the rest.

As I pack it up, I am ambivalent.  I'll keep tiny bits as representative of what I liked, and dispose of the rest. The stuff both fascinates me ... and repels me.  Either way, it is time to move on.  Move it out. Simplify.  Lighten up.  And be ready for the next phase of my life!

Monday, October 4, 2010

How it feels

wow this feels scary - and thrilling.

It feels like the first day of spring when you take off your long sleeves and you can feel the air on your arms.  It feels so ... freeing.  Light. Airy.

Each box I take to the garage (for the eventual garage sale) is one less brick in the wall that holds us back from our next life, our next adventure.

I can peek over the wall now, it the future looks GREAT!

the office ... the books

Recent work has focused on the office.

Started with books.  My beloved books.  I have about 8 boxes so far, with about 40-50 books in each.  Fiction, nonfiction, research, gardening, language, business, creativity, crafts ... books I've loved or books that sparked my curiosity or growth.  Plenty of boring books or those I never read.  If I haven't wanted to read them in the last 15 years, what makes me think I ever will?  So, I've packed them up in those many boxes and will take them to a used book store.  I retained a few that remain interesting or useful, and will either keep or dispose of them later.

(I'm still reluctant to take them to sell them, however.  I think losing the books will be ever so much harder than almost anything.  Really ambivalent.)

Then this morning, I tacked a couple of boxes from my former job.  I volunteered for a layoff a few years ago after over 15 years of a successful career.  I had kept evidence of my successes in my job - commendation notes, work product, awards, performance reviews.  It was somewhat difficult to throw it away, but I'm not looking back.  It was interesting - and felt good - to quickly review the very positive notes from many over 15 years.  But it's just not where my head is at now.  So, the trash truck will take it away today.

This isn't a spur-of-the-moment mood.  This has been building for several years, and we're now pulling the trigger to meet goals that will bring us way more real joy than what is heading for the landfill.

Starting to eat the elephant

How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.

Huh?  Well, some background:

We are very comfortably settled in a lovely home we built just over five years ago, living near our grandchildren, with a yard and two dogs.  We have a pond behind us and a garden and a hammock and just about everything we'd dreamed of.

And stuff.  Oh goodness we have stuff.  We have doubles or triples of lots of our stuff.  I have books I read and loved to keep just to ... have.  I have boxes of information about old jobs.  I have boxes of things I have been keeping for my daughter.  I have shelves of art supplies.  You get the picture.  Plus, I have the stuff I received when I helped my mother break up housekeeping (she is now 90 and nearby in assisted living) and the stuff my husband received from his now-deceased parents.  

We (Bill and I, now almost 65 and 60) have been shifting our priorities, however, instead of the comfort of all this Stuff and the loveliness of the home around us.  We want less.  Well, we want less of the Stuff and more of Life.  We want the feeling of being more connected to our values, including the ability to help others in other congregations or communities. Our Stuff is holding us back, limiting our ability to move easily.

We have an elephant to 'eat' (our house/life to reduce, to empty then sell).  So, we are cleaning out, clearing out, selling/ donating/ trashing Stuff, and preparing for a move.  It's daunting, but we hope you will sit with us as we tell our story.  And please leave a comment to touch us and let us know you're listening.  With love.