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January 25, 2009

The Tyranny of The Stuff

-5 I have never been into stuff. Never a huge shopper, not a collector, nor a coveter of electronics or cars. I’ve never been good at keeping track of stuff, nor maintaining it. I would never take a job as supply clerk, inventory manager or buyer.    

 So how did I end up being all those things? As I look around at my house and family, I realize that most of my motherly tasks and frustrations are all about The Stuff. And, Lord, how I hate The Stuff.

As soon as I got pregnant, it began with The Stuff. The reading about Stuff I Will Need, the debating about which I really need and which will actually impede my relationship with my child. The storage of or disposal of mountains of gifts, the showing of appreciation either heartfelt or fake. The eviction of adult stuff – more than half of our books and several pieces of furniture – to make room in our 750-square-foot apartment for the future infant’s stuff, which would outweigh her by a ratio of 1,000:1.

   

Then came the care and keeping track of The Stuff. I thought my husband and I would be equal partners in parenting, and in many ways, we are. Except when it comes to The Stuff. From the beginning, I was the one who chose the storage solutions and decided how to organize the tiny onesies and the nasal aspirator and the infant Tylenol drops, and I was the one who needed to be awakened just after breastfeeding and falling back to sleep, because the man who can fix a whole company’s most puzzling software problems cannot locate a burp cloth.

Now, 11 years into our marriage, our living space has doubled, and so has our family size. Yet – despite a basically frugal and nonmaterialistic lifestyle – it our stuff has much more than doubled. It has multiplied by a factor of 100. I think of all the material things we’ve shed over the years – all the trips to Goodwill, the rummage sale, the Freecycle offers – and I wonder how it is possible that every surface I look at in my house seems piled with The Stuff. And the very worst stuff repository is the place I cannot see – the basement, where half unpacked moving boxes still sit from our arrival in this house nearly two years ago, nearly hidden by piles of stuff we’ve carted down there every time we need to straighten up for company or the cleaning lady.

Being frugal and trying to be environmentally responsible doesn’t help. I wouldn’t say that I’m a hoarder, but I’m not likely to give away or discard a toy that I will probably need in a couple years for the next baby. I’d rather store it, and I think that would be fine, if only I was more on the ball about secreting it in an appropriate place instead of piling it by the basement door to be carried down when I get a chance. With two little Mischief Gnomes in the house, chances are that by the time I get a chance to carry the item downstairs, it will have disappeared into the back corner of a bedroom.

I often feel that mylife's work is that of a drone in an ant colony, keeping the tunnels clear of obstructions, while all the other ants are dropping debris willy-nilly.

 And yes, I know what I need to do – declutter, get rid of stuff, avoid bringing new stuff in. Process the stuff that is sitting around waiting for action – for repair, for mailing, for donating, for storage. But this takes time, time that I rarely seem to have in my grasp as I spend my days putting out fires; putting the older kid in time out for the third time of the morning, wiping up the younger one’s juice spill and asking the husband why she wasn’t given a cup with a lid. Which was because the husband couldn’t find a lid, because sippy cups and lids and valves are among the most vexing of the 19,000 pieces of Stuff for which I and I alone am responsible. Why can’t I keep a few matching sippies and lids and valves in the house, instead of 23 cups and 5 lids, only two of which match up? It’s not that I haven’t implemented Stuff Management systems, with subsystems for Sippy Cup/Lid/Valve Matchups, Mitten and Hat Availability, and Toy Rotation. It’s just that all my systems have failed.

Like I said, I’ve never been good at The Stuff.

Original Chicago Moms Blog post. When Carrie should be purging The Stuff, she is usually instead writing about parenting at My Funny, Funny Family or about spending less on groceries at Shoplifting With Permission. Photo by Hassan Abdel-Rahman, used by Creative Commons license.

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