Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Christmas Ode to The Stuff *Updated*

While I have wanted to post something I just haven't been feelin' it. The creative juices are being diverted somewhere along the way and I'm pretty sure that when you say "I want you to post again" you do not mean you want me to write: "And today we watched Charlotte's Web and then I took a nap and then the baby sneezed all over me and then I cooked a mediocre dinner which consisted primarily of sausages." So consider my long silences between posts a mercy. A severe mercy no doubt (har har) but a mercy nonetheless.
Today something did strike my fancy though. Especially during this time of the year I feel the need to speak up for the Stuff. The Stuff gets such a bad rep around Christmas time - in spite of the the alleged widespread indulgence of our every Stuffish whim. We all rail against the non-stop accumulation of Stuff in our disgustingly affluent society and we purge and declutter and our homes become increasingly stark and in some cases sterile. We become more and more dependent on our electronics to house the information that used to be housed between the covers of books. Instead of wrapping a gift for someone at Christmas we lick an envelope that will deliver to someone "an experience" - a trip to a store, to a movie, to a play. If we have really gone off the deep end we make a gift to a charity in someone's name (yikes).
There is nothing wrong with any of the above tendencies or actions or gifts (except the charity one - go ahead and give to charity but you just can't kill two birds with that stone. It's not that kind of stone). But I like the stuff. I do. I LIKE STUFF. I am a serious Christian. I live in America. I have a lot of children who have a lot of toys. I have a lot of furniture in a not-so-large house. I have a lot of artwork on a lot of walls. I have a lot of Christmas decorations on a lot of surfaces. There's not a lot of visual rest for the eyes in my home (my brother once said to me, "when people come in here do they have a hard time figuring out where to look?"). And I'm happy with it.
Sure - there are things that I want to get rid of. I do, in fact, have a large bin (OK, it's a huge black trash can in my basement) which I regularly fill and return lots of it to the place from whence it came - Goodwill. But I am not interested in boxing up or bagging up all of my kids Playmobiles, Legos, puzzles, trains, dolls, dressup clothes, stuffed animals, movies and certainly not their books (I even own an Encylopedia set and a dictionary. I know. I'm a dinosaur). I am very interested in keeping their toys organized and in working order and I am also interested in buying them toys that improve their imagination and education - not the junk. The junk toys come in a much more conveniently stored package. A little electronic box the size of their pocket and which keeps them occupied and quiet and the house clean for greater periods of time then your typical selection of quality, cluttery toys will.
I am interested in facilitating a rich childhood and a cozy home. A cozy home needs to be clean and organized and the Stuff often seems to be getting in the way of that but really each piece of Stuff, in it's proper place, is a building block that builds up into a childhood and a home. I think that the homes that look so nice in a picture in a magazine might end up looking cold and empty if you lived in it. I find that the effort it takes to maintain The Stuff can look very much like the effort it takes to make a home and to be a mom.
I just got back from a fabulous trip to the Goodwill where I bought my children lots of good, cluttery toy Stuff (some of it is even plastic with lights and sounds! Horrors!) that I can't wait to watch them open up on Christmas morning. A lot of it will probably end up back in my Goodwill trash can eventually but I'm happy to house it and and clean it up every night for the next few years of my children's lives. I will facilitate The Stuff, The Childhood and The Home and I will be exhausted and happy. And I hope my kids will be too. Welcome home, Stuff - welcome home.

P.S. After posting this I suddenly got very nervous that I was going to insult some of my dearest friends and best homemakers and mothers that I know. This is not about you, dear friends! This is about the unexamined purge - the heedless quest for clean lines in a home to the point of disregarding the people who live in that home.
Equally, this is not a manifesto in favor of the disgusting home in which clutter reigns supreme, but I think I made that clear enough.
Essentially this is just me coming to terms with the fact that my idea of providing a home and a childhood for my family can look different then that of the other good moms in my life. And that's OK. I'm OK, you're OK. Good holiday feelings all around, OK? Right. Love to all and I can't wait to come to your cozy homes and give my eyeballs a rest. :)


  1. love it, love it, love it! You put it so beautifully. i know my kids would have a great time at your home. we need to come visit you!

  2. I think personal reactions to 'The Stuff' and individual tolerance for clutter has a lot to do with personality types. Ideally, I would love to have good storage and less stuff because visual clutter= mental clutter for me. I honestly have to go and find a tidy and uncluttered bit of wall to stare at sometimes in order to put together a coherent thought or two. In reality, I settle for just gaurding and maintaining a few orderly, uncluttered spaces, because in practice I'm a mom and so I have to manage, tolerate, and enable other people's stuff as well as my own. And I do indeed want my kids to be self-entertaining, which can require some stuff.

    I hear you on gifts though - I LOVE giving and getting gifts. Bonus points for homemade/repurposed/rehomed gifts. :-)

  3. Stuff is famously fun for kids. My tendency is to immediately purge "purposeless" stuff. Then I turn around and see that stuff is the stuff that my little one is most interested in. Old make-up brush... favorite toy.

    I guess I shouldn't judge STUFF.

  4. Great post! I think I'm more of a stuff = home person and Mark is a magazine = home person. Somehow, we make it work - he leaves for work and the "home" becomes my vision. When he gets home, the "home" becomes his vision. I guess that really just means that during the day there are toys and books strewn hither and yon and then they get picked up and put away. :) I'm working on seasonal decorations, but I feel that these are best collected slowly over the years (as great finds at great prices) rather than all at once for that "magazine and no real value" look. Goodwill hint: if you have a rich suburb close by, go to that Goodwill BOY OH BOY are there exciting finds to be found!