“The Story of Stuff”

I am stealing the concept of story of your “stuff” from the book I’m currently reading titled Sharing a Place Without Losing Your Space: A Couple’s Guide to Blending Homes, Lives and Clutter by Regina Leeds.  I know I am not the first of my generation to find it a struggle to blend my belongings with those of my husband, but some days are better than others.  The situation we currently find ourselves in (i.e. living with my in-laws) has required we be a bit more picky with relation to what belongings stay in this house and what remains in storage.

I have never really given much thought before about how complicated consolidating households can be when people establish their own lives through a career, a prior marriage (maybe even one that includes children), college, and other life events like world travel.  Thomas and I didn’t have much of our own prior to marriage, but he certainly had more than I did.  He had more shoes, clothes, and a vehicle.  When we initially met, he was the owner of a 1977 orange Pinto and I was deathly afraid of it when he drove me to work events around Camp Pendleton.  The steering had already gone out and it was a bit of a challenge for the vehicle to get out of the parking lot.  Later on when we started dating, he had upgraded to a white 2004 Nissan Sentra; he had used his Pinto as a trade-in.  I am fairly certain that when we married, there were probably homeless people who had more belongings than I did (save for my personal mementos).

I still have a huge soft spot for anything related to memories, which is the story of my “stuff”.  Regina Leeds, a professional organizer as well as author, discusses in her book about getting to the root of personal behavior and our feelings regarding our stuff.  She mentions it’s easy to want to discard another’s stuff because we lack emotional attachment to it and yet, when it comes to our own, we struggle to separate ourselves from our possessions.  Her goal is to teach people how to free themselves through three steps; first, eliminate (unneeded possessions), second, categorize what remains, and third, organize (so everything is easy to find and easy to maintain but also is aesthetically pleasing to look at).

Over the years, I have found myself tackling these steps over and over again. 

I don’t always struggle to pawn off possessions especially if I bought them suit a short-term need, like the cheap glass dining room table and chairs that I got for just over $100 for our first apartment.  The chairs were wobbly, the glass top slide around if you leaned too hard on it, and it required constant cleaning to erase the fingerprints and smudges.  My heart gets wrapped around the mementos.

I think the story of my stuff relates a lot to the losses I’ve faced in my life.  Losing my mom at an early age certainly impacted my desire to photograph my life so I have proof of the memories.  My mother never really cared to have her picture taken and I don’t possess a full collection of the photos of her that exist.  Sad to say, my husband is the same way. He hates getting his photo taken and it’s a struggle to get a happy photo of him.  I want to spare my daughter from having so few photos of her father later in her life when we have passed on.

And while others might collect favorite cd’s or sports memorabilia, I collected notes. All throughout high school, I was more interested in what my friends wanted to talk about on our neatly folded notes passed in class and in the hallways. I stuffed these notes in private keepsakes boxes over the years and didn’t tackle breaking that tie in my life until after I was married. I enjoyed reliving some wonderful (and frustrating) times in my life and saying goodbye to my teenage self. Drama over boyfriends and ex-boyfriends (thanks, Kristin…friends through all our ups and downs), learning to drive (my wonderful friend, Dori, was my constant companion during our driver’s ed class), and coaxing my friend, Katie, to date a guy who was perfect for her (and who is now her ever-loving husband). The boyfriend years of my life were a different story.

I really wish someone had talked to me seriously about dating with the intent of finding someone you can see a future with than seeing someone you want to have a future with; I was always pretty good at finding the guy I liked more than he liked me during those years of my life. Parting with the mementos has been interesting to say the least, but I knew as a young newlywed in 2007, it was time to part ways with certain aspects of my life.

Back then, I kept some photos and even cards that were worthwhile to keep so I could share them with my daughter when she is older and entering the dating realm. I think it’s important for her to learn that being romantic and thoughtful takes just as many forms as dishonesty and unfaithfulness. I am also not perfect and have had to learn from my mistakes and I feel it’s important for her to learn that mistakes are part of living.

I’ve kept the things that have mattered most to me from each major relationship of my life. I kept some great photos taken just prior to my first deployment in Iraq and it’s great to show Avery how carefree my life was up until that point. I don’t believe that Iraq changed me for the worst, like some people might believe. Iraq was a major turning point in my life, because I learned that I was trying to shape my life to meet other people’s expectations of my instead of creating my own. The trouble I faced was holding onto memories that weren’t helping me. I think of the character, Rat Kiley, from The Things They Carried, when I think of that time in my life. I was assigned this character in one of my high school English classes and always loved getting this “role”. I happen to love M & M’s and how they were used as placebos by Rat Kiley for dying soldiers. In a different way, I’ve taken on odd measures to make my life my own.

I finally started to shape my life up and hold onto the things that mattered most; I said adios to people who broke my heart. I threw out the journal I shared with an ex during my first deployment in Iraq, although that did mean shredding some information that tiptoed into OPSEC territory. I threw out a love letter given to me months after the ending of a relationship; waiting that long to hear someone say that I was loved should have told me I was trying too hard. I didn’t hold onto any memento that would reflect poorly on my marriage. I knew I was entitled to keep things that mattered but most things had to go to open space in my heart and my life for my new role as a wife.

As I have pared down my life to honor the past and create space for a future, I’ve taken on the unique challenge of having “man” stuff in my life. I never lived with a boyfriend prior to marriage, so it was interesting to say the least to have dishes and laundry pile up in our tiny apartment. My husband is one of those guys who will go through every clean dish and piece of clean clothing in the house before he feels it’s necessary to pick up after himself. I learned that while I was deployed, his clothes just went into the washing machine and when it was full, he ran a load of laundry. He followed this same routine with the dishwasher until it was full and needed to be ran. My patience has been tempered as we have found what roles suit us in our marriage and those are constantly changing as much as our design sensibilities have changed over the years.

Compromising over possessions has been a little more challenging than I’d like to admit. I wish we had more similarities when it comes to style, but that’s not always the case. We adopted several possessions belonging to his late father that my husband really enjoyed (after his estate was split up between him, his sister, and other members of the family). My late father-in-law, who I didn’t really get to know, had several items related to 70’s and 80’s décor that are now ours and I have NO IDEA how to blend these items into our home when we buy one. We are seriously considering purchasing a single story and that gives me less distinct areas of a home. In our Cody, WY home, we had a downstairs that was the catch-all space and oddly enough, these décor items found a perfect home in this space. They were well balanced by the plethora of board games, dartboard, and exercise equipment. Without a game room in our plans, I don’t know yet how I will design with these elements so they aren’t out of place with our mostly modern and rustic eclectic style. These items are more manly-man than anything else in our house so we just might have to break up this “set” and pair them with other pieces to make it work.

The book I am reading has got me thinking about how we will later handle giving our items to our daughter as she gets older. Like the author, I don’t want her to be burdened with things she doesn’t need and feels are an anchor to carry around with her. I want her to feel that she is entitled to keep the items she loves the most and to pass on everything else in a matter that respects our family and helps other people in need. The things I am most worried about are our family photo albums (NO SHOCKER THERE!).

I want to create a photo book for every year of her childhood, but I don’t know if 18 years of photo albums would be a legacy she wants to carry with her for the rest of her life.

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