The Stuff Families Are Made Of

Recently, I’ve been told that my family of five weighs nearly 18,000 pounds. 

No, we are not morbidly obese – that figure is actually the total weight of all of our stuff. Everything from the half-chewed pencil in the desk drawer to the 1978 Baldwin upright piano, and all the socks, cookie sheets, end tables, and dog toys in between.

As a military family, we have to move every few years. Each time, a team of movers wraps all our stuff in paper, packs it into boxes, nails it into crates, weighs it, and delivers it to our next temporary home.

Prior to every move, we take a few weeks to sort through our 18,000 pounds of stuff and “purge” unnecessary items like old clothes, outgrown toys, and beat up furniture.

Getting rid of things has always been difficult for me. As a child, I used to squirrel everything away – toys, coins, rocks, shells, candy, notes, photos, etc. – and I am still doing it to this day. I can attach practical or sentimental value to almost anything to make it worth keeping.

Fourteen years ago we were about to move from England to Virginia, and were sorting through our stuff in preparation to be packed. My husband was going through all the little drawers in his big roll top desk, and came upon a small white plastic clamp holding a hard brownish object.

“What the heck is this?” he asked, holding the clamp up to the light.

“Oh, that’s Hayden’s umbilical cord.” I said, briefly looking up from a file box of bank statements.

“His umbilical cord?!” he said, astonished, tossing the dehydrated fragment back into the drawer. “That looks like something you’d find in a bowl of Chex Mix…what if I had accidentally eaten it? I’m throwing it away.”

“WAIT!” I shouted, lunging for the dried up morsel of sinew. I held the plastic clamp and gazed at the petrified remnants of the bridge of flesh that once connected my son and me. I thought of the life-giving nourishment that flowed through the cord and how it symbolized my undying love for my son.

Just then, my husband interrupted my reverie, “Hon, you’re not going to keep that thing are you? It’s like a dried up piece of raw chicken!”

As I reluctantly threw the scabby scrap into the trash, I wondered if discarding our original physical bond might adversely affect the emotional tie between my son and me. 

Crazy, I know.

That is the insane thought process I go through every time we move.

I could give in to my hoarding tendencies and tell myself that every scrap of paper and old shoe is indispensable, because it is useful or holds some dear memory. But then, the US military would fine us for going over the allowable weight limit for a family of five.

Thanks to Uncle Sam, I am not a hoarder, but I still battle my propensity to packrat every time we move.

This time, I hesitated over a restaurant matchbook from a night when the kids didn’t embarrass us. I had a lot of trouble parting with my 1980s Bermuda bag and its buttoned covers, still convinced that wooden handled purses will come back into style. And I couldn’t get myself to part with the tin drum that my son used to beat when we went Christmas caroling with the neighbors.

With each move, I have to remind myself that, although our stuff comforts us and makes us feel at home in unfamiliar places, the 18,000 pounds of stuff that follows us around the world does not make us who we are.

It is merely stuff, without which, we still have a hefty family life, weighty with memories, loaded with laughter, and laden with tons of love.

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Comments: 10

  1. [...] The stuff families are made of ( [...]

  2. zman March 26, 2011 at 6:49 pm Reply

    Most folks dont know how tough it is to be a military family, you go places and collect things that are sentimental about that place..and every few years you have to let something go that still does or at some point meant alot to you…..i know folks that would have kept the umbilical cord and fought their spouse tooth and nail on it…moving is tough…its the memories that matter and the family we have with us..happy travels…zman sends

    • Lisa Smith Molinari March 27, 2011 at 10:04 am Reply

      Darnit! You mean some people kept the dried up umbilical cord?! I knew I should have kept it!!

      (There’s my crazy talkin’ again….)

  3. Richard Bauman March 22, 2011 at 8:29 pm Reply

    Good Liza, isn’t amazing how much “stuff” we can accumulate? My wife and I, for several years now, have been trying to divest ourselves of “stuff.” We’re only moderately successful at it, but we keep trying. After nearly 50 years of marriage we have accumulated a lot of things, and far too many have sentimental value. When our kids have to clean out our house some day in the distant (hopefully) future, they’ll say like I did when cleaning out my mother’s home–why on earth did she keep this?

    • Lisa Smith Molinari March 22, 2011 at 8:47 pm Reply

      So true! I tell my own mother that every time I see her house. She is very organized, but has stuff for every imaginable occasion. One time, I found an extra coffee service set in the basement and asked her what it was for. You know what she told me? It is so she can serve coffee to her customers when she has her yearly garage sales to sell all her stuff! Isn’t that circular reasoning just mind-blowing?!

  4. Jody Worsham March 22, 2011 at 3:52 pm Reply

    At my house my husband has inventory but, according to him, I have junk. I’m thinking of junking some of his inventory. You are right about what makes a family but still, who wants to live in a stranger’s house? You need your “stuff”.

    • Lisa Smith Molinari March 22, 2011 at 8:45 pm Reply

      No doubt, Judy. I have to have my milk glass coffee cups and my grandmother’s junk jewelery or it just isn’t home…

  5. Jeanne Kraus March 21, 2011 at 11:42 pm Reply

    Loved this post. We have the opposite problem at home. I pretty much get rid of anything if I have not used it in a year or two. I do a lot of recycling to others. My husband on the other hand, cannot throw anything out. Not only that, he buys in great quantity. Right now, he probably owns 250 pens. Now, you know that he will not use them up before they dry out. Drives me crazy. I try to lead a good example by showing him how I get rid of stuff and he just takes that opportunity to fill the empty space with more stuff.

  6. Sharon March 21, 2011 at 11:29 pm Reply

    Great story, Liza. You’ll do fine and the kids will have a couple months to make friends before school starts.
    I remember those days. My first move “on my own” was awful. I was so used to letting the Army do it, that I wasn’t sure how. But, I figured it out quickly. Moving in June is great. We never had that opportunity. One year my kids went to three different schools.

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