The Things We Have


Two years ago in May, I bought my parents house from my mom who at 87 wanted to move to a smaller place. The house that she had spent more than 60 years in was getting to be too much for her to take care of, so at 60 years old, I came back to the home I was raised in. It felt good to do it for a number of reasons, chief among them was that I loved this old place and the neighborhood around it. I have a lot of good memories of growing up here. When my mom moved, she took only what she could fit into a one bedroom apartment. The rest, she left here for me to deal with. For your children to be able to take care of you in your old age is a blessing so who can blame her? Since she died I have been going through her things trying to decide what to do with it all. It has been a real eye opener to discover all the things my parents accumulated over the years.

My mom and dad were born in 1930 and 1929, respectively. Their childhood was during the Great Depression. As history shows us, the depression was a time of great need, and great want. For common working folks it was a tough time. My dad grew up very poor, and my mom’s family had what they needed, but little more. Families valued what they had, fixed what broke and accumulated what they could for future need. Little was wasted. It is evident that my parents learned that lesson very well. This week I rented a dumpster to clean out the house. It’s 20 feet by 8 feet by 4 feet deep. I have it 3/4 full and there is still more stuff to sort through. I understand the reasons why they accumulated so much. They both did well in their working life and had the money to buy what they wanted. Having the freedom to buy what you want as opposed to stretching every dollar must have felt pretty good. I have been through some tough times of my own so I know how that feels. And they weren’t extravagant. They didn’t buy foolishly just because they could. What they did do however, or didn’t do, was throw anything away. In going through their things I have found lamps, and toasters, and coffee makers and hundreds of other things going all the way back to my childhood. When they replaced something they put the old one in the basement. Or the garage or the shed or wherever it would fit. You never know when you might need it.

I have offered some things for sale. I’m also donating things to charities. And yet I still have so much to dispose of. I’m not one who cares overly much about money so having a yard sale is out of the question. It’s way too much work for too little gain. But that’s not the point of this story. The point is, we have too much stuff. We have become a consumerist society where everything you want or need can be had at the click of a button. And you don’t need money when you have a credit card. Or two or three. Credit cards are easy to come by now days and credit debt in the U.S. is huge. Unpaid revolving consumer debt is at 4.1 trillion dollars! We have too much stuff. And don’t get me wrong, I’m just as guilty as anyone else. Getting rid of all the stuff my parents collected over the years has helped me see that I also have too much stuff. So I’m getting rid of all my own junk as well. And it feels good.

It sort of feels like lifting a weight off my shoulders. The less stuff I have the less I have to worry about. I highly recommend this to everyone. Go through your stuff. Get rid of what you don’t need. Donate it or throw it away. You don’t need it. It especially feels good considering the homeless situation in the U.S. today. At a time when people don’t even have a home some of us are cramming as much stuff into ours as we can get. It just doesn’t seem right. So I’m taking a good look at all I own and disposing of what I don’t need. And it really does feel good. Less is more, it is said.

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St. Joe’s

Men

Men gather in the alley, light a fire in a barrel,
and talk. Some drink, some smoke, some both, some
neither. Most come close to the fire, some stay back,
muttering and listening to words only they can hear.

Some dream of another life, some only have this one.
A fight starts over a bottle, another stops it.
It begins to snow, collars are pulled up.
Many layers of ragged clothes against the cold.

Women

A woman pushes a Walmart shopping cart laden with
clothes and treasures she has collected. Another from
the other way stops and talks, both hunched against
the wind. One offers a smoke. The first one leaves.

A woman in a doorway brandishing the skinless silver
bones of an umbrella yells, “Get Away.” She screams,
“Get Away, I’ll hurt you,” pointing the weapon at no
one in particular. Heads turn her way and back again.

All

The lights come on, the door opens and they shuffle in.
Tonight at St. Joe’s there will be soup, and bread.
Maybe a bed. Warmth returns waiting for the bathroom.
A man yells, “How can you think there’s a God?”

A priest says, “Shh, shh Barney, quiet down now,
God loves you, even if you don’t believe. Now give
me that bottle and go get some soup.” They stand
in line waiting. Tonight they will be warm and fed.