Downsizing and shucking “stuff”

This past weekend we took the final step in getting rid of most of our “stuff” and leaning down to being fully self-contained in Charlie, our RV. It has been a process of months and has required quite a bit of attitude adjustment. However, after losing all four of our parents in the space of four years, we realized that there was no way we were going to make our kids get rid of our stuff for us. We also thought we better get busy and do some of the things that we had always wanted to do before we got too old to do them. One of my favorite sayings is that we are going to be dead before we know it, and as fast as things have gone the first 35 years of married life, it’s not time to sit back and expect life to wait on us now!

When I was growing up, we moved around a lot. My dad worked for a large oil company, and we lived in four houses in three states before I was seven. Maybe it was all the moving, I do not know, but I got so I clung to stuff and did not ever want to let anything go. I would look at something, and it would have a memory attached to it, or I would think that at some point in the future we would need it, and I would hang onto it for dear life.

I have a rock. I have had this rock for over 40 years. The rock is a piece of flint that came into my brother’s possession under somewhat dubious circumstances as he was visiting a famous cathedral in Great Britain. This rock has moved with me every time I have moved over these past 40+ years with the possible exception of going with me to Germany when I was in the Army. The Army does not seem to think much of rocks unless of course, they provide cover. Anyway, I have lugged this rock around through 11 moves not counting Germany.

Early in our marriage, Mireille was cleaning and came upon this rock. Seeing only a rock, she threw it out. When I got home from work, and upon hearing what she had done, I raced downstairs to dumpster dive and recover my rock. Once I had safely retrieved the rock I made it clear to Mireille how important this rock was, and then I promptly put it away so I could forget about it, move it another six times, and not see it again until recently!

Fast forward 35 years and things did not ever get much better. We had a lot of stuff, though we had often made large donations of all kinds of goods to Goodwill and other charities. It seemed that no matter what went out, we quickly replaced it with something else coming in.

Then our parents died.

My parents, especially my mom, were great collectors of stuff. The more dust it would catch, the more she liked it. She called it country; I just called it junk and teased her about it mercilessly. My dad collected stuff as well, but I think his criteria was more along the lines of weight. My dad’s stuff was either light (paper by the ton) or heavy, old, rusted, weathered, and bound to hurt you somehow.

To illustrate; a few years ago we helped my parents move from one house to another not too far away. Assisting them in that relocation, among many other things of note, I kid you not, I moved a cardboard box of bricks and a wadded up rusty piece of tin that I know was just aching to give me lockjaw. We also moved an old clawfoot bathtub, full of dirt mind you, more than once. So I guess I came by holding onto stuff at all costs honestly.

When it came time to divvy up my parent’s things, the thing I wanted to avoid most was our surviving family allowing the stuff my parents had accumulated and their desire for those things to destroy relationships. To do that I took a picture of almost everything in their house and put these online. I then created a Google form and our family members could go through the pictures and pick things that they wanted. No one could see what anyone else wanted, and each choice came with a priority that having that item meant for the requester.

The result was that we had no fights and no overlap. Each person picked things that meant something to them, everyone got pretty much what they wanted and was happy. However, an unforeseen benefit of this is something my niece said, in that having the photo of the item was almost as good as having the item itself. So in truth, everyone got everything because everyone has the pictures of everything.

Mireille was not so attached to things as I was. That may be because her parents were not as acquisitive as mine, I don’t know. However, when we decided to move into an RV, we both realized we had a lot of downsizing to do. Just deciding where to start was daunting until Mireille broke it down into sections. One of her favorite expressions through this process has been “little by little” and in that way, a little at a time, we got started and got it done.

For me, at first, it was hard to let go of anything for all the reasons I have mentioned. Then there was just our home itself. One of the things that bothered me the most about leaving our house was leaving our shed. Gregory and I had built that shed together, and I loved it. The funny thing is that after we built the shed, I never spent as much time in it as I had imagined I would. Yes, I would go out there from time to time to do some art or read, or write some poetry, and drink wine and smoke my pipe, but I didn’t “work” in it as I had planned. I came to realize that the real benefit of the shed was the process of building it with Gregory, and that was memories which would always go with me and are independent of the building itself. It was when I realized that the memories were the main thing that I started to get comfortable with the idea of leaving the shed. When that happened, leaving everything else fell into place for me.

