Monday, May 9, 2011


Pull up a cuppa...

Stuff - So many of us have it. And we have a lot of it.
Stuff comes in many shapes, sizes and colors. It can be physical or ethereal.
Stuff is a funny thing because it includes Things.
Things are Stuff that we have but may not use.
Things are Stuff that we might use constantly or only once in a while.
Things are Stuff that we may have used only once and never intend to use again.
Stuff including Things can take over your life.
Stuff can overwhelm you and even cause major depression.
Stuff can make it so you never see Friends.
Things are definitely a contribution to the negative aspects of Stuff.
Things can magically multiply while you become majestically morose and mope.
Things can also affect your health – positively or negatively.

As this week starts I am wondering what I will accomplish. Last week was actually very productive. A friend of mine drove up from New Jersey and helped me by clearing out one of the rooms in the house and working with me in another room. I was able to sort out that which is no longer needed and he put the “keep” stuff back in there. We got the “donation” stuff together and the “garbage” stuff out of the house.

Another friend of mine has been dropping by at least once a week and helping me sort through papers. It’s amazing how much paper one accumulates over time. The biggest issue there is to separate the recyclable papers from papers that have to be shredded.

Of course there is still a lot to go through but the end result of having one room done is extremely encouraging. One sees the room and has a feeling of accomplishment in that it is useable again.

What happens is that as things accumulate one gets a bit overwhelmed. And even as one makes progress, one doesn’t tend to see it. One of my brothers came by for a brief visit a few months ago and went into the area which was most cluttered. He observed that when he went in there, he saw progress. My comment then was “Where?” Now after the past few days with the help from my friend from New Jersey I can actually look in that room and see some progress has been made.

It’s difficult as I come from a family of packrats and possessive accumulators. Over the years I’ve learned that they can fall into two distinct categories. And if you are the child of one of each – well let’s just say that you can be in a lot of trouble. Category one is what I’ll call “The Displayer.”

“The Displayer” doesn’t necessarily take pride in all that he/she has accumulated. But it is all out there for the world to see – if they can get into the house or apartment. What’s amazing is that he/she knows where just about everything is and can point you to it – even if he/she can’t reach it. Everything is out and piled up. You’ve seen these folks on TV shows like “Hoarders.”

Category two is what I’ll call “The Who Me?”

“The Who Me?” has an out of sight – out of mind mentality. He/she figures if you can stuff it in a box or a bag and then stick it in a drawer, cabinet or closet then it isn’t there. This person is the one who panics when he/she can’t find something important. And believe me – it is usually the important stuff that has gotten jammed into the bottom of a stack in a bag that was put into a box under a dozen other boxes in the back of a closet behind the hanging clothing.

Now the offspring of these two creatures is a rather unique crossbreed in him/herself because there are too many facets of both personalities inside the psyche. As a result one of two things can happen. First he/she becomes a mixture of the two above people and begins a lifelong love affair with “Stuff.” After all – one can never have enough “Stuff” right? The other thing is that he/she revolts and becomes a total minimalist trimming all his/her possisions down to almost nothing. I suppose there is a third type as well – the person who has some of both traits. I am trying to become that third type. Aware that I have “Stuff” that I need to divest myself of while not going overboard and keeping only one set of clothing, a book and a single plate. The happy medium is what I am aiming for and hope to attain.

We had a family friend who owned a wonderful drugstore when I was a kid. It had a soda fountain, a pharmacy, small grocery section, a photo store which sold cameras, film and more, a great toy department, a book section, clothing – in short if you could imagine it, he sold it.

Like me, Mel was interested in lots of things and when he developed a new interest he would stock up the place with it. I remember when he got interested in Chinese cooking – and this was long before it became fashionable. All of a sudden the store had woks, Chinese herbs/spices and cookbooks.

At one point he decided that the Berkshires needed a place where someone could get a bagel and lox with their morning coffee. Our weekend rides up to the Berkshires meant that we would show up with at least one gross of various bagels from H&H Bagels in NYC so his customers could have them. Again – this was before we had any places in the Berkshires where you could purchase bagels. Coffee anyone? Well he had a variety of brewed coffees available daily long before there were fancy coffee bars. Even former New York State Health Commissioner David Axelrod who grew up in the area would go there because, ever encouraging youth to explore and learn (and in a time long past) Mel would sell the kids chemicals to experiment with in the pursuit of science. He had a section of the store for kids with beginners magic sets and perfumes and purses for the ladies.

And, of course, he had the obligatory cigarette area but not just with cheap cigars that you could find anywhere (which made it great when we needed cigar boxes for school project.) No – Melvin had those of course, but he also had some very nice serious expensive cigars in his store. Unlike today where pharmacists tend to be prisoners in their own department Melvin always had time for kids. I remember when he’d be filling a prescription (that’s what they called it in those days – not a “scrip”) how, if we’d arrive at the store he’d invite my Dad and my brothers and me in behind the counter and talk while he worked. He was meticulous about paying attention to what he was doing though. He’d explain it all to my brothers and myself – in effect giving us an appreciation of science – even if we found it difficult to understand all of it.

Melvin’s Pharmacy was loaded with “Stuff.” And fortunately for his wife – he had a store to display it all in! Sorry for the trip down memory lane there but writing about it just opened a floodgate of memories of a time gone by. And it brings to mind the fact that our house is filled with "Stuff." It all hails from our apartment in NYC and the studio we had there joined by the contents of our store and studio here along with the "Stuff" that came from my apartment in Cleveland and my sojourn in Israel and items my brothers decided not to take with them on their life journeys. That is not taking into account the various computers and other electronic items that have been just dumped on my porch when I led a local computer user group.

Today many of the “Stuff” addicts are fortunate to own antique stores, junkyards or other types of business venues. There’s a place in Lenox Mass called Inspired Planet ( that is also full of “Stuff.” Dudley (the owner) travels far and wide to find all sorts of collectibles and, if he didn’t have the store, he’d be in BIG trouble with all the “Stuff” he brings back from his journeys. e-Bay and Craigslist, along with freecycle, have made getting rid of "Stuff" easier physically but there is still the psychological aspect of it as well.

I guess what I’m getting at is that we all have “Stuff” in our lives. For some of us it’s mental; for others it’s physical. Truth be told – having “Stuff” and “Things” is not all bad even if it gets out of our control and starts controlling us for a while. But there comes a time when we need to take a step back and then move forward and seize that control back. We have to gain control of our “Stuff” – even if it’s only for a while.

So the next time you visit a friend whose life is just "Stuffed" to the walls - go easy on him/her. Be supportive - it's not their fault.

Because it’s only when we “Stuff” it that we know we are moving forward in our lives!


  1. This is an excellent post!!!!! Thank you for the insights.

  2. I have a husband that likes to save things. My one son is very similar. We live in a small house (by design). I am the type that chucks everything. I do NOT like to accumulate stuff. But.. we still have a lot of stuff. Keeping the living space small, though, helps to keep you from storing too much of the stuff. ;)