George Carlin, who has been regarded as one of the most influential standup comedians of all time, was known as the “dean of counterculture comedies.” After a five-year hiatus from stand-up comedy (during which time he suffered the first of three heart attacks) he returned with a routine called “A Place for My Stuff” in 1981.
Although I wasn’t a huge fan of some of his raunchy humor, the “Stuff” routine was laugh out loud funny — mostly because of the truth in it. “That’s the whole meaning of life, isn’t it, trying to find a place for your stuff?” (You can still watch “Stuff” on YouTube.)
When he got to the part about the angst encountered when deciding what of your stuff to schlep to Honolulu on vacation and then what to take from that stuff to visit a friend on Maui, the ridiculosity (yes, a word!) of the relationship we have with our stuff was apparent.
I first encountered a large amount of stuff when I helped a friend empty out his parents’ 7,000 square foot house, each room packed with collectibles, hobby materials, photo albums, polyester pantsuits, and enough kitchen utensils to supply a village. So much stuff that an auction had to be held at a fairgrounds exhibit building. What was supposed to be “worth something” walked out the door for a pittance. I adopted the belief then that something is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it and finding that buyer is challenging.
Fast forward. Three recent incidents reminded me of the accuracy of my own now finely honed “theory of stuff.”
I visited a widow who recently lost her husband of 54 years. Embedded in the heartbreak of her loss was her dilemma of what to do with some of his stuff. Many useful items were somewhat easy to find new homes for. Not so much his collection of Persian rugs. She had not been particularly fond of them, but it was his passion and she didn’t oppose. She researched the value of the rugs and had her son post them on online selling sites. Not a single bite. She sold one at a garage sale for $50. She gave some away. The rest await their destination.
An estate sale over Labor Day was another reminder of what can happen to our stuff. An unexpected passing left a daughter with the daunting task of distributing her mother’s stuff — nice stuff of good taste, her ad read. And, it was. Every shopper seeking a treasure left with a piece of this woman’s life. The things I purchased sparked joy for me to the extent that I messaged the lady to tell her she could rest assured that her mother’s things would still be enjoyed.
Another ad that kept popping up online was for a multitude of collectible Barbie dolls. I wondered who had all these dolls still in their pristine packaging from over a period of several years. Curiosity piqued and I couldn’t help but buy a Lucille Ball doll (to add to my stuff!). The young woman who met me with the doll seemed too young to have an interest in these dated characters. No, they were her aunt’s who never had children, but indulged herself in collecting Barbies. Now that the aunt’s health is waning, they are up for purchase. (Makes me wonder what will happen to my Breyer horses that I’ve collected since fourth grade!)
So, the lesson to me is to lighten the load of stuff. Marie Kondo’s philosophy fits perfectly: Hold it in your hand. Does it spark joy? If not so much, off it goes.
In other news, a group of faith-based bicycle riders passed through Mazama last week, spending the night at Mazama Bible Camp. They started in Langley on Whidbey Island and after 300 plus miles planned to end in Leavenworth. Their mission was to bring attention to their ministry in Ukraine.