No object has any more meaning than that meaning which we attach to it. Attaching that meaning is a decision, most often an unconscious one, but a decision none the less. If we can decide that a particular rock has value because of where it came from and the memories surrounding it, then we can also decide that the rock itself means nothing more than the fact that it is a rock. The fact that an item reminds us of a particular time, or place, or person, does not mean that getting rid of the thing equals erasing the memory it evokes. We will have the memories until we are either dead or dementia takes them away from us. When either of these happens, not having the item will not make any difference anyway.

The fact that something cost us money means little if we do not use it or need it any longer. An object is not a bank, it does not pay interest, and when it is time to get rid of it, as we evaluate its real worth we need to account for the value we have already extracted from the object during the time we have had it. If we are honest, we can often say that we have gotten our money’s worth and more from something that we have used, enjoyed, and which has served us well. If we do that then it is easier to understand that because of all we have gotten out of it, its current value may be close to zero.

The fact that something still works is no reason to keep it around “in case I ever need it again.” As I was going through all the things I had and which I am now without I cannot tell you how many things I have kept for years and years “just in case” that I had forgotten I even had. If I had needed them again, I would not have known I had them, and gone out and bought them all over. I have done that before and I know I would do it again. It makes more sense to get rid of things I might need in the future but do not need now and buy them again if I ever need them. Doing that will ensure I only have one then instead of two or more. I got rid of wrenches for distributor caps, dongles for computer equipment I no longer had, floppy disks for God’s sake, and on and on and on. I was maintaining a museum of the obsolete and crap-tacular, but no longer! The contents of my personal museum of stuff I “might need again” has now been sold, donated, recycled, or trashed along with most everything else.

Does this mean we have gotten rid of everything? Not at all. I kept some things that cannot be replaced from when my family lived overseas. I kept a few of my books. I saved some of my DVDs that I could not find on Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Google Play.

The stuff I kept from Africa is in storage along with things that Mireille wanted to keep; some of our furniture, Christmas decorations, her Le Creuset cookware (nice and heavy) and other items. We put these in a POD so that where ever we are if and when we decide this full-time adventure is over, we can have the POD brought there and begin again.

We have, however, gotten rid of most everything. We have gone from a 1200 square foot house with a two car garage and 200 square foot shed, plus a storage unit, down to what we can hold in Charlie and a 12 foot POD. I cannot tell you how liberating that is for both of us. We were married and began our adult lives in the 80’s, and I bought into all the “success equals things” messages society sold then and is still selling now, but several years ago I started to realize that is just “the man” talking. He wants us to spend and buy because it keeps his motor running. But my perspective is different now. Someday I will write an essay about how The Matrix is true, just not the way the movie says. To that point, in my view things are chains. Mireille and I don’t have many things now. That makes us happy.

One thing to note. There are a lot of people online and in the forums who will say we are silly to store this stuff. Our furniture is nothing special, but we like it. For what we are paying for the POD we could easily replace all the furniture and most of the other items with the money we would save by not storing these things. That is true, no argument. I have said the same thing myself. However, like everything else involved in being and staying married, we are in this together, and it is essential that we pay attention to what each other wants and needs. If the amount extra we spend to store some furniture makes this easier for one of us, then that is a small price to pay to get to do what we are about to do. In all the things we talk about here in this post and on this blog, the main thing to understand is this: what works for someone else may not work for you. Our choices may look smart or foolish, but they are only our choices. Your choices are the only ones that matter to you, so do what works and don’t listen to anyone else who says you should have done it the way they did. They aren’t you and you can’t experience anyone’s happiness but your own.



2 Comments Add yours

  1. Pierre Gaudreau says:

    J’adore vôtre philosophie de vie. Tante Ghislaine

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