Sunset in trees


This is a post I started quite a while ago, have just stumbled across again and so decided to finish.

My wife sent me an article – What It’s Like to Live in a Space the Size of a Closet – about a writer living in a sub 175 sqft apartment in Seattle. It got me thinking about possessions. Paulette talks about how she’s actually found happiness once she got used to the idea of living in such a small space. What really struck me was a comment about stuff. It moved me to read about how she stood in her dad’s house an hour after he died and realized all his prized possessions was stuff that had no meaning to her. I’ve had my own experience being overwhelmed by somebody else’s stuff.

How much stuff we accumulate! I’ve come to be very aware of this fact. A few years ago I moved out of a house I’d spent 13 years in. I had so loved the house when I moved in because it had a basement, a garage, big closets, and a huge forested yard. I loved it for the space and I loved it for the shaded seclusion of that yard. Over the years things accumulated in all that space bit by bit. The clothes my son outgrew, the toys he never played with anymore, tools for the yard and house, implements in the kitchen, boxes of photos and more.

My Ex’s parent passed away suddenly and all of the beloved items of a remembered childhood arrived in our home to sit beloved but in boxes lining the basement and closets. The stuff grew. It felt important, as though I was less without all that stuff.

It overflowed as my mother came to live with me after she left a bad relationship of her own. Her stuff came with her filling the remaining space in the basement. When she moved out much of her belongings stayed. My child grew and his old nursery became a place to store yet more things my Ex couldn’t bear to sort through or part with.

The growth of belongings and ferocity with which they were protected overwhelmed and frightened me. I didn’t see it at the time, but they were an attempt to exercise control over things that couldn’t be controlled. The loss of a parent that couldn’t be controlled or accepted. The unwillingness to accept the growing up and moving on of a child maturing into their own. Eventually I realized my Ex controlled me too. I wasn’t allowed to grow, change or be myself. I had to be who I had always been.

As the relationship finally reached then end of its decade long crumble, I decided I needed to love myself and live my own life on my terms. I moved out and left so much behind. I moved for safety, for my own space, to start to finally live my own life. There wasn’t much to take. Some clothes, some books, A few kitchen things. Stuff that was necessary or the felt vitally important to making it through the first few weeks. Besides my Ex didn’t want me to take much of anything. Still exerting control through stuff.

What little I left with didn’t feel like enough, and yet at the same time it did. Over a few weeks as I started to settle, it became apparent it was enough, plenty in fact. Suddenly that confusion started to make more sense. The overburden of stuff had been as restrictive and suffocating as much as the relationship had been. As my Ex cleared the house to sell it, I wanted none of it. I needed to be free.

It was a chore clearing the decade of detritus in that house. I seethed with resentment at having to deal with somebody else’s problem. Not only was it somebody else’s problem, it was one I had finally felt like I had escaped, yet I was sucked back in, controlled by that pile of stuff one last time. It was a mad, painful dash against time to clear the piles before it sold. I was there cleaning until minutes before the closing.

In the end, it all happened and all the things I didn’t want or need went to a garage sale or donation. I didn’t get a penny for any of its but in the end I got something worth so much more – I was no longer tied to that pile of stuff.  I felt unburdened, clean and free. I wasted so much of my life trapped by things I never needed, by other people’s stuff.

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