How much stuff does a person need?
I come from generations of consummate packrats. So the myriad cardboard boxes that followed me when I moved across the US to Seattle had historical context. When I moved back to Ohio, my boxes traipsed back too, cardboard tails between cardboard legs. Many of the same boxes. Those boxes haunted me for years. In quiet moments, they tugged at me; I should really sort those out, I’d think, organize them by topic, label, categorize, get some swankier boxes, see if I really want to keep all that…all that what? Who knew what was in those boxes; in my nightmares, the piles coalesced into a towering grey jumble of things I needed, treasures, placeholders–so I could remember every detail of the miles I’d traveled. A buffer from the terror of forgetting.
Finally, moving into a smaller house forced me to face the boxes, to peel away layers of myself, my history, things I thought I couldn’t live without. Boxes and bags of stuff were sold at yard sales, given to friends, donated to charity, left for trashpickers at the curb. (The cumulative feeling of all this letting go was heady exhilaration. What I had left were the really important things, and, dross gone, I saw those things more clearly. Like editing an overfull sentence down to a few perfect words. My only regret is a pair of well-worn cowboy boots some early bird swooped up for $10 one of the yard sales. But if I truly need cowboy boots again, I’ll find something better.)
Like frozen matter, stuff calcifies with the myth of memory, stuff collects felty dust, stuff dictates how we live. Why is it so hard to let go of stuff, even stuff that’s broken, spent, forgotten, rotten, moldy, stuff that triggers sad memories…stuff that should long ago have been given over to the cockroaches? Stuff threatens to suffocate, bury; stuff becomes an unbearable burden. When I walk through the hall, the precarious pile of my stuff, even in my phantom-limb memory, slides to the floor, slippery as dead fish.
I saw something today in this partially unfrozen waterfall near where I live. The spring melt allows the water to move, unobstructed by ice, flowing on to the next experience. New memories to remember, to move through, and let go. A good start.