posts tagged with 'stuff'
Zion and a friend played wonderfully for two or three hours today, with no fighting, no adult intervention, and plenty of wonderful imaginative games. We had camp going on so there were other kids around, but except for a few minutes here are there the two of them were content to ignore the rest of the goings-on and concentrate on their shared storytelling. It was wonderful! It was only this evening that we saw the aftermath: one ficus tree badly damaged and two books—including one library book—with pages torn out and ripped up.
It makes me sad when my kids break up a lego creation that I made—sometimes even one that they made!—so you can imagine my reaction to damage to a 10-year-old potted plant or a good book. There's a little part of me that recognizes that I probably assign too much value to things myself, and that I could stand to dis-attach a little more than I do; and in the discussion that ensued that bit tried not to emphasize too much the importance of the objects themselves. But on the other hand things do have value, and while we try and cultivate a "spirit of abundance" (have we ever blogged about that before? I'm too sleepy to look) real concerns about sustainability demand we teach our kids to be careful with their stuff, because we don't just want to throw something away and get a new one. Even more importantly, there's the damage we do to relationships when we damage or destroy something that belongs to someone else, and I want to make sure that both Zion and Harvey understand that dynamic.
So Zion didn't get a story tonight, and we're going to have a week without library books (two hard hard punishments in our house). Harvey felt terrible about the whole thing, even though his only fault was in not doing anything when he saw the two smaller boys "boshing" the plant, and he graciously offered to help pay for replacing the library book. Zion didn't and won't, both because he doesn't have any money and because he's a proud boy who hates to admit fault, but I'm pretty sure he got the severity of the situation. He said he was sorry, anyways, and that he won't do it again. And he already has tomorrow's story picked out and waiting by his bed.
This year Hannukah and Christmas overlapped, and so—unusually—we got to do the former with the Bernsteins after the latter with the Archibalds. It was very pleasant, but I have to say that Harvey's present haul is now beginning to exceed the capacity of our house to encompass it. Not that I'm complaining about any of the individual presents themselves, of course; the latest batch includes several items that will be very useful for keeping him occupied while we do other things. He's now the proud owner of a play kitchen, for example, as well as a CD player—the only one in the house!—and a set of read-aloud albums. (There's more to say about how, in the absence of television, he enjoys hearing spoken word audio—he's wearing out "Peter and the Wolf", or would be if digital audio files could show wear—but that's the subject of another post.)
The problem is just that we don't have that much room. The play kitchen is much smaller than I feared it would be, but it still has a footprint of several square feet that we'll have to accommodate somewhere, and the train-and-car basket was already full before having to hold a further four trains and six cars. Keep in mind that we don't have a playroom, particularly: all this stuff has to fit in the space that we need to live in.
Of course, I'm saying this as someone who refuses to get rid of any books and indeed would like to continue to add to the number in the house, acquiring more bookshelves as necessary to hold them. Clearly, we all have something to learn from the Adamses! But we Archibalds like our stuff, so we'll see if we can improve our organization before we have to resort to desperate tactics like giving things away. Although, ask me again how I feel about getting rid of things after the 32nd time through the audiobook of Curious George; maybe adding some headphones would be a proactive step in that case.
Pursuant to our earlier discussion, I just wanted to point out that someone else agrees with out position on stuff. The Path to Freedom family are the most hardcore homesteaders on the internet, and they recognize that you can't make stuff without a lot of other stuff. Of course, organization is good too, and Harvey and I spent an hour or so this evening trying to create a more usable space. The new combined office and sewing room here is pretty crowded and disorganized as well at present, but that's not stopping us from getting work done in it! Leah is on the verge of finishing her second project of the day, and I have no doubt that details and pictures will be forthcoming presently.
I don't know if it's a New Years resolution thing, but many of the blogs I read have launched into anti-stuff campaigns this month. Take this recent post from SortaCrunchy:
Cookbooks? Gone. I find my recipes online now. Waffle iron? Gone. I never made waffles anyway. Three sets of measuring cups? Gone. How about just one set? ... Our vision is to be able to open the door to anyone, anytime, and not give a second thought to what the house looks like.... when you don't have much stuff, you don't have much to pick up or clean or stash away when the doorbell rings.
Having a lot of stuff, having nice stuff, and having so much nice stuff that you worry about it... I don't know, I can't really relate. At the risk of being judgmental, I'd say this sounds like a rich person problem.
Dan and I have a small house and a growing family, so every few months we look around and say, "Can't we get rid of anything?" We poke through the closets, stick our head in the basement, and always come up with the same answer. No. Everything we have is tools for something else. If we get rid of something that means we can't do something.
You never hear a farmer saying, "You know what? I only use that rototiller once a year - I should really get rid of it." No, he'll say, "Thank God for that old rototiller in the back of the shed! There when I need it!" I'm sure he doesn't fret over the energy flow in his organizational space.
Similarly, I've heard knitters or seamstresses feel guilty over a raw materials stash too big, but never about keeping too many scissors, needles, or seam-rippers on hand. The fact is you need stuff to make stuff. If you really want to cook three meals a day you need more than one set of measuring cups. If you want to make or mend clothes you need a desk full of supplies. And if you really want to grow your own food from seed, well, then you need a basement filled with pots and rusty tools and lots of junk that looks like junk.
We recently spent an evening with some German friends who are in the US for only one year. I mentioned to Dan how neat it was in their apartment and how much open space they have.
"Yeah, because they don't have ENOUGH stuff." Dan said. "They can't DO anything! They can't go sledding. They don't have shovels for the beach..."
And Dan's right. It may feel lovely and zen to have a basement without off-season merchandise, but is life really simpler if you have to start every expedition with buying something?
Of course all this is personal preference. Many bloggers who desire the same scope of personal belongings as college students often do so because they're moving just as frequently. Obviously if you're up and packing every year it's a pain to keep around anything that's non-essential. Dan and I view ourselves more as the parents of said college students. We're the ones who store all the useful stuff for the moment our kids (friends or acquaintances) come home and say, "Hey guys - can I borrow your step stool / car seat / portable microwave?" (all things I can remember loaning out in recent memory - all things that we had acquired for free too!).
So this is what peeves me, then. My Christian hippy bloggers, with the "hospitality" buzz word thrown in for good measure seem to be equating having less stuff with having more spiritual value. I call shenanigans. When we clean our house before company comes, it's not disposable luxuries we're moving from room to room. It's our coats and hats and snow boots that get neatly stacked to one side. And when we look around and worry that it's dirty, it's because our floor is LITERALLY COVERED WITH DIRT. That has nothing to do with our level of stuff, but everything to do with our level of activity and the fact that our family includes one toddler and one dog. Life makes dirt. The solution isn't buying more asian looking pottery.
And here's a final update which makes me feel doubly justified in my crap-keeping lifestyle. SortaCrunchy posts today an exhaustively long explanation of their recent decluttering efforts. Basically, they redid their kitchen, filled 21 trashbarrels with their old stuff, and replaced it all with new stuff. You know, for Jesus. Because (the horror) their measuring cups were different colors. Whatever, rich people. Unsubscribe.