the weight of what i could do with stuff

I spent part of Saturday afternoon working in the garage. I almost said cleaning the garage, but that would be too optimistic…and inaccurate. Clearing out my heart might be more accurate.

If you have been coming to this site for long, you have discovered that I tell stories. For me, almost anything can lead to a story, a parable, an object lesson. It is the risk of a peculiar convergence of teacher and artist and some other vague something.

That story-seeing, application-finding is a wonderful skill for which I am grateful. It is a horrible skill as well.

You see, when I look at objects, I see their stories. I see what might have been. I see what could be. I see possibilities and odd applications. As a result, I find it difficult to throw any of those things away.

For example, in the picture are three pieces of wood.

  • The one on the left is wainscotting. I used it in our kitchen. I used more in our bathroom. I had some pieces left, taking up space in the garage and in my head. After all, I might need a patch, we may want to do another project with it.
  • The one in the middle is rough-sawn wood from a water-powered sawmill in northern lower Michigan. We went there with friends and bought two pieces of the lumber, each about a foot long. I made a remembrance for Nancy’s friend and for Nancy. Or tried to. They were really odd: one was never given and the other never used.
  • The one on the left is maple flooring, the kind used for gymnasium floors. I rescued a few pieces from a dumpster. The floor had been laid and before it was finished, it flooded. All the pieces were tossed, all with nails every 12 inches.

All of these pieces have been with us for at least a decade, cluttering the garage and cluttering my mind. I know that I could make something with them. I know that I ought to make something with them. I know that they are worth salvaging, somehow.

And yet. Every time I look at the garage, the piles of ought to and someday loom large. Even though I haven’t done much woodworking for the past few years, and am likely to not do any for the next few years, I hang on to all of these scraps, partial projects that exist only because I have a “could be” story in my head. This wood will sit for another few years, will keep a car out of the garage, will make me feel guilty, all because I believe that because I picked it up, I cannot put it down.

Until today.

Today I used the saw and cut them into lengths that will fit in the fireplace. I used a hatchet to split them into pieces that will burn quickly.

Halfway through the project I sat at the computer to check email. I found that my chest was a bit tight. The emotional work of clearing space was having showing up with physical stress. I convinced me that I had to keep working.

There is now one box of kindling in the family room, ready to start fires that will warm the room. There is more space in the garage. And there are non-burnable scraps in the dumpster.

Someday I’ll pick up more scraps. For now, I’ll breath more freely.


4 responses to “the weight of what i could do with stuff

  1. The stories that stuff tell us. I know that one.

    When I moved house I had to clear out the shed that was full of stuff. It wasn’t even my stuff, it was the stuff of the owner before the previous owner. A man who’d lived and gardened there for maybe 30 odd years, storing tools, pieces of wood, jars of paint, miscellaneous objects that would come in handy one day.

    I could feel his presence as I tidied his stuff. I could feel his wife tutting at his silliness at keeping it, her pride as she saw the projects coming to fruition in their tidy garden.

    I was in tears at the end of the clearing, at the thought of all that investment, those ideas, those plans, and so many that hadn’t been completed. But I also felt good, and connected to him, and I hope I tidied with affection, and love.

    Thanks for sharing your stories.

  2. I’m as deeply moved by Joanna’s comment as by your post. Coming from one who struggles to get rid of stuff because of possibilities, I feel your pain. And I still need to clean my desk.

  3. Joanna – an absolutely perfect story. I understand his side and your side
    and his tension and yours.

    There is a delightful story by Tolkein, “Leaf by Niggle” that feels like he
    must have felt. And you, your understanding of the story, as always, takes
    us in and moves us along

    thank you.

  4. I agree, Cheryl.

    So, when are we cleaning our desks?