It Might Be Worth Something One Day!

One Small-Town Girl's Personal Essay on 'Stuff'

I hate those words.

Look, my family grew up poor. My father's family was made up of six kids all born within a span of less than ten years. Grandpa was a GM worker. There wasn't a hell of a lot of money to go around, so hand-me-downs and making stuff last as long as possible were ... a thing.

Some of my relatives have had really shitty luck with money over the years. Jobs not working out, stints on welfare because of jobs not working out, you know how it goes.

So none of my family's defenses of all their stuff is really a surprise.

Before dad started working for his most recent job over 25 years ago, we were scraping by. My folks always made sure I had decent clothes and that we never went hungry, but there were months when it was really, really close. If not for some of the people that dad knew, he may not have wound up doing as well as he eventually did.

We had many months of eating a hell of a lot of Kraft Dinner. Child-me didn't mind that so much. I don't remember a lot of my childhood, mind you. But I remember 'stuff'.

My parents were -- and are -- collectors. The house I grew up in had John Wayne memorabilia proudly on display, the house they own now has lots of fire service stuff and old car collectibles. I used to collect Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh cards, Pokémon everything and I wound up with a collection of cat statues one Christmas. I have nowhere to put them, but I have those statues in a box still just waiting for me to have my own space where I can display them again.

Collecting stuff was something that happened a lot as I was growing up. Can't find a wrench? Well, we can afford to buy another one. This turned into now we have a zillion tools but don't get rid of any because we might need them. The stuff wasn't as noticeable at the house I grew up in because we had an old commercial building on the property that we could use to store all that stuff -- out of sight, out of mind.

Now, though, mom's in a sort of state where it's finally too much stuff

She used to run a booth at an antiques mall. She started with this little tiny room where she could barely fit a display case and a couple pieces of furniture, then she grew to the entire back end of one of the buildings. As years went on, winters where she didn't receive her money from the owner (once he paid the bills, he claimed, there was nothing left -- he still doesn't handle that part of business very well) became a regular occurrence. Buying more stuff for the store grew difficult outside of the summer months -- and holding on to stuff that didn't sell was a bit of a problem. The stuff that my folks had accumulated over the years wound up doubling in the span of five years as this small business was running.

Mom finally got tired of the whole thing when the owner kept bringing in stuff from a retailer of brand-new items, and it was time to leave.

Dad has grown used to having lots of stuff. He's comfortable with it, it's like a security blanket because he didn't have that when he was growing up. The words "it'll be worth something some day" and "we might use this eventually" have become something mom and I both cringe over. Good Gods, I think, you've had that for my entire life -- do something with it or let it go!

That's how hoarding starts. You're poor, you grow up with nothing, you get into a position where suddenly you have things and you don't want to let them go. You don't know when you'll be in a position of have-not. You don't know when you'll need those things to survive, even if they're otherwise meaningless to everyone but you. Those cars falling apart in the driveway might have been worth something when they were in decent shape, but now, they aren't. Their time has come and gone.

This, all of this, is why I hate hearing that pair of phrases.

I think, given the opportunity, mom would just get rid of everything and start over. Dad, notsomuch.

"You're going to inherit this," he tells me on occasion, and I offer a tight-lipped smile and nod.

Good Gods, what am I going to do.

I've gotten better about collecting. I've been going through stuff and getting rid of what I don't need or don't want, trying to sell some things (unsuccessfully) and trying to make room in my little space. There are at least six boxes in my parents' storage locker that are mine that I need to get to.

See, I had a house, once. A three-bedroom townhouse in north Oshawa. I bought things for that house, I had a cat, I had my own TV. Then, suddenly, I couldn't afford the house anymore and had to sell it. Five years' worth of belongings had to go from a three-bedroom townhouse to a small bedroom.

When your living situation fluctuates as much as mine has, you start taking a hard look at what you have. If it isn't necessary, it goes. You don't know when you'll be stable again. That's the reality for my generation -- instability, but I'm going off-course again.

Is there a solution to the problem of 'stuff'? People have so much anymore that every single storage locker in my area is full. There are waiting lists for lockers. People accumulate and accumulate, but form attachments to specific items because of memories, or because they're neat, or because it's something they'd always wanted and could never have. Maybe they're not used to having 'stuff'.

All I know is that I never, for as long as I live, want to hear anyone ever try to tell me "it might be worth something, someday".

Mel Pearce
Mel Pearce

A small-town freelance writer and office clerk that loves video games, history, cats, and bears. Predominantly plays and roleplays FFXIV.

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It Might Be Worth Something One Day!