Belonging To Our Stuff

I have too much stuff. Maybe you do, too.

I have stuff I don’t need. I have clothes I don’t wear; I have watches that don’t work. I have shoes that don’t fit. I have keepsakes I’ve never liked that I can’t get rid of.

Why not?

Somebody–I forget who–gave them to me. What would they think if I gave away, or threw away, their gifts?

Yeah, right. Like they’d really care.

Okay. One morning I get on the bathroom scales and the scales say, “One at a time! Please! One at a time!”

So I work out like a Russian gymnast, eat more lettuce than a family of rabbits, and I lose thirty pounds.

Hooray!

In celebration, I go out and buy clothes that fit the new me. However, I prudently keep the old “fat” clothes. Why? Do I think I’m going to gain back the thirty pounds? Do I plan to gain it back?

In the top drawer of my dresser I have a single, widowed cufflink, its mate long lost. Waste not, want not, I tell myself. I keep the link, I guess in case I ever acquire a dress shirt with only one sleeve. On second thought, maybe I already have such a shirt. I haven’t checked my closet lately.

Lynda and I had a house fire in 1990, in which we pretty much lost all our stuff. I stepped out of the blazing house (good idea!) and into the sub-zero December morning wearing only my jammies and a frightened expression. That was the last time I had only the stuff I needed and nothing more. Today, some twenty-odd years later, my life is back to normal. Once again, I have more stuff than I need. Much more. Tons more.

We’ve turned over a new leaf at our house. We’re downsizing. We’re taking stuff to the dump. We’re donating stuff to charity. We’re forcing ourselves to not come back from Good Will with more stuff than we took there. We’ve thrown out useless things, like the threadbare old flannel shirt that I love, and the paint-spattered old shoes with the holes in the soles.

We’ve hosted garage and yard sales, getting up at first light to display our treasures to the early-bird shoppers. We’ve haggled and negotiated. We’ve argued the value of lava lamps and 45 rpm recordings by Frankie Vail. (Did you know they have both an “A” side and a “B” side?)

We’ve watched potential buyers appraise our offerings–unaware of the memories they hold. And as the sun sinks in the west we’ve made our final transactions, not really paying someone to take the stuff off our hands, but almost. And as we carried the leftovers back into the house and counted our profits, we’ve discovered our income was about four dollars below minimum wage, and that we still had most of our stuff.

What is it about people and stuff? Do we really believe possessing more stuff will make us happy? Or have we learned the opposite is true? Are we really happier owning the big house of our dreams, with the big mortgage, the four car garage, the boat, and the RV, the ATV, and the SUV? Or are all these just more stuff to take care of?

And if happiness does lie in the abundance of our possessions, why are so many of our best memories of times when we had very little–growing up in a poor but loving family, starting life with hardly anything but dreams and love as newlyweds?

For twenty years or so, my day job has been writing novels about a young cowboy-turned-lawman named Merlin Fanshaw in 1880s Montana. Merlin’s possessions are a couple of horses, a saddle, a change of clothes, and a Colt’s revolver and Winchester rifle, the tools of his trade.

His possessions are few, but his abundance is in his friends, the plains and mountains of Montana, and the help and hope he brings to others. From what my readers tell me, Merlin’s abundance is the kind many of them envy, and would gladly share–at least in their imaginations.

Works for me. Maybe less stuff really is the right stuff.

About stan

Author of eight novels featuring the adventures of Deputy U.S. Marshal Merlin Fanshaw, Stan Lynde is a fourth-generation native Montanan and the creator, author, and artist of two highly acclaimed syndicated cartoon strips, Rick O'Shay and Latigo. He lives in Cuenca, Ecuador, with his wife, Lynda.
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3 Responses to Belonging To Our Stuff

  1. Bonnie Bowman says:

    So true!

  2. David Ellen says:

    Nobody has more obsessive/compulsive keeping of stuff than I do. I inherited it from my Dad, who lived through the Depression and WWII. He never threw away anything that had a potential use, and he usually did get around to it but slowly. Once, for example, he made a tire pump out of an old refrigerator compressor and a lawnmower chassis. He’s been gone since 1995, and we’re still getting rid of things he collected. His favorite Sunday cartoon, by the way, was Rick O’Shay.

    I will probably never get rid of my books, even though they are running me over. Especially my signed books. They are too precious.

    • Stan Lynde says:

      Thanks for writing, David. Like your Dad, people who lived through the Great Depression seem to have become more frugal, and collectors of anything that might conceivably be of use. My grandmother saved string from the grocer in an ever-growing ball, and our ranch blacksmith shop had every conceivable piece of rusty hardware . “Planned obsolescence” is a concept that generation wouldn’t understand at all.

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