The Lines Between People & Possessions
People tend to show their love and wealth through possessions. One of the first things I did when my Dad visited this past weekend was to hand him a few trinkets I bought him from Japan. Even as I bought them, I knew that they weren’t items he wouldn’t be able to live without but I felt it necessarily to come back with something. To me, coming back with a few items in plastic bags with foreign script says I was thinking about you, and I wanted to share part of my experience with you even though we are apart.
Stuff is deeply ingrained in us, but we love to hate it. Who hasn’t looked at a bird in some metaphoric way, through literature or music or just watching one in the open sky? Free as a bird is more than a cliche — I think it’s part of the American dream. But birds aren’t trudging around with packs behind them. Light and airy equals is freedom. When you buy a house or settle down in some way, you put down “roots.” Grounded.
I realize I’m writing in circles here, but I’ve been thinking a lot about stuff lately. Packing up and preparing to move, I’m realizing that I have a lot of stuff. That’s not an unusual theme for someone who’s moving, and shedding my excess items has mostly been a happy process.
Although I love crafting/painting and I love my elaborate collection of holiday wrapping paper and bows, it brings me no sadness to pack all of those items up to gift to a friend in town. Selling excess horse items on Facebook is only annoying due to the fact that I have to run to the post office twice a week. Bagging up all the clothes that either don’t great or make me feel amazing has been liberating.
At this point in my life, I realize that the real joy for me is in experiences versus things. Kayaking with my dad over the weekend in Town Lake left a longer lasting impression than your average gift or token. The problem for me right now is that a lot of my stuff belongs to a person I can no longer have experiences with. Tim and I won’t go kayaking or traveling, and there will be no more Christmas presents I give or receive from him. When the experiences are over, does the stuff rise above?
I got rid of a lot of things after he died. Sold the high value, non-sentimental items. Donated the slacks and button down shirts. Shipped some things to family or friends. What I’m going through now is a third tier of downsizing. Some choices are easier than others.
Two years out, I don’t need to hold on to all his old glasses – especially the ones I accidentally smashed one time when we were… um, “watching Netflix.” The story outlasts the item in that case.
The Buddha tray that’s been in the kitchen for ten years, something he picked up from an Asian market in DC is going. The same with the little ceramic lovebirds he surprised me with at an art studio in Mississippi, and the stuffed otters from the New Orleans aquarium. I look at items like that, and I am immediately back in the place — standing next to Tim again, watching the sleek otters curve and glide around one another in the cool blue light by the tank.
But there’s so much I can’t keep, and that kills me a little right now. Even if I wanted, I don’t have room for the fancy motorcycle jacket I got him for his birthday that he loved. There’s not space in the closet for his favorite corduroy blazer with the leather elbow patches. Before I put it in the Goodwill bag, I fold the jacket in half and hug it. It smells like him. It feels like him. It breaks my heart, because I squeeze it too tightly and there’s no flesh behind the fabric. I am standing alone in my kitchen hugging an empty coat I can’t keep.
If these were items I saw and touched every day, or even once a year, I’d probably keep them. But the reality is, that jacket he loved so much has been in the linen closet untouched since I moved out of the house. It brings me no comfort in my daily life. The only reason it’s hard to let go of, is because I have less and less of the person it belonged to. I have to routinely sharpen the memories to keep them, and here I am shedding more of his things as I prepare to move without him.
It’s a move, but not a move on. There is no moving on — without or without the things. The loss isn’t something I get past, but something I live with. At this moment, I’m trying to live with less of him around.
9 thoughts on “The Lines Between People & Possessions”
Man, the paragraph about squeezing the empty coat hit me so hard. Beautifully written and heartwrenching all at the same time.
Really good writing. Easy to say they are just things but the memories attached are not “just” anything.
Beautifully written… stuff is so emotional sometimes. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to deal with Tim’s stuff. My Dad died when I was 15 and I can still remember insisting on keeping a mickey mouse sweatshirt of his. I wore it until it fell apart. I actually still have the old English saddle he bought me the summer before he died…it is 30+ years old and falling apart, but I can’t bear to part with it yet. I’ve told myself the next time I move it should probably go.
Is there any way to have a pillow made out of the jacket with the elbow patches? Just a thought…maybe it would be too hard to look at every day. Man, life is sure tough.
You could have the clothes made into a throw if you haven’t already donated. Project repat can use most any type of fabric in their quilts (probably not the leather though).
I’ve had a similar difficult time getting rid of some of my step mom’s things that became mine after she passed. Slowly but surely, I’ve whittled down to just the most meaningful. It’s not easy though and surely takes time to realize which things means more than others.
Yup! I actually have a quilt my mom made me of a lot of his t-shirts. These are the leftovers after donating + that quilt.
I know all about how hard it is to move and purge and decide what stays. It is a freeing process when you are done though, you are right there.
I relate to this so much -both the ‘roots’ thing and the possessions piece. Being on state 5 in six years, I’m at the point where it just freaks me out to think about commitment to a place. On one hand, I want a place of my own where I can paint, garden, change, but actually owning something with that long of a commitment freaks. me. out.
Per the possessions, I had a 12 place setting set of china I inherited from my grandmother (my second set of china) that wasn’t my taste, I didn’t want to move across the country, but felt guilty getting rid of. I’ve found a lot of peace donating those things to specific programs. So the china went to a local family who had just moved into a house from a motel, work clothes go to a Dress for Success program, toiletry products to a DV shelter. Knowing the items keep giving makes me feel better than just sending to Goodwill.
<3 I like getting rid of things because I do it slowly and relive all the moments tied to the things I am shedding. Sometimes that makes it harder to let go, but I like knowing those things fulfilled their purpose with me one last time before moving on.
I think part of the reason I have an extensive bookshelf is to have a place to put all the small items I want to keep. Invitations, postcards, letters, pressed flowers. All these sorts of things are lovingly stowed in my books to be discovered randomly at a later date. I'm not one to leave my books for long without paging through them again (most of my library is reference, but the literature is well thumbed). Finding a postcard from an old friend recounting a moment in time long ago is such a welcome surprise when I open a book to retrieve a bit of old knowledge. Plus, it helps knowing my books are right there holding memories of love all the time. Ready at any moment to help me through.
Sometimes we get too caught up in showing our worth with things.