Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Stuff of Life

Three years ago the rick-man and I began that difficult process that adults sometimes self impose called “letting go of our stuff.” We (mainly me) were downsizing our “stuff” to fit into a small townhome and condo-on-wheels.  I let go of things that I’d held tight for many years, including my high school tennis letter-“man” jacket.  My definition of home and homestead changed. 
As we unpacked our things into the townhouse, the rick-man filled one of the two precious shelves of our to-be-shared computer desk with his old software programming books. I suggested that this particular set of books might better fill a shelf at a local used book store.  I quickly backed off after his unusually terse response. I realized that he needed those old C++, Windows and Ada (!) books; they were a part of his self identification.  And that was OK.  If he’d suggested I let go of my set of Kingsolver books, I’d have countered with, well, let’s just not go there.  (Of course I read Kingsolver on a yearly basis—a secret luxury of relationship with fictional characters that have become old friends, ready to spend time with me on a moment’s notice.)

And so this past week I got the urge to clean out more of “my” stuff. Three years of townhouse and condo-on-wheels living gave me objective evidence to the stuff of current use and the stuff of past use.  I filled three bags with old hardback books—some that had shared home with me for 30 years.  I emptied the far back corner of my closet from its contents: formal dresses and jackets, each carrying memories of church and work cultures that warranted such attire. I cleaned out drawers of stuff untouched in this three year history--old hobbies and interests of a life from no more land.  And as I piled my stack of stuff by the back door (an intentional “in the way” location to promote timely donation or recycle), I stared at that shelf of programming books.  I still judged them a passive monument to the rick-man’s former work life.  I’d not seen him open a book or turn a page these three years past.


With the best gentle spirit that I could muster, I asked the rick-man about adding his programming books to my own larger stack of books headed for donation.  To my surprise he quickly said, “That would be great!  I never use them—I’d appreciate it if you got rid of them.”  Well, just between you and me, I didn’t remind the rick-man of his response those 3 years ago.  I just happily added his books to my larger “not read in years” pile. 
I find joy in the knowledge that an empty book shelf will soon become filled with new (to us) books that represent the rick-man’s passions of today:  banjo, travel, nature, and more.  I look at that empty shelf and see the goals and interests of today and tomorrow.  I have never been much for man-made monuments to the past--unless of course I can view them from some lovely outdoor venue such as the National Mall.

I’m just beginning to understand that my beliefs, values and opinions are the stuff of my life that I hold tight to, until I’m ready to let them go.  And letting them go usually means I’m making space for personal growth to more current beliefs, values and opinions. The letting go doesn’t mean that I toss aside my core values that represent multi-generations of DNA influence and protestant work ethic.  Letting go of those would be like getting rid of my Kingsolver books. Not while I walk this earth. But it seems I should actively and consciously take an inventory, on occasion, of my beliefs, values and opinions—and ask myself the hard question: are they a monument to my past or are they an active part of my core personhood that I choose to grow and nurture and use—today?
Maybe I’ll put on some Joni Mitchell, open my old, yellowed copy of “Animal Dreams” and think about all this stuff tomorrow.


  1. Love it!! I used to know a woman who was married to an engineer who loved to buy old engineering books at garage sales and book sales. Every time he would bring one home, she would move one off the shelf and put it in a box in the attic. When the box in the attic got full, she would donate the whole box and start a new one. Chances are, he bought the same books more than once. He never knew about the box in the attic. : )

  2. "The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. The most you can do is live inside that hope, running down its hallways, touching the walls on both sides."

    Remember this quote?


  3. This wonderful quote is from Ms. Kingsolver's "Animal Dreams"

    My favorite quote from this book deals with the relationship between truth and memory--the concept that they are relatives but not twins.


  4. Audrey and I have a bookcase in the storage room that has a similar set of programming books, not to mention the books covering ancient versions of Photoshop, etc. It's about time we let some of that stuff go. Maybe when the days get cooler ;-)


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