The Alchemical Shift from Stuff to Treasure

Tonight, I’m so tired. I’m tired of living out of boxes. I’m tired of the smell of the guest house when there are four of us living back here with our dog and all our crap (both in boxes and oozing from them) where little bits of food can easily hide and worse, rot. My own home feels dirtier than almost anywhere we stayed in the developed or developing world!

I’ve been down right calm about this whole thing with minor breakthroughs of freak-out, but mostly flowing with the boxes, lack of cooking surfaces, dirt, chaos and mayhem. If you had told me a month ago that three weeks after returning state-side I’d be living among my boxes, sleeping on mattresses on the floor in our guest house AND that I’d be relatively OK with it, I’d have thought you were nuts. What’s happening instead is that I’m the one going nuts!

It’s strange actually as it is the returning back to “normal” that is the most unnerving. Today began the first full week back to school for the boys. I went to yoga, grabbed a few groceries so I have food items that could be made into lunches, and returned home. That was the problem moment. I came home. I walked into my room of stuff and I sank. I did what I use to do when I would return from a morning like I had today and I sat at my desk.

But what then? What do I do at my desk? I use to sit at my desk and respond to emails before diving into graduate school work. Yes, I have my dissertation still in front of me taunting me to begin…to dive in and join my classmates in the work most of them are already a year into at this point. But who am I kidding? I can’t start writing or even taking notes for my dissertation in the kind of clutter that is surrounding my desk and my life.

Writing didn’t even enter my mind today as a possibility. Instead I answered some emails and puttered on the computer before turning to the mountain of boxes and with a heavy sigh, opened one.

Yesterday and today I attempted to tackle “books.” Books seemed like a good place to enter the mound. It seemed like a manageable segment of our stuff and one that I could easily purge heaps. I started off strong. I entered the cookbooks and cut about a third of those. Coffee table books too were sliced. Then, I opened the kids’ books. Sound of tires screeching! I purged lots, but when you purge lots from mountains you still end up with mountains, just smaller ones. We have sooooo many books.

A part of me wishes I had no attachment to any of the books I went through today. That way I could just pack them up and cart them off to the library or charity and happily donate the lot of them. But instead, each box held treasures. Almost every night for nearly 13 years (minus the first few months or so) one of us would read stories to the boys at bed time. Most of the books left in the boxes are well loved, cherished and some I can recite by heart. These books mark moments in our lives with our boys. Odd Velvet, Mama Do You Love Me, Monster Mama, Cow on the Roof, Frannie B. Kranny, and of course, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day…to name but a few, all are part of our story–our family story. They make me laugh, smile and a few can choke me up.

We no longer read those books to the boys. Now they like series. Not so much KK, but Ru still loves to be read to before bed even though he’s blasting through books on his own reading over 50 books during our year away. Thankfully, he gets that being read to is different, special. Brent and I sometimes have to wrestle to see who gets to read to the boys. Right now, Ru and Brent are near the end of a three book series and I haven’t had a single night of reading since they started. Looks like I’ll be needing to find a new series as I might get a turn soon.

But this doesn’t help with the multitude of storybooks we’ve collected and that have collected us. What do I do with them? We’re tangled up together, these books, our boys and I. It’s true our boys are getting older and their need for these books is or maybe already has shifted. It took me years to get rid of their favorite board books as I saved those in case my niece or nephew were around and needed a favorite story. Jamberry still floats rhythmically in my mind as soon as I mention board books…”One berry, two berry, pick me a blueberry…” If how long it took to part with those is any indication, I’ll maybe purge the remaining storybooks when my kids leave for college.

And, maybe not. I still have a few books from my childhood that I’ve been able to share with my kids and as memory links for me to my own childhood. Yes, this is exactly the part of what makes my “pack-rat” tendencies thrive and it is also what helps create heritage. We don’t have a lot of connection to things that last or that come from those before. New is best, but what makes something live is to use it.

I still have a box of Madame Alexander Dolls (the 8 inch ones representing different countries and stories). Like the books, I can’t seem to let them go. I played with them, hard. They are collectors dolls, but not ones anyone would ever want. To the outsider, my dolls are in bad shape. I dressed and undressed, moved their arms and legs, gave them names, families and frequently took them on wagon trains to far off lands in our living room…one year we even decorated the Christmas tree with them. Now, the glue that holds their hair in place is gone, the elastic in their bodies connecting to their limbs is old and very few shoes are left in the whole lot! But these dolls and my sister’s dolls are precious because they lived rather than stayed perfect on a glass shelf or their box. Just like my treasured books, I can’t let them go. When loving energy has been spent and memories woven into the molecules of the dress or page the item becomes elevated from thing to treasure.

What then…Someday treasures will either lose their power, or the space in our home will no longer allow them to be saved, or a niece or nephew will come along and need that very doll or that exact storybook. Then they are passed, the legacy and heritage is handed on. Something about that form of purging feels better than OK, it feels right. When I pass on a treasure to another in my line they are not just getting a book or a doll, they are being handed a link to their ancestry, our shared ancestry. Perhaps it is through the sharing of treasures that I feel my stories continue to live…my dolls will find joy in being played with once again and the words flowing off the pages of favorite books will further sew families together as they have stitched together the bedtimes and hearts of ours.

It is a hope or perhaps just a delusion that enables my tendencies to “keep” when toss, give away or gift would be far more productive at creating space. I am choosing to be judicious. I will not make space simply to make space, especially if the cost in doing so takes a seam ripper to the fabric of some of my most precious of memories. At some point the threads will fade on their own, but until then, treasures will remain.

We might get back into our house tomorrow…or maybe Wednesday…or…

Soon all of the treasures will need to find a more permanent home. And the stuff will need to be further sorted as only treasures will be joining us on the other side of the yard. If I think about it too much, it’s a daunting task. Today, I managed a box or two. That was it. That was all I could do when faced with familiar routine and out of control environment.

The ground is still rocking, shifting, settling. And it’s time to go to bed.

About Dr. Britta Bushnell

is a writer, teacher, storyteller, and mentor who blends her eclectic training, years of experience, and areas of study into a unique offering for individuals, couples, professionals, and groups. Britta is currently deep at work writing her forthcoming book, Transformed by Birth: Illuminating cultural ideals to enhance the experience of childbirth.

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