Friday, July 17, 2009

Possessed

The Garage Kenosis Project continues at our house, as we sift through the contents of two previous homes and try desperately to get as much as possible out of the office space in the rear of our detached garage so we can be about the business of turning it into a family office and "woman cave" -- a space with a cottage feel without the added expense and upkeep, and only a few dozen yards from the house.

It never ceases to amaze me how much stuff we have both collected, and why I brought so much stuff with me over here, instead of throwing it or giving it away when I had the chance. Well, I know why -- because I got the offer on my house and was then given only a couple of weeks to move out; toward the end we were just tossing things into moving boxes.

But that was then and this is now. So far I have donated two very large boxes of clothing to the local mission, as well as boxes of unused medical supplies dating back to Fellow Traveler's major operation shortly before we met. After our garage sale we donated leftover furniture, books, tools, collectibles and assorted tschotchkes to the yard sale of the ELCA congregation down the highway, and in the last week, after opening boxes of "keeper" items we'd saved before our sale and reevaluating them, I found myself filling at least one big box with duplicate kitchen equipment and dishware fated for our own congregations' big Labor Day weekend yard sale.

Things. So many things. At times I feel like Alice in Wonderland in Sir John Tenniel's illustration where she's being bombarded by flying playing cards...except instead of cards I'm being pelted with superfluous mismatched juice glasses and silverware and mixing bowls.

Recently on the Ship of Fools a discussion ensued on possessions, and I found myself arguing against a broad application of the "sell all you have" asceticism in service to the Gospel that Jesus advocates for some who come to him. It was suggested that Jesus' words weren't intended only for the spiritual elite but for everyone, and that those on my side of the debate were practicing a bit of eisegetic Scripture reading to salve our guilty consciences. I still don't agree; but I do agree that possessions have a tendency to take over our lives and priorities.

And it's not just a matter of greedy acquisition. Most of my stuff, for instance, represented a 50+-year accumulation of a very modest working-class family; and a good proportion of it was worthless -- just family documents that had been stored for decades. But it's the learning to periodically take stock of it and if necessary let go of it that gets hard, particularly if we're preoccupied with other things. Otherwise stuff can just grow and grow until the anxiety involved in accomodating it spacewise, caring for it and wondering, in a vague way, what's to become of it push more important (not to mention more interesting) issues out of the priority queue. It's a form of attachment, even if it's not a positive emotional attachment; it's like a sticker from a weed lodging itself in one's sock during a hike and then constantly scratching against one's ankle.

We were frantic to clear out the front part of the garage. That has now been cleared out, and Fellow Traveler has done a beautiful job storing our garden tools and other such items vertically, on the walls, to free up space. Now that that's done and our studio space is more or less set up and ready for business, we've given ourselves permisison to empty the back room in a more gradual way. My personal goal is to rid the floor of one box per day. And it's become easier. The other day I found the box where we'd hastily thrown all my family cookbooks. It would have been easy to linger over every magazine recipe my mother or aunt had cut out, every manufacturer's cookbook Mom had sent for back as a newlywed in the 50's, books I recall fondly from my childhood -- but I tried to stay focused on what documents were truly useful and/or truly keepsakes. And I wound up throwing most of it away.

I'm trying hard to make this new spaciousness a household baseline for the future, so we're no longer so possessed by our possessions.

2 comments:

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

As usual, you write in a creative way about some of the things we all might think of in our daily lives, but in a prosaic way. I wrote about too much stuff on my blog on June 25. But that wasn't my "too much stuff" although, I will confess to that, as well. But we've been trying to get the young-adult kids to take some responsibility for their stuff that is stored here, so it is on my mind for those reasons, as well. Plus, I'm sure I'll get roped into helping clean out my mom's house, which I dread. I'm not inheriting it, so should I feel obligated to help?

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

PS by PS, the local Thrift Shop sells most items for $.25 - $1.00. Just goes to show that so many people have "too much stuff" thereby devaluing almost all used items.