Time Waits for No Stuff
Originally published on The Bucket
I’ve been going through a lot of stuff lately. Literally. Since the day after Christmas when I sat down with my two adult children whose contributions to the mountain of mess in our basement rival only my own, that’s about all I’ve been doing. And I’ll admit that none of this would be happening – the kids pitching in to help, the junk removal, the charitable donations, the trash hauling, the boxes and bags of recycling – if it weren’t for our home renovation. We need to move everything out of our house and into the basement, something that’s not possible now what with all the stuff down there. But we’ve got a deadline. We’ll get it done.
When we moved to our house nearly three decades ago, the large, unfinished basement was part of our someday plan. Someday, we’ll refinish our basement and put a recreation room down there. Someday, we’ll put an office down there. Truth is, the only thing we actually ended up putting down there was, well, stuff.
We’d buy a new couch and when we had to figure out what to do with the old one, its cushions sagging, its pillows worn, there was plenty of room in the basement.
We’d paint our family room a lovely shade of Serenity Green and we’d want to save the extra paint, just in case. This explains how cans of Serenity Green ended up down there on the cement floor next to cans and cans of Candlelight Yellow, Lavender’s Blue and Terror Alert Orange (don’t ask).
Every time a plumber or carpenter or electrician showed up, it seemed like they took their lead from us. Unused lumber? Rolls of insulation? Rusted pipes and torn screens and disconnected wires? No problem. Just stuff it all down in the basement.
All these years later, I feel like an archaeologist sifting through the ruins, reconstructing my family’s busy life one box at a time.
There are the things we’ve outgrown. Toys, for instance. We’ve got fast cars and slow trains. Building blocks and wrecking balls. Babies that cry real tears and Barbies that like plastic guys. Everything but the kitchen sink. Oh wait, that’s over here, part of a cooking set.
I found clothing packed neatly in boxes with painstaking labels: 3 – 6 months, 18 months – 2 years. Did I really think I was going to need those clothes again? Well, if the changing table and bassinet are any indication, I guess maybe I did.
Then there’s all the stuff we held onto just in case we might need it someday. The 27 cans of tennis balls. The roller blades. Let’s not forget the plaid comforter that went out of style but that might make a comeback if we wait long enough. I’d say we have and that it won’t.
Wait, what’s this? Tucked into a box of drawings by my kids circa grade school, I find a note, a message from my younger self who was running from one thing to the next to my older, and hopefully wiser self. “Hi Reets!” That’s all it says. But I can read between the lines. “I know you’ll find this and surely, by the time you do, your life will be calmer and you’ll have time to sort through all this stuff.”
Over the years, the basement became a receptacle for what we couldn’t deal with at the moment, what we were too busy to dispose of properly and what we just couldn’t bring ourselves to part with.
There’s a lot in that last category down here and it can be surprising. Am I really going to read all the letters I received when I moved to Chicago for graduate school? Is there a reason that some wedding gifts are still down here? Is the business plan from my marketing consulting firm going to come in handy anytime soon? How about the programs from every one of my kids’ piano, band and dance recitals?
Before we finish, I tuck the note into another box for another time when I might one day be moving again, packing and unpacking, sorting and reassessing, thinking and remembering. I don’t have time to write a longer one. But I know I’ll be able to read between the lines.
Thirty years sure went by in a flash. It will happen again.
If you’re lucky.
Better make room for the real stuff.”