Rearview: The comfort of stuff
Time for some spring cleaning
My vacuum races across the carpet, zig zagging back and forth between blankets, coats and a pile of sewing I haven’t started yet. Papers and pens are crammed into drawers and cat toys are swept beneath the cat tree. Spring has arrived, bringing with it fresh mornings, cleansing showers and apartment inspections. Any rental tenant is familiar with this process of frantically tidying and cleaning in preparation for the annual walk-through with the building manager. This year is no different, and I loiter anxiously as my husband points out the bathroom sink that won’t drain to the building manager. She promises to arrange to have someone come in and look at it, and they both shuffle out into the living room. The building manager eyes the bags overflowing by our desks, and the double rows of books filling every shelf along the wall.
“You know, we have storage units for $10 a month.”
My husband and I exchange a sheepish look before reminding her that we already have a storage unit in the building. She laughs awkwardly and promptly heads out to the next apartment. We both breathe a sigh of relief as we lock the door behind her but I take another, more apprehensive one as we return to the living room.
The definition of ‘stuff,’ according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is “matter, material, articles, or activities of a specified or indeterminate kind that are being referred to, indicated, or implied.” and comes from the Greek word stuphein which means “draws together.” The indeterminate definition is fitting, as we use the word ‘stuff’ to describe almost any thing or activity. The fifteen other definitions that follow the first one only confirm it. It’s why writers are strongly discouraged from using ‘stuff’ as a descriptor; it’s a noun that doesn’t describe anything in particular, yet can somehow describe everything.
In conversation, however, we use this word all the time. The vagueness of ‘stuff’ is a way to discuss our lives without really discussing it:
“There’s a bunch of stuff going on right now.”
“I bought a ton of stuff over the weekend.”
“We’ve just got so much stuff to do.”
We fill our lives with stuff, letting it crowd every corner and crevice until there isn’t room for anything else. It creates complacency, because if we always have stuff to do, then we are never faced with the question of, “what should I be doing with myself?” We are never challenged to seek out new goals and to seek out what we truly want to be doing. In the comfort of stuff, we go on with the status quo that is our quasi-busy, self-important, too-much-stuff-to-talk-to-you lives.
Stuff litters my desk, drawers and bookshelves, waiting to be useful, invading my thoughts, keeping me awake at night and waking me early in the morning. And it’s this time of year, the time of apartment inspections and spring cleaning, that I aim to get rid of some stuff.
The arrival of spring means the awakening of the arts and culture in Kelowna, and after an all-too-long winter, I crave the freshness of creative expression. I must sweep away the ‘stuff’ of winter: writer’s block, finances, and low cloud hang blues. This makes for an open mind, ready for the warm air and new ideas from fellow creatives.
Clearing out stuff is not always easy. It fills us, and our homes, without providing substance. The apartment inspection reminds me of this, and not only of the stuff slowly creeping back into my living room, but the stuff already simmering away in my mostly full storage unit. It’s a yearly reminder, because every year our building manager asks us if we would like a storage unit. However, the cold and isolating winter is finally rescinding, and it’s time to emerge into the sun crisp and clean — and free of stuff. Every week, I get one pound lighter, with stuff going from filling my bookshelves to filling donation boxes, filling my past instead of my present. I hope that I can learn to cleanse as only spring can, to break free from the weight of stuff and instead venture out with friends face-to-face, to live theatre, to art openings, and into an exciting new summer.