This blog post was written by Tamatha Thomas-Haase, Campowerment community member and co-founder of Grand Exit — conversation-starting conversations about living~dying~living on. She shares her perspective on ‘stuff’ during this season of Spring Cleaning and what it means to share our lives through what we hold onto.
Truth be told, my stuff has always meant a great deal to me.
Everything from a branch covered in twine I found at the beach last summer to a pair of pink boots worn religiously by my daughter when she was little. Furniture with dents in it from years of use to a brand-new lamp that called to me from across the store; stuff with purpose and stuff with little purpose; stuff from elementary school, and a corsage from senior prom (duh!). I have a tiny pinecone sitting on top of a framed picture of my grandmother and a little game piece that says “hug” that I move to a different spot in the house every time I clean.
Lots of stuff.
I think this deep attachment to my possessions is deeply rooted in growing up an Army brat. We moved every other year or so, never owned our homes, never knew where we were going next…but my stuff, our stuff, always came with us – it meant we were “home.”
As you can likely imagine and possibly even relate to, as I grew older my collection of stuff also grew.
Since having my daughter, well, I now keep her stuff (just in case she may one day want her favorite childhood toys, books, mementos, dioramas, outfits, dress-up wigs, report cards…).
However, over the past few years, I have been methodical and intentional in cutting my stuff. Partly because my living circumstances required it – we have moved to homes that continue to be smaller and smaller and simply couldn’t withstand the countless Rubbermaid totes that housed so many of my “treasures,” and partly because my dying circumstances required it –
I am living with metastatic triple negative breast cancer and do not want to leave my family with the heartache of getting rid of things I could not.
That isn’t to say it has been easy. This is the contradiction embedded in our stuff – and in ourselves, possibly: we hold on to things that may no longer serve us, serve a purpose, or as Marie Kondo implores – spark joy – out of fear, obligation, emotional attachment, or the notion that one day it may again be needed or desired.
These days, it also seems that having a lot of stuff says something about who we are – our professional success or our means. As I have sold, given away or tossed so many possessions recently, I tried (try) to answer the question,
“What about me will not be known or understood if I get rid of this?”
I mostly think about my daughter as I answer this question. What I realize pretty quickly every time is that 1) there are things she simply will never know about me – whether I’m alive or dead; and 2) a letter written to me by my high school true love won’t give her a fuller picture of who I was/am. Nor will a designer handbag or a new pair of shoes I don’t need.
“Things” simply can’t tell our stories for us – we must be the tellers and yes, sometimes, stuff helps us to do this.
Every time my daughter wears one of my old high school athletic tournament t-shirts (which she stopped me from getting rid of a few months ago!), I know she knows just how large a part team sports played in my childhood and that despite cancer taking my wellness, I was once a fierce athlete.
She likes when people ask her about the shirts and I, of course, love that she is telling stories about my life. I like to think she pulls these shirts out on days she needs a bit of connection. Of course, it could be the case that she simply ran out of clean clothes.
For now, I have told my husband and daughter that they have my permission to get rid of everything that remains after I die – without guilt or obligation to hold on to a single thing.
[My Campowerment friend] Freda knows she gets my gold hoop earrings. Colleen knows she gets my Kitchen Aid mixer. Harper, my diamond stud earrings. If there is something of mine you want, please just let me know and I’ll add you to the list!
Stuff that I’ve held on to? I must be able to see and touch my books. I must have art on the walls that sends me instantly to a moment of loving connection – current or past. Small treasures and pictures of those I adore remain, along with 3 purses, letters my dad wrote to me during Desert Storm, and my high school letter jackets. Admittedly, so too do the pink boots.
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Want to continue this, and other, conversations-starting conversations on living, dying & living on? Check out Grand Exit wherever you listen to podcasts.
From the campfire & beyond…