Proving they were way more awesome than I appreciated at the time or quite possibly because since I was the youngest by 11 years they were beyond giving a hoot, my parents introduced me to George Carlin at a very young age. To their credit, the Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television were not introduced until well into my teen years. Finding the cassette tape of the A Place for My Stuff album in my stocking was one of the highlights of Christmas 1982 for me. I was not your typical 11-year old.
A Place for My Stuff was one of my favorite Carlin bits and still is. It has withstood the test of time. It’s still hilarious and it remains an insightful commentary on our possessions – our stuff – and our relationship to it. It’s hard to part with stuff. It’s our stuff. We like our stuff, but other people’s stuff? Mr. Carlin addresses that best. At some point, we are all going to have to deal with our stuff and a lot of other people’s stuff, too.
Raised in the last years of the Great Depression and in post-war Europe, my dear in-laws could never quite embrace the concept of downsizing. They held on to most of the stuff acquired over their lifetimes and were quite content with it. Likely, the tumult of the times they lived through as children was soothed by the certainty they created in their adult lives with a home and possessions that remained constant. Their stuff provided comfort.
Hip as they were to exposing young children to cutting edge comedy, my parents who are of the same generation as my in-laws, were not early adopters of downsizing. When they retired they same-sized: they moved to a new house of the same size as the one I grew up in. While they did clear out quite a bit in the moving process, they acquired more things and still had a house full of things they loved; theirs was a new house with slightly different stuff.
Like many people my age, as our parents are aging and passing away, the prospect of sorting through their stuff – a lifetime of personal effects and a house (and an attic, and a garage, and a basement) full of items no one else may want or need – is daunting. And it makes you think about your own pile of stuff and who will be left to deal with it. Recognizing that in life there are equal and opposite overreactions, I am taking a hard look at my own stuff. I find myself asking if an item sparks joy or if it will fit in a shoebox when I am dead. I’m purging. My husband is afraid.
Mind you, I like my stuff. I will keep the stuff I truly love and use and I will surely acquire more stuff. My estate plan – with a 100% haunting guarantee to my nieces and nephews if they do not comply – comes with strict instructions for them to keep only what they love, what reminds them of me, or what brings them joy. They are to donate what is useful, sell what they can, and pitch the rest. Bonfires are welcomed and encouraged. Ultimately, the place for a lot my stuff may be the proverbial trash heap and that’s okay. I was only the temporary owner of my stuff anyway.
This post originally appeared on my law blog in May 2018.