Re-entry to the world of stuff

I wrote recently about the decision to re-settle ourselves in SE Alaska, ending a two-year roving lifestyle, working and living in temporary clinic housing when we weren’t out of the state traveling.

In the past month we ordered enough household items from Amazon to start life again…we’d sold almost everything when we sold the Ketchikan house in October, 2014, so we had some restocking to do. I have to admit, until now, I wouldn’t have associated Amazon with furniture. But it turns out you can order quite an array…everything you need, in fact. And though what we bought isn’t heirloom quality, it’s solid and looks good, and that’s sufficient for our needs at the moment. I’m not furnishing my dream home with this move.

So this is how you move to Alaska…SE Alaska, anyway. You talk with the barge lines that serve SE Alaska and sort out their timetable, and the various options for shipping. You can use an entire shipping container, 20 or 40 foot (or as many as you need), or you can ship up on pallets. If you ship on pallets, you’re charged by weight, and per hundred-weight, it works out to twice the cost of shipping an entire container. For a container, you pay a flat rate, and whatever you can put in goes for the same flat rate. So that’s the better way to ship, at least for larger volume.

It turns out we had exactly a 20-foot container’s worth of belongings. I think that’s pretty good, actually, for 35 years of marriage. We’ve thinned a lot along the way, so even after replacing furniture and adding the household items I had in storage, we still kept it to a manageable level.

At least, that’s what I thought, until the container was unloaded into the two-car garage at our new place. It was full, with boxes stacked on boxes, three or four levels deep. Suddenly, after a two-year break from possessions, it was overwhelming to look at everything at once.

I can’t deny I’ve done a happy dance or two at the thought of having my kitchen set up again, and it will be lovely to have all my clothes in one place, to see familiar and homey knickknacks again. It will be nice to actually fully unpack my roller bags, and live out of drawers and closets for a change.

But I also can’t deny…there’s a part of me that’s a little suffocated, a little weighed down just looking at all the stuff.

I’ve happily collected and kept my favorite things, and as I get older, I’m pickier about what meets that standard. What is worth holding on to, moving around, and ultimately keeping throughout my life? I think a bit more these days about how much stuff I’ve accumulated, and what I’ll leave to my kids to deal with (one day, far, far in the future!)

When you’ve had an opportunity to live stuff-free for a significant time, as we’ve done the past two years, you see it all a little differently. Yes, the convenience and the comfort of having my own things is enjoyable, and I’m excited to revel in nesting again.

But I also have a wee bit of a feeling that my wings are clipped, that I’ll be more tied down than I have been. And I didn’t expect to feel that. Didn’t expect to experience any negative side to setting up a home again.

Me, the ultimate nester, feeling overwhelmed by my twigs?!

Maybe I just need to clear a few boxes, and get cozy again. But it makes me think about how consumed Americans are with stuff, and getting more stuff, and maintaining stuff. And all this makes me determined to keep some perspective…to be a little less thing-oriented, and see it all for what it is…pleasant filler that makes my day-to-day convenient  and comfortable.

But stuff is not so important to me as it once was. And maybe that’s the lesson of the last two years: I can actually thrive without a lot of it, and as long as the really important elements of my life are in place…health, and family, and nurturing relationships…the other stuff is just that…stuff that fills my garage, and will soften my life. But it doesn’t make my life. I never thought that it did…but coming full circle through all of this brings that reality home to me.

We’re about to enter the season of giving, and getting. I’m thinking more about giving experiences, and the types of gifts that don’t accumulate to pile in the garage or basement, that don’t need sorting and caring for.

This isn’t meant to guilt anyone…we all need things…but just to say, how much is the right amount? And how can we have a healthy relationship with the stuff, instead of being overwhelmed by it?

It’s one of the ongoing conversations I have with myself…what about you? Got a handle on this? Any wisdom to share?

~ Sheila

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What would I take?

I’m sometimes inspired by other blog authors. It’s amazing what a variety of topics people blog about, some of a serious nature, some funny. There are how-to blogs, travel and cooking blogs; parenting and relationship blogs. Some are written as essays. Others have a kind of gritty reality that can be a little unnerving if the subject matter is also gritty.

Now and then I run across a reference to a website that I have to check out for myself. I recently found a website, http://theburninghouse.com/ that poses the challenge to readers: if your house is on fire, what would you save? After you sort that out in your mind, you gather the items and make a photo and submit, along with your list, to the site.

I scanned a few of the entries. As you might expect, the items in some lists seemed randomly chosen. In others, there were the more the practical and sentimental objects most people would select. The photos are interesting. Do you think you could put into one photo the MOST important things (not including people or pets, this is about STUFF) in your home?

I challenged myself to work through this exercise. Not only would it be useful, just in case my house should be on fire and I happen to be around to secure my items to save; but also, thinking it out would help me to assign priority and value. Surely that would be worthwhile.

Turns out, not too much made my list of the essentials. I would grab my purse (has all my cards, id, planner, phone); my iPad; some favorite portraits of my children and family; my jewelry; my recipe collection that has the handwritten and tried and true treasures I’ve accumulated over my adult lifetime; my Bible I’ve had since high school; important documents; a few favorite old books; and a handful of items that I have sentimental attachment to…a few things from family, and from my kids’ childhood. That’s it. The furniture I love, the decorative items, clothing, framed art, kitchen stuff, china, knick-knacks…it’s all good, all meaningful to me. But would I save it from a burning house? No.

So what is really important? Mostly, I would save the things that represent the people that are important in my life: my husband, my children, my family. The portraits and few items that I would save for sentimental reasons are important because I can’t replace them…portraits of my children from years ago, or my wedding, or of family that is no longer here. The books are writings that have been old friends to me for many years, that have taught me and sustained me. The jewelry that I own is not so much valuable as it is meaningful: each piece was given to me by my husband or my parents, or my children. The recipes are full of memories of people who have shared with me, and who have had a place in my life.

Now, to collect everything and make a photo…what would you save? I challenge you to think it through. Hopefully no one has to find out the hard way if this is truly useful…I certainly don’t need a house on fire to help me know what’s important. But it gives context to the question, and gives me insight to myself as I walk through the house and craft my answer.