3rdGradeClass GCandMM HamiltonBlender MeriandTuck

What Do You Do With All The Old Stuff?

Runner-Up Glass Mountain Annual Poetry & Prose Contest


“This is a comic meditation on the meaning of ‘stuff,’ bestowing upon the ordinary the qualities of grail-like importance.”

(Toni Nelson, Contest Judge)

I’m on my fifth month of meticulous house cleaning. And by that I mean cleaning out my 1,600 square foot house…completely. The job of building a new home over the course of a year means me, Gary (my partner) and Tucker (my 13 year-old son) must take up temporary residence in a 1,000 square foot apartment along with Kaylee, our cantankerous cat.

So there has been the move into the apartment and the move into the storage unit. This requires incredible vision (mainly on my part I might add) - a look into our future – what do we need now and what can we live without for the next 12 months? And what should be trashed, recycled, sold or donated? How does one give up the ghosts? It’s a task I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy (actually, it's just the sort of thing I would).

The men in my life have no problem with this division of property. They packed some stuff then said, “I don’t care what you do with everything else. I’ve got what I need in this box.”

How can they be so cavalier toward their stuff? How can they not look through every book and re-read their highlighted paragraphs? How can they not try on their clothes to see what no longer fits, what sort of fits, what might fit later on? How can they not care about photographs, old magazines, letters received and sent (did they not make copies of the really good ones they mailed)?

I tell myself it’s because they know I will save their stuff for them (which I will). But, when faced with the reality of how quickly they went through their stuff and what little stuff they’re keeping (compared to my mountains of stuff), it really comes down to my own sentimentality about the shit I own and my need to hang onto things that are archaic (a pink, plastic egg slicer my mother used 50 years ago), broken (a mint colored Hamilton blender I made milkshakes in when I was 10), useless (a 1983 boom box) or just plain wrong (a black velvet, puffy sleeved, glitter-belted dress that dates back to my disastrous first marriage in the early 80's).

My men abandoned me months ago. They could no longer take seeing me spend my time (and theirs) holding up endless items, like a stuffed animal and asking them, “Should I keep Hazel or give her away?” (I kept Hazel, the stuffed animal along with the photo of me at age one when she was brand new). Such things hold no interest for them. And they want no part of this part of me. I can't blame them.

When I drive to my home each day as it continues to fall apart both inside and out, I steel myself for the task ahead. “Merideth, today is when you get it all done!” I tell myself. Only to drive back to the apartment hours later, filled with self loathing for my continuing inability to move on with the move and just be done with it.

It all looked so innocent when I started this task LAST YEAR. Keep a picture here, a chachka there. And now the obscene realization of how that “philosophy” has added up to us schlepping hundreds of boxes in dozens and dozens of carloads to the storage unit or back to our little apartment, where I tell everyone as they trip over them, “I’ll just go through the boxes here.”

“I’m not a hoarder!” I screamed at Gary after another Saturday of him watching me hold up hundreds of slides to the light from a job I did in 1995. “These images may be important to my research on the book I might write someday!” But the H-word stuck and I eventually trashed hundreds of slides, contact sheets and duplicate prints. He’s convinced I’m in need of his “tough love” and will no longer entertain my “Should I keep or give away?” dilemma.

I’m on my own now. The rainy season has begun. Even the house is letting me know it’s time to go -- there’s no fixing the hole in the roof, washing away the mildew on the ceiling, repairing the broken windows or replacing doors that no longer close. The house is shifting, the floorboards are coming up and I’m pretty sure the rats come in to get out of the cold after I leave when it’s too dark to see (electricity and water having been turned off months ago). She is sinking under the weight of the 89 years she has lived. As I am under the weight of the stuff I have collected and need to let go of.

I’d love to continue this story, but there are boxes to go through. My son says he doesn’t want his Skylander figurines, but what does he know? I secretly box them up, so one day he can display them on his dorm room shelf where his friends will come by and say, “Boy, I wish my mom had kept mine!”