As the COVID pandemic has forced me to spend almost all of my time at home for more than a year now, I have become increasingly aware of a growing problem that I have been ignoring for far too long. To be blunt, I have too much stuff.
My house is full of stuff. My garage is overflowing with stuff, leaving no room for a car. My basement is overflowing with boxes of stuff squirreled away there over the years, forgotten and destined never to see the light of day. I have stuff that I have accumulated over my seventy years of life on this planet, as well as my wife’s stuff, and a lot of my children’s stuff, set aside as they grew up. Now they are off on their own and have started collecting their own stuff.
I use the term stuff in a very general sense, though I have come to appreciate that there are many varieties of stuff, some of which I can justify keeping and some of which makes me ask myself, why is this stuff still here? For instance, I have always been an avid photographer, so I have literally thousands and thousands of pictures, some framed and hung, some in albums, and the vast majority stuffed into countless boxes. These obviously have sentimental value and throwing any of these away would seem to me to be akin to heresy, like destroying memories or erasing some of my personal history.
Yet a close examination of my photographic collection reveals that many of them are flawed in some way – they are blurred or out of focus, or there are many duplicates of the same thing, or they are of people or places I don’t recognize, or people or places that I do recognize, but would deliberately like to forget. So why don’t I do a massive purge and keep only those that are meaningful? Mostly, because it would be a gargantuan task that would likely take many months of time that I would rather spend on something more productive or enjoyable. In the meantime, to add to the problem, my collection of digital photographs that I have taken more recently has now exceeded a hundred thousand according to my computer.
Papers and files are another sore spot. I have two large filing cabinets bursting with documents of all sorts. These are for what I like to call my “current” files. Down in the basement I have dozens of cartons of what I call my archives. Here can be found such things as my income tax returns for every year since I joined the working world and became a tax-paying citizen over 50 years ago. Here too are copies of minutes, correspondence, reports, speeches, programs and other documentary paraphernalia from my many decades of organizational involvement within the Ukrainian community. I have been saving them purposefully as resource material for writing my biography, which I started doing over a decade ago, and which I will be hard-pressed to finish in the next decade or two. In the meantime, I strive from time to time to go through a carton at a time and shred those that I don’t feel important enough to keep. I have found the process to be both time-consuming and painful, as I have an innate tendency to see everything as too important to throw away. As a result, my archives remain stuck there, largely undiminished, continuing to collect dust down in the basement.
One area that I have made some significant inroads into is my book collection. For most of my life, I have been an inveterate reader, and as such have collected a large number of books of all kinds. At its peak, my collection numbered in the thousands of books. With the coming of the digital age, I found that most of my reading shifted from hard copy printed works, to digital screen-based media. Over the past few decades, I have disposed of most of my books by donating a lot to the local library, giving away many to friends, relatives and acquaintances, and many just wound up in paper recycling bins. Yet, despite all these efforts, I find that I still have hundreds of books that I just can’t bear to part with.
The same holds true for the huge collection of art, ceramics, carvings, knick-knacks, chachkas, souvenirs and other dust collectors that I have acquired during my life and travels. I have enough to open my own museum, though to be frank, most of them have more nostalgic than actual tangible artistic value. These too, are incredibly difficult to just throw or give away, though realistically, I realize that when my wife and I have both shuffled off our mortal coils, these will likely be unceremoniously trashed by our heirs and descendants. What is meaningful and valued nostalgia for one individual, is just junk to most everyone else.
One other thing I have difficulty in managing is my collection of clothes. A quick check of my closet shows that I have 27 pairs of pants hanging there, half of which likely never get used. One of my dresser drawers currently holds over fifty pairs of socks, and another some forty sets of underwear. Every year or two, I winnow out seldom used or outdated clothes and either dispose of them or donate usable ones to a charity. Regardless, every year it seems there is less and less room in my closets and dressers.
So there it is; I am a stuff-aholic. I admit it. I think it is a terminal condition.