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Rethinking my ideas on stuff

Su Lum

When we moved to Aspen from Alaska, we shipped 500 pounds of possessions and all the rest, our most precious belongings, were stored in our trailer on the homestead. Due to the ensuing separation and divorce, I never saw any of that stuff again, so it was a clean start. In the next 42 years I have amassed a great deal of STUFF, the culprits mainly being books, a significant collection of old comic books and magazines, and what I generally refer to as “papers,” meaning drawers full of newspaper articles, correspondence, manuscripts, the deposition of Dewi Zukarnos after the face-slashing incident – interesting STUFF but stuff that might not be of interest to anyone else. I am not anal retentive and have always been able to keep one step ahead of the stuff. If I make a great killing at a garage sale, I try to jettison an equal amount of stuff. In 1,000 square feet, there is only so much room for accumulation – what comes in must replace what goes out.There have been a few occasions when I flew into a slash-and-burn frenzy, ripping through my bookcases, closets and The Papers, honing everything down to the bare bone. This action often sprang from guilt that if I died I’d be leaving all this crap behind for my daughters to deal with.The catch is, you keep living and next thing you know you’re on Amazon replacing books you gave to the Thrift Shop. Where is the middle ground?When my brother died unexpectedly in November, my daughters Skye and Hillery went to Port Townsend, Wash., to close his house. To say that my brother was a minimalist would not begin to describe it. A tiny nook in the woods, no running water, cutlery consisting of knife, fork, spoon, a couple of pots and pans, a couple of bowls and plates. Yet even then, there was a huge amount of STUFF to dispose of.My mother had conscientiously whittled down her stuff over the years. Used to be you could find Ipana toothpaste in the bathroom cupboards and prescriptions from the ’40s in the medicine cabinets, but those days were gone. Still, a 10-room house with basement, attic and outbuildings holds an enormous amount of stuff, but the lesson I learned when my mother died was that it is not that big a deal to dispose of it. Emotionally, yes, but in reality a piece of cake.No one will have to call in an estate dealer for my thrift shop furnishings. Take most of it back to that original source, bring in one of those long Dumpsters and this place could be cleaned out in four hours – zip, zip zip. I thought I’d come back from closing my mother’s house ready for another deep clean, but it turned out to be the opposite. So what if dresser drawers are filled with clippings and papers? I know what’s there and might have reason to dig them out, but if I kick the bucket it would take two minutes to toss it in the Dumpster, so what the hell?I’ve gone from worrying about what would happen to my stuff to worrying about burdening my kids with my stuff to not worrying at all. I will still winnow my stuff to make room for new stuff from my brother and mother, because I still don’t want STUFF to take over my little house, but as long as I’m living here I’m not going to feel guilty about leaving a big mess behind, because unless you’re living in a pup tent there will be a mess no matter what. Su Lum is a longtime local who is feeling relieved of a self-imposed burden. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times.


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