I love presents. LOVE presents. I love giving them. I love receiving them. I love wrapping and unwrapping them. I love talking about presents before and after they’ve been given. I love guessing what wrapped presents are. I love Christmas presents, birthday presents, travel presents, just-because presents.
All of it. All of it except maybe the fact that most of the time, giving and receiving presents = adding to the accumulation of stuff, both in my life and in someone else’s.
So I spend a lot of time trying to come up with presents for people that are intangible (food, travel, events). If I can’t come up with something like that, then I settle for a present that is super useful, but enough of a splurge to make it special.
Obviously, Christmas is the big kahuna of stuff and present holidays. With so many people to get gifts for, how do you stay away from stuff-syndrome? And what do you do with all the stuff you receive?
This Christmas was an especially hard stuff-Christmas in some major ways. The biggest of which had to do with several deaths and moves in both my and Andrew’s family. Andrew’s grandmother died two Christmases ago and his Great Uncle Stu died this Spring. With Andrew’s parents moving into a new house, we had been prepared by Andrew’s folks that we would need to go through some stuff and see if there was anything we wanted.
Andrew and his mother went through boxes and boxes of beautiful old things. I mostly left them to it, but every once in a while would be consulted as to whether we needed something.
I have a weakness for small animal figurines, especially if they’re made out of metal or wood. And I especially like little fat pigs. (Who knows why? I certainly don’t understand it, but put me in a room full of stuff and if one item has a pig on it, that’ll be the only thing I pick up). So when Andrew’s mother asked me if I wanted two small ceramic piggy banks that used to belong to Andrew’s great aunts, I had a mental battle.
Normally I would’ve automatically said no - I already have too many pigs, too many animals, I’m already threatening to turn into one of those ladies with shelves and shelves of small creatures. But they had belonged to Andrew’s great aunts. Which despite anything else, imbued them with the quality of a family treasure. They were the kind of little piggy banks a child would own, although they had never been smashed, so possibly never used. I could imagine his aunts holding them in their tiny hands, shaking them, trying to remember how many pennies had been dropped inside. By owning these little pigs I could bring his family history into our home, have a connection sitting there on the shelf.
But they were just little ceramic pigs. Clutter. Stuff. Stuff that would be added to all of our other stuff which we would then add more stuff to until our house was overflowing with cute little pigs and more and more stuff.
I turned them down.
This weekend I brought home a bag of items that my mother had set aside of my Aunt Mimi’s stuff. I wasn’t able to join the family when they went through her home so I told my folks that all I wanted was one or two small meaningful mementos. That I didn’t want stuff.
|Me and my Aunt Mimi at her wedding. I was the flower girl.|
When I opened the bag she had packed, I didn’t know what to expect. I found a couple of pieces of clothing, a serving plate, and a hand mirror. Honestly, nothing that I would normally keep. And sitting there, looking at my Aunt Mimi’s things, I realized that it was okay for me not to keep them.
Because people don’t exist in their stuff.
My Aunt Mimi doesn’t live in her stuff. And owning her stuff wasn’t going to help me remember her or help me keep her memory alive. It was really just going to make me unhappy to have more stuff to keep track of.
My cousin Alex spoke at the start of my Aunt Mimi’s memorial this weekend and gave the opening prayer. He spoke about how my Aunt Mimi reminded him of Matthew 6:19-20:
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.
But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.
Alex talked about how my Aunt Mimi never saved up for earthly treasures, she didn’t save up for stuff. She never owned a new car, or a nice TV, or a big house. She saved up to go visit family and friends, to take trips to see people she loved, and to care for her dogs.
And I keep thinking about stuff. About how we somehow equate stuff with success, and after people are gone, we equate stuff with our loved ones. And how weird that is. And how my cousin Alex is right, and my Aunt Mimi is right, the only stuff worth saving for is the stuff that isn’t stuff, it’s food for dinners with loved ones, tickets to concerts and plays you’ll never forget, and most importantly trips to see family and friends. That the only thing really worth spending money on is whatever you have to in order to create memories with the people you love.