I wrote this a number of years ago when I was in seminary. When I saw the RevGals Friday 5 on "Clutter", I remembered it.
What was that noise? I heard a loud thud and went to the window. There it was, in the middle of our driveway. A two-ton crate with my name on it. I was both surprised and embarrassed to see it there. It seemed at the same time too large and too small, considering what it was. It was the accumulation of three years of my life overseas. It was all of my "stuff" from Japan.
I had packed it all myself, some months before. I labelled boxes, counted socks, wrapped bubble paper around breakable. Then I sent it off, forgetting what most of it was, except every once in awhile, when I would think of a particular item and wonder where it was. "Oh yeah," I would think, "that's in my stuff from Japan," and begin anticipating impatiently the day when it all would arrive.
There were a few problems getting my "stuff." It got to the U.S. all right, but it got stuck somewhere in customs, where they refused to release it to me. It seems that I had been overly meticulous and honest in itemizing it, so that they thought I ought to pay them about $500 for it. Not only did I doubt that it was worth that much, but so did my national church headquarters. They were unwilling to reimburse me that much money. The thought occurred to me that I would never see my "stuff" again. I pleaded, I cried and I prayed. I finally talked the customs people down to $32.50, came in and gave them a check, and verified my shipping lists. It was indeed, all my "stuff."
"Well," I asked eagerly, "when can I get it?" I had been kind of hoping that I could take it with me that day. "We'll make arrangements for it to be delivered soon," they promised. So I went home and waited. Then one day came the thud, and the two-ton crate, much larger than I had remembered, much too large to "take with me" anywhere.
I spent many hours and days then taking out of the crate boxes I had packed myself, as if I had never seen them before. As I retrieved old tennis shoes and ornate vases, unopened goodbye gifts and patched sweaters, miraculously unbroken dishes and cardboard boxes of Christmas card and letters, I remembered things both precious and mundane. I touched things again I had forgotten all about, searched for those things I knew I had, and tried to find a place for some of it in my parents' house. It was quite a mess for a long time after that. In some ways, it still is.
In some ways, I have spent my life since then unpacking and then packing up "stuff." I can't quite seem to stop accumulating it. I don't know what to do with it all. It seems that there is always something at the bottom of a box at my parents' house that I suddenly can't live without. A Japanese cup that becomes a symbol of gracious hospitality. A book with one sentence in it that I suddenly remember and understand. A handmade gift that calls to mind a child I loved and promised to write, but did not.
What is all this "stuff" anyway? "Stuff" is a word that has crept into our vocabulary that shows how crowded and puzzling our lives have become. "Stuff" is indefinite and indistinct. There is always too much of it. It crowds out tiny dorms rooms, fills our dark attics, lines our narrow hallways. Our lives are crowded with memories, obligations and information. What is all this "stuff"? And what do we do with it all?
Boxes line my closets, filled with trinkets and gifts, silverware and old toys, things I cannot use right now, but that are too valuable to throw away. Books almost tumble off my shelves, all filled with information promising to be useful in my years of ministry. Memories tumble through my mind, some pleasant, some painful, overflowing the boxes I have stuffed them in, promising me insight into myself as a person and a pastor. Traditions line and mark my years, both giving meaning and constraining me. They are all a part of my "stuff." They are all a part of me.
I wonder if I will ever again have all my "stuff" out of boxes, and know what it's for. I wonder if I will ever have room in my life for all of my "stuff", of the courage to throw some of it away. Some stuff might be useful, and some might be excess baggage, but how do I learn the difference? What do I grasp, and what do I let go of? What should I hold on to, and what is holding me back?
What do I do with all this stuff?