I had guests at our Arizona home a few weeks ago, and I got asked a very interesting question. It was, “Where is your stuff?” I looked around the home, which is downsized to 1,600 square feet. There is artwork hanging over the living room sofa, there’s a collage of decor on the kitchen wall. I have my “wall of fame,” the wall of some of our ancestors and family. I have another decorative wall in the front foyer. The bedrooms have some art hanging. I have a bookcase that along with books also has photos and a few nicknacks. Am I supposed to own more “stuff” than that?
When I was a child I was a terrible cleaner. I would be told to go to my room to clean it, and I had no idea where to start. On occasion, my oldest sister would come in the room and make a game out of my cleaning. She would tell me that she would count to 7 and see if I could pick up a particular garment, and get it put away in the proper drawer or closet. She counted to different numbers just to have me scampering through my room picking up and getting my room orderly.
I didn’t get that cleaning up skill until much later in life. Of course, as a teenager, I was a disaster. I guess I wasn’t much better when I was in college. My dad told me I couldn’t get married until I cleaned my room. In the spring of my senior year, I got engaged. I call my friend back home to tell her the good news, and her first questions was, “Did you clean your room?” Funny, Dee Dee! My response to her was that I think my dad was glad to get messy me out of the house!
I did struggle with house cleaning. When I was 10 years old, my mom hired a cleaning lady. She came once a week to change all the bedding, vacuum all the rooms, clean bathroom fixtures, scrub floors, and overall give the house a nice clean look. My mom had worked with my dad for years, and as their business became successful, she became busier, but also now had the income to hire some cleaning help. The downside of that, I didn’t learn how to scrub floors, and toilets. Some lady came to our home weekly to do these duties when I was the age to learn these new skills. Thus, into my adulthood, I struggled with knowing how to clean properly. I muddled my way though it and got better at it as I practiced. Having four children within six years caused a lot of “stuff” to be laying around the house—there were toys, baseball cards, bicycles, and everything else that four little boys owned to add to the clutter of the home.
Eventually they all grow up and they all move away. Now it seemed really easy to keep everything clutter free and clean. But, in the basement lurked shelving that held old stuff. Anything I didn’t know what to do with ended on those shelves in the basement. Amongst those shelves were also things that belonged to my children, that as they moved away, they left their “stuff” lurking on those shelves. Not only on the shelves—there toys that the grandkids played with over the years, things I inherited when my parents died, furniture that my kids left that no longer had a home—just lots of “stuff.”
Fast forward a few more years, and I meet Dennis. Birds encircle our heads. They sang songs of love, and the next thing you know, I am engaged, selling my home, and moving 90 miles away to where he lives. What do I do with all that stuff, especially the stuff lurking in the basement?
Packing my belongings on the main level of the home was pretty simple. All my furniture went with me since it was only a few years old. I loved my dishes and my cookware, and it all came along. I finally started posting photos on Facebook of things in the basement. I had an old sewing machine, a couple 6’ tables, a couple desks, and lots of toys. I offered these items free to anyone who was interested. The big stuff went. Old televisions and computers went to a place that does whatever they do to them—I don’t know, but they happily take them! The boys had cleared out anything of theirs they wanted. What was left was trash and shelving. We got rid of the trash and took the shelves for the large garage of my new home.
Fast forward another five years, and Dennis and I are having a home built in Arizona. We will be snowbirds for a while, and then eventually, make the new home our permanent home. We decided to put our Missouri home on the market. This home is almost 4,000 square feet. It is a big box that holds lots of “stuff.” We knew we would stay around Missouri for a while, but we didn’t want to be bogged down by a large home, and we know some wonderful family will want to live there. We started clearing out the house, closet by closet. We donated thousands of items, and that is not an exaggeration. Just to get an idea, we donated 2,434 books. Yes, I inventoried everything donated. At first it was hard to make decisions of little things in the house. We always asked our children if they wanted any of the “stuff,” and of course, for the vast majority of the items, there was no interest. As we continued going through the process, letting go got easier. We realized the stuff was only stuff. It was not our parents or other loved ones. We have memories and photos (all digitized on our computers). We kept a few items, but not many—things that really brought either one of us joy.
When we got ready to close on our home in Arizona, we purchased new furniture. Only two items came from our Missouri home — the rocking chair and the monkey lamp. We did bring the artwork and photos, that hung on the Missouri walls, to Arizona since it will be our permanent home in the future. But, the question I was asked a few weeks ago is true, there is not a lot of “stuff” in the house. There is furniture and decor, and a few memorabilia items. On the whole it is a clean slate.
I love the house that way. I am now pretty good at cleaning, and it is so much easier to clean when there isn’t stuff everywhere. I love open floor plans with clear areas for movement. I look around and I see lots of stuff, but from other’s point of view it is missing 50 years of collecting stuff. It is so freeing not to worry about these things. We can get the house clean from top to bottom in no time, and we get to spend our time hiking mountains, or visiting with friends and family.
Where is all my stuff? It’s in my heart. My memories of wonderful years, that I don’t need a piece of paper or a trinket to remind me. My stuff is my faith, and my husband, our children and grandchildren, our extended relatives, and our friends. That is our “stuff,” and I like that just fine.