The Grief Connected to Stuff

Ever since we started talking about RVing, people would get excited for us and ask us where we planned to go and what we planned to do. Everyone was happy for us and not a few said their husbands had a dream to do the same. But for a while when people would ask me if I was excited, that’s not what I was feeling. You see, from the time we began seriously considering moving into a travel trailer, I knew certain things would have to change, so I set about changing them. And that brought up a lot of unexpected emotions.

I had a large spice cabinet, and lots of recipe books. It was one of the things that we did together from the time we fell in love. But there’s not room in a travel trailer for two cupboards full of spices. So, I set out to go through the spice cabinet and the recipe books. And immediately encountered strong resistance in myself, and went to bed instead. After putting it off for a while, I went in and did it, and of course it only took a few minutes to decide on what was essential and what really represented past attempts to try something new, some of which hadn’t worked out all that well and that I honestly didn’t want to try and repeat. (Some things are just better to eat out than try to replicate at home, I’ve found.) So I did that. But I had that little bit of grief, thinking that all this is gonna change… (it turns out that it has, but in good ways, and it’s fine – we still cook plenty, and we have a nice kitchen area, but it’s just different now).

The next thing was the books. My bookshelf represented my intellectual, spiritual, and emotional growth of the past decade. It also represented my good intentions to read those good and serious books someday. And that one that so-and-so gave me, and the other one that so-and-so recommended. I had to admit that most of the books I had were either meant to impress a visitor, or to remind myself of something I was proud of, or were just vague slightly guilt-inducing reminders to spend my time wisely doing something hard and important. I created a journal entry titled “My Intellectual, Spiritual, and Emotional Growth – in Books” and recorded chronologically everything I had read. Then I donated all the books to the local Unitarian Universalist Fellowship reading room. I kept the handful of books that I had actually read more than once and would either want to read again or refer to. I kept the other handful of books that I actually intended to read but hadn’t yet, ones I’d read because I was genuinely interested in reading them. It felt good to relieve myself of the burden of all that serious important reading that I didn’t really want to do. I donated them to a thrift store to fuel someone else’s good intentions.

Clothes and shoes weren’t all that hard really, though it turns out I had more shoes than my wife did, and I had 14 pairs of jeans, about 6 of which made me feel like a big fat baggy rectangle. Donate. Shirts I kept because I felt bad about getting rid of them, because my wife picked them out for me. But I didn’t really like them and I was keeping them I guess because I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. Which weren’t hurt because they probably cost a few bucks at a 2nd hand store. Donate.

Going through the boxes in the basement was slightly harder. It meant admitting to myself that some of the accouterments of past or future hobbies had actually been collecting dust the entire 7 years we’d lived in the house. Will I ever do this? Or do I need new hobbies? Donate.

The hardest was going through The Box of Stuff. The Box of Stuff included all the pictures of the family members I was estranged from, the old journals from when I was a teenager, and then from the end of my first marriage and after getting divorced – emotionally raw, cringe-worthy, full of insipid poetry and semi-conscious self-deception, resentment, obsession, and all manner of yuck. So I thought anyway. Turns out, as I spent time over a couple of months in the wintertime reacquainting myself with myself that I was able to make friends with those younger versions of me, gain some new perspectives, acknowledge the truth of some of the stuff I wasn’t so proud of, but it didn’t really bother me anymore. Who cares, it’s all just home movies. Everyone has theirs. I found that I was liking this finding out who I was thing, and I also enjoyed watching some home videos from when I was a kid, and watching some of my wife’s home videos of when her kids were young. Since we had only been together the past 7 years or so, this was also a way we were getting to know each other.

Another thing we did with those boxes of stuff was get a scanner and scan photos, cards, and other ‘flat’ keepsakes. Much easier to keep in that format – safely backed up on the cloud and hard drive both. We did keep printed pictures too, but cut them down by a lot. Finally got all those VHS tapes transferred to DVD by a guy that did it for a few bucks each.

Another challenge was The Kids Stuff. You know, the 1st grade papers, the 3rd grade recognition thing, the hand drawn stuff. And then stuff from when the kids were older which I was hanging on to. I kept some of it, scanned or took pictures of the rest, wrote about them, documented and reminisced and felt feelings – then got rid of most of the things. Some of these things represent a past which is gone, some of it pleasant, some of it painful. Some of these things are dead dreams. It weighs a lot to carry those around with you, no matter how much storage you have underneath. I sent some things to my kids which were theirs to do with what they wanted (after taking pictures of all of them). It was bittersweet to let go of some of those things. But in a week, I felt a hundred pounds lighter. (I checked, I wasn’t. I also ate a lot of ice cream while going through all that stuff from the past, I’ll admit.)

Grief isn’t just when someone dies. Little griefs happen all the time when things change, when something or someone leaves you. Some of the letting go is a struggle – but it’s the resistance to letting go of it that creates the discomfort: once I actually did it (after feeling the resistance, and sometimes just going with it for a while and waiting until I felt like doing the thing), I felt fine. Like I had taken enough time with it, like I had been careful to listen to myself.

And now, I can say, I’m having a ball, and the adventure is exciting. Even if it’s just regular life, but in a small space in a different place. Life is fresh and new. Not only because of what we went towards, but also because of what we let go of.

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