Holy Hell, The Stuff


I’m trying to sell my kayak. I bought it twelve years ago, and enjoyed paddling it maybe half a dozen times a year for the first few years. Gradually, motherhood overtook life, then an obsession with rock climbing, and the next thing you know, the kayak is basically just an annoying tripping hazard in my garage, blocking my expertly-organized storage racks, and piled upon with…more stuff. It’s essentially buried in the catacombs of the archaeological site that is the basement/garage under the house that contains the actual stuff of our daily life. It brings to mind the gold-rush era shipwrecks underneath the landfill on which San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood was built.

“Trying” to sell the kayak involved a listing on Nextdoor, Craigslist, and Facebook Marketplace, using pictures swiped from the manufacturer’s website, since I was too lazy to excavate the kayak to take real life photos. Besides, then I would be confronted with all the other stuff sitting between me and the boat, another strata of more-recently used things that don’t yet have a permanent place in the catacombs.

More importantly, I was too busy taking care of life maintenance prior to my most recent trip to Oregon. This trip was to help my mom clean out her garage, a part of the effort to clean out her house, pack it, and stage it for sale. She’s going to move closer to my brother and his family.

It’s important to understand that my mom has lived in this house for twenty years. And like me, Mom is a renaissance woman, a polymath, a volunteer, a crafter, a cook, a baker, a pet owner, a traveller, a mother, et cetera, et cetera. So mom has a lot of…stuff. See, one has to acquire the tools of the trade for all of these -ers one becomes. One does not simply *become* a quilter, a scrapbooker, a President of the Chamber of Commerce, a teacher, or a hostess. One must equip.


I think we can stipulate that one’s accumulation of STUFF grows in proportion to the space in which one has to store it, with probably a 5% increase per annum for every year after 5 years living in one place, plus perhaps another 2% increase per child’s marriage and per grandchild. The compound stuff-interest of living a full life.

This is how a three-bedroom two-bath house with a two-car garage can get filled floor-to-ceiling with…stuff. Every gadget, and even duplicates of gadgets. And then, when one approaches 70 and wants to move, one must face this reality by enlisting one’s adult children to help move and lift the stuff, unbox, evaluate, donate, trash, and rebox. One must endure the “tough love” (aka judgement, aka harassment) from one’s conscripted children. The sighs, the callous disregard for how wonderful that throw pillow is, how ingenious that foot-heater for under the desk, and how distinctly different each of the four (or is it five? six?) floor cleaning machines is from the others.

My mother amazed me. Truly. I thought the process of going through all of these things would pain her, and would result in constant arguments between us. The occasional push-back occurred, but she calmly stood her ground on some things, and capitulated on others. It only happened a few times. Initially, I was impatient at her desire to tell me *what* each item was, and its provenance, rather than just telling me whether to donate it, trash it, or keep it. But considering how easily she was parting with most things, I eventually got over that. I grew to appreciate the fullness of her life, and her appreciation for the abundance she has been fortunate enough to enjoy.


Ultimately we made a huge dent, in only three half-ish days of work, and a few car and pickup-truck loads of donations. It was all we could physically and mentally manage each day, and we both went to sleep physically and psychically drained each night. Mom kept apologizing that we didn’t have time for “vacation” type visiting this trip, but I think this may have been our best bonding experience in a long time. No grandkids, no siblings or our partners, just me and her, excavating the memories of a life well-lived, clearing the way for a new phase in her life.

I’m inspired to get that kayak out of my house, and hopefully some other detritus too. To make more space for my kids’ sporting equipment, our climbing gear, and even just some…space. To be ready for whenever our next phase wants to start. Because holy hell, the stuff.