The Terrible Burden of Having Stuff

Moving is hell, as the saying goes, and my recent move to California, in the tiresome way of all major moves, has been hellish. The main driver of misery is the Stuff to be moved. There is the back breaking, ass-kicking difficulty of dealing with the mother-lode bulk of it: the furniture, the boxes and boxes of items, the kitchenware, the pictures, the bedding. It takes weeks just to assemble it all, then days more to load it all into a 8’ x 16’ PODS container. Staring at that great tangled mass, stacked top to bottom, front to back, was tiring in itself, as though it was a crushing weight upon my soul.

The bigger problem is our emotional connection to our Stuff. Much of my suffering came from the idea my wife and I had that moving was an opportunity to assess the entire Stuff Collection, and get rid of lots of it. First, there is the curation of the Stuff. As Stuff which sits around inside your house, functional or not, there for sensible reasons or not, it constitutes a collection.

So we dug into the layers of storage and closets and all the spaces of our house where Stuff was hiding. I became unhappily immersed in my earlier selves and circumstances. It was an involuntary therapy session of photos and mementos, like embarrassing prom photos and ancient resumes and lamps that once seemed like a good idea and bizarre post college artwork and sporting equipment purchased at great cost which fizzled quickly into obscurity.

When you find an item, then you must decide. Is it on the truck or not? It’s live or die, love it or leave it. I stored it for good reasons years ago (or did I?): do they still hold up?

I feel sentimental about most stuff, and the people who gave me the stuff and the fond memories that surround the stuff…Is discarding that stuff then a rejection of those times and people? For example, greeting cards. How long must I store old birthday cards? Discarding them immediately after receiving them seems unappreciative of the positive sentiments the friend or family member was conveying with a carefully written note inside the card. Perhaps the card came from a beloved and now deceased family member, which makes it worse. So they stack up on a shelf. But must I carry them around forever?


Then you hit the killer, the tear jerker item, which shuts down the whole process and creates psychological crisis. There is absolutely no use for it and it is bulky, but you can’t imagine chucking it. I am talking about what’s at the very back of the closet: my entire cassette collection, the soundtrack of my youth, in all its briefcase mixtape glory. I have not listened to them in 20 years. My cassette player was thrown away years ago, but there is just no way. It’s like the Smithsonian throwing away Lindberg’s plane. No one will ever make another trip in that thing. No one can even touch it. It has zero usability, but it’s History, so it will hang in the exhibit hall forever.

I have always pitied electronic devices. There is newness and great excitement when we get them, and they dutifully serve our needs: computers, cassette players, smart phones, boom boxes, cameras. They deliver their thing in their way, but as soon as the smell of tech obsolescence is in the air, we toss them, despite their years of loyal service, to be ground under by heavy machinery at the landfill. Thanks, pal.


So it was torturous to consider the fate of my beloved Canon AF35M 35mm auto camera, which still would work beautifully, if I used it, and was carried on numerous vacations and still possesses undeveloped film, possibly containing cherished memories. No one wants to buy a 20 year old camera. Not even on Craig’s List. No one wants this as a gift. It seems unceremonious and wrong to dump it in the trash. It was, and still is, a great camera, which provided pictures during some of the happiest times of my life! And it’s reward for this good service?

The camera went to Goodwill, with the sincere hope an appreciative person will find it and dispel my guilt about abandoning it.

Most of the cassettes stayed with me, but not all of them. May they live on without me.


By robbskidmore

Robb Skidmore writes upmarket literary fiction. He is the author of “The Pursuit of Cool”, a critically acclaimed coming-of-age novel about love, music, and the 80s, and the novella “The Surfer.” His short stories have appeared in many publications.

12 replies on “The Terrible Burden of Having Stuff”

I just went through this in March. I feel like I did a pretty good job with keep/toss/donate, and the keepers all went into a storage unit for the summer. Now that I found a new place and have to move everything back out of the storage unit, I don’t want to unpack any of it! Can’t it just live in the box for another year?? Sigh.

I get it Kristin. Before I moved I put a new floor into my condo and I fell in love with the open space. I briefly considered not having furniture. I say, let your stuff live in the box! It’s about you, not your stuff.

Getting rid of stuff one doesn’t use anymore is giving your soul a good bath. It is a great feeling of clean and free. I have done it many times and looking forward to doing it again.

So pleased the cassettes didn’t land in the ‘stuff’ category – far too precious to part with. All those mix tapes from lovers – compilations that said so much more than awkward words. Rarities, bootlegs and favorites hopefully spared the fate of being warped and stretched by time and overuse. Of course, no one wants to part with the soundtrack of their youth, and transferring them to more modern means can never compare to the nostalgic or aesthetic feel of the hard plastic compact and miniature stained covers with impossible to read type. Oh and extra admiration if you kept the cassette head cleaner or cassette repair kit.

Yes, no other technology quite surpasses the mixtape. The hand scrawl of the songs and the art give it such a human feel…
Alas, I had no head cleaner to save, and no heads to clean.

I read this with many smiles. My parents died 18 months ago and had a five bed roomed house worth of stuff. Stuff was important to them, each single of the 50 jugs had a memory and each book on the six floor to ceiling book shelves was respected and cherished. Not only had I my own stuff, and like you, the mixed tapes and the old cameras were boxed and unused but loved, then I had my parents stuff, box less, loved and well used.
Suffocating and drowning in stuff in my boxed filled house, walking in to each room and failing to grasp the task in hand I spent a year in distraction. Finally with all who loved me threatening to take control I listen to a psychology podcast about happy memories and what memories are made of, another one on the effect of too much stuff on the mind. I now focus on what stuff recalls happy memories and remind me of happy times. It has to be visually stimulating, if its place is in a draw then it has no place. And I get rid of the mediocre and the un-functional.
I have also finally accepted as I have a disability some stuff just makes my life hard and sucks away precious time in struggle to use or wear it. As one grows older time is more valuable than stuff.
Having said that my mixed tapes stay, if they went, the next stage would be the vinyl and that would be discarding the part of me that makes my heart beat happy….so…. what to do with my mother’s collection of Eartha Kitt’s 78’s that made her heart beat happy…

Hi Sue. Yes, dealing with one’s own Stuff is difficult, much less other family members. Donating stuff to others and making other happy hearts is a way to honor your loved ones. And so the great cosmic flow of stuff keeping flowing…

You hit it on the head. The angst,, the attachment…the guilt…the decsions-feels like we are throwing people away. Feels like we are severing ourselves from some part of ourselves-I loved how you captured the feeling with cards…here’s a curve ball…..our kids’ paintings and cards! Admit it-we have to die with that stuff.

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