When I was a baby I didn’t have new stuff and most of the stuff I had was shared with other kids in a hippie commune.
When I was a kid with my own room my stuff became sacrosanct and those who entered my space were all potential pilferers and destroyers of my stuff.
When I was a teen I kept all stuff made of paper. I had file folders filled with scrap paper and piles of very important notebooks full of scribblings and I had clothes piling out of my closet and books and unused roller skates. I was a magpie. I became a pack-rat.
When I had my first room mate I actually yelled at her for touching my stuff.
When I got married I discovered my husband had more stuff than me and I began to let go of all the paper scraps and extraneous things of mine to make room for his stuff.
Soon I had him editing his own stuff because his parents are hoarders and seeing what stuff out of control can do to a house gave me night terrors.
Then we got our own house and I selected stuff much more carefully and started getting nicer stuff and getting rid of crappy stuff and taking better care of what I had in general (there are those that will disagree with that last statement – you must evaluate relative to before).
Then we had a baby and babies are extra people that come with extra stuff. Their stuff is cluttery and multiplies under the influence of saliva.
One day our attic caught on fire and a bunch of stuff I considered precious was broken, melted, burnt, and scorched. I had two choices. I could be devastated and mourn the loss of my things, or I could let go of those things I lost and enjoy the extra air they left behind them. I chose not to mourn stuff and save all my sorrow for people. We were fortunate not to have lost each other.
I was profoundly released from the spell of stuff after that fire. I like my things. I enjoy my heirlooms that are left (even the scorched family china I saved from the fire) and I’m glad I have it. But when things break, I don’t spend more than a moment in distress and regret over them. I’m much more upset when I cut my thumb nearly in half or when my child sprains his ankle.
There is always more stuff and no one needs most of the stuff they have, myself included. Stuff can enrich your enjoyment of life but it can also choke you to death with dust and stagnation, paralyzing your ability to create and think and evolve.
The last few months I have begun the most earnest spring cleaning of my life. I’ve been enjoying setting tons of crap free. Crap that is cool and interesting and useful to other people but which has ceased to be these things to me.
Then last week my laptop died. All my files corrupted. I had no back up and for 24 hours we didn’t know if the tech guys could retrieve my photo and writing files. Files which constituted years of work and care and time. I cried for one hour. I mourned lost pictures and all that writing. I railed against my own stupidity for not backing up my files. And then I let them all go.
It was like going through the fire all over again. As though I needed reminding that stuff is just stuff.
Even the stuff we create. When things we make are destroyed or lost we have the capacity to make new and better and cooler things. They won’t be exactly like the old things, but every day our potential to make better things grows more spectacular.
My files were saved. I bought a mobile hard drive and backed them up immediately.
Now I’m thinking about the next layer of stuff I can peel from my life. I won’t become spartan. I still like having pretty things in my life and I love and depend on all my tools like my sewing machine and my canning equipment and my books. But I see how I want my life to function going forward, I see what kind of mental space I need to achieve my goals and dreams and I know that it lies still under the weight of a few more layers of stuff.
New thoughts, new narratives, new creative projects and new images will replace the space my unimportant stuff took up.