“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” William Morris
My mother grew up in Germany during World War II and experienced genuine need. During that time, for example, ration cards limited each citizen to only one egg per month. And if somebody in your family had a birthday that month, your egg was likely to wind up in his or her cake.
Surviving the war caused Mom to hoard Stuff, which insulates her from need. At 80, she is surrounded by a sea of her own Stuff, as well as all the Stuff that my father left behind when he died.
Dad’s father was a chaplain in the Army, which had him moving hither and yon all of his childhood. Unfortunately, Dad later joined the Air Force and forced the same fate on us. When we were moving every year or two, we didn’t acquire much Stuff. But when Dad retired, Stuff came in waves.
For dad, Stuff was grounding. It was an anchor. It kept him in place. It also raised his self esteem. Being able to say “I’ve got one of those” made him feel important. When he died, he left behind an inordinate amount of Stuff.
My Stuff story didn’t gel until after I’d realized a dream and designed and built a house. Building it was one of the most fun and creative things I’ve ever done. It was self-expression on a grand scale, and the best part was that I got to live in it after it was done. Everywhere I looked, I saw a reflection of who I am.
For me, Stuff became a mirror. Due to a perfect storm of adverse financial circumstances, I have to sell the house that I created, and with it, a business and a farm. This has sent me reeling. I’ve come to realize that, in the absence of my Stuff, I don’t know who I am.
We moved several weeks ago, and I still haven’t found my feet. Most of our remaining belongings are in storage, and only the bare essentials are with us in a cabin that a dear friend invited us to live in for a few months. As lucky as we are to be here, I do not see myself reflected in my surroundings and I’ve been experiencing an identity crisis.
Who am I?
In my attempt to make sense of my losses, I concluded that they must’ve been necessary because I’d come to derive my sense of self from the wrong things. But what were the right things?
Today, with the help of two coach friends, I realized that the right thing is people. People—and the love they hold for me—are the most accurate reflection of who I am.
I cannot describe how much relief that realization has brought.
But enough about me. What’s your Stuff story?