The gambler in the Kenny Rogers recording by the same name offers some sage advice: “… the secret to survivin’ is knowin’ what to throw away and knowin’ what to keep.”
If my wife and I had heeded that advice when Kenny’s recording hit the pop and country music charts 43 years ago, we would be able to find our waffle iron without moving 30 or 40 cardboard boxes from one side of the basement to the other.
We have a lot of useless stuff. This is in spite of the gargantuan effort we made nearly five years ago when we moved from a larger house in rural Bartholomew County into a small, 1930s-era cottage in Columbus.
Some of our stored “stuff” falls in the category: “too bad to keep, but too good to throw away.” Some of it falls in the category: “useless but nostalgic.” Then there are the boxes of “we might need it sometime” and “eventually this is going to be worth something” and “the kids might want this someday.”
And, of course, we have numerous gifts we don’t want but are afraid to take to Sans Souci or Goodwill for fear the people who gave them to us will see them on the shelf. (OK, so we are dishonest. Forgive us. We did it to spare their feelings. We bet they don’t like the chia head of Abraham Lincoln we gave them either.)
Ann and I are in our mid-70s and will have been married 53 years this December. That is a lot of time to make mistakes.
We started out OK. After we married, we moved all our earthly possessions from Bloomington to a one-bedroom apartment in Southport in the trunk and backseat of a 1967 Ford Mustang. (Wish we had kept that car. It would be worth a lot of money today.)
Since that first move, the nomadic life of a journalist transported us to 10 different apartments or houses in two countries, two states and five cities. Our move from Greenwood to Columbus in 1998 filled a semi-tractor trailer moving van. Then we personally hauled several carloads of belongings to the new house, fearing the movers might break the best of the things we don’t need.
Of course, we also stored all of our two children’s possessions as they graduated college and moved into tiny apartments prior to getting married and discovering they had no use for anything left at our house.
Certain the kids would eventually change their minds, we put it all in the attic.
While “knowin’ what to throw away and knowin’ what to keep” wrestle at the heart of this struggle against the great American “stuff glut,” the doin’ usually gets in the way of the knowin.’
Very few of us have the mindset of an ascetic guru perched on a cliff high in the Himalayan Mountains, forsaking possessions in the pursuit of spiritual enlightenment. Most of us have mindsets more like squirrels at a bird feeder — get to the buffet line first, eat more than we really want and then take the rest home in our plastic-lined handbags for another day.
While we admire the thinking of the guru on the cliff, we spend our lives living like those squirrels. By the time we reach the closing years of our possession-accumulating lives, we are pretty well buried in our clutter.
At that point, we old folks only have a couple of options to solve the problem:
1. Begin today sorting, selling, giving away or discarding all the acorns we have stored in our nests for decades;
2. Leave our children or other relatives the horrible, heart-wrenching task of having to decide what to do with all the stuff after we are freshly off to our great possessionless home in the sky.
After assessing the situation carefully, Ann and I have decided to go with option 2.