What happens to “stuff” when nobody needs it?

Long time, no blog. Lots of reasons why:

• Life gets in the way, and even though in theory my life should be pretty well under control, I haven’t had blocks of time to sit down and write something for fun.
• I’ve been finding it hard to maintain the discipline of keeping track of different beers and trying to find something interesting and unique to say about them. It’s not that there isn’t a lot of variety—there definitely is—but I feel like I’m running out of novel ways of presenting my experiences.
• In some ways, I’ve accomplished one of the goals when I set out, which was to make some sense out of the plethora of choices that one faces when walking into a well-stocked liquor store and trying to choose what to bring home. I still enjoy looking for something new, but I’m also perfectly happy to fall back on a familiar favorite and know that I won’t be disappointed, which means there isn’t necessarily much to write about on the beer front.

On the other hand, life goes on, and maybe there are other parts of my life that are worth writing about and thoughts that are worth sharing, so I think I’ve decided to keep writing here and not worry about whether beer is the focus or not. For instance, lately I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the superfluous “stuff” that fills up the spaces we occupy.

This topic crystallized for me about a month ago. At the school where I work, once a week we have a Quaker-style Meeting for Worship where we sit together in silence and wait for someone to be inspired to talk about something. This particular meeting was the last one to be held in our old “auditorium” (using the term somewhat generously) since we just finished building a beautiful new multi-million-dollar performance and meeting space. The walls of the old auditorium are adorned by larger-than-life oil paintings of former heads of the school, and I found myself looking around and wondering what was going to happen to those portraits when the space was re-purposed to become a technology lab. I can’t see them going into the tasteful new performing hall or the surrounding gallery space, and I don’t know of any other space on campus both large enough and appropriate for their display, so where do they go? These are people who were well-respected, and they all presumably have families who remember them (or at least know about their history), but even if one of them were a family member, I can’t imagine having his/her stern visage staring down at me from over the fireplace every day. Do the portraits just go into storage? Does the school try to find someone who wants them? Or do they eventually end up in a landfill somewhere?

I’m facing some of the same issues in my personal life. In my house, we have a massive accumulation of children’s books, toys, games, music, et cetera, all of which nominally belong to people who will in a couple of short years be out of the house and on the road to adulthood. Over the summer, the four of us spent a significant number of hours sorting Lego® pieces into sets which are now being sold on Amazon. This project has multiple benefits: it brings a little money into the household, but it also takes “stuff” that is no longer useful to us and transfers it to someone who can make it useful again. But Lego® is only a small fraction of the child-rearing detritus that we will need to deal with in the not-too-distant future, and it’s a little daunting to contemplate the task of figuring out what will stay and what will go.

I also just had to spend a couple of days helping my brother organize my mother’s effects as we prepare her for another round of downsizing, necessitated by her need (at age 95) for a more advanced level of assisted living. Even though we went through a similar process not long ago, there was a lot of “stuff” that was no longer going to be useful to her that we had to decide to keep anyway (and deal with later), throw away, or try to transfer to a new home. I came away with a framed art print, a few music recordings (which she can’t enjoy any more due to hearing loss), a footstool that was hand-built by my grandfather (that I’m not sure we can really use), and several boxes of sheet music (rendered superfluous by arthritis even before the hearing loss set in). Some of the sheet music was claimed by the budding string quartet player in this household, and some of the rest may find a home through the agency of the string teacher at school, but some of it may just end up going to the recycling bin as “stuff” that has outlived its usefulness.

The same string teacher remarked to me as we discussed passing along my mother’s sheet music that one of the things she enjoys about the art form of music is that you create a product that is often ephemeral. I hadn’t thought about it that way, but she’s right that unless you make a recording there’s no residue of “stuff” to deal with later, and recordings often end up languishing on a shelf somewhere until someone decides they are no longer needed. As a result, I’m feeling inspired to try to find ways to reduce the burden of excess “stuff” that I might impose on others.

I’m also grateful that the holidays brought me lots of gifts that won’t add to a pile of “stuff” for someone to deal with later. In a few cases, I received needed replacements for items that were lost or worn out, but I also got lots of consumables, including chocolate, coffee, whiskey, and some home-brew from my brother (so this post isn’t completely beer-free). So as I sit here on a Friday night, waiting for a snowstorm that’s supposed to arrive tomorrow afternoon and gearing up for semester exams next week, I’ll enjoy another of those consumable gifts and wish any readers out there all the best for the New Year of 2017. Cheers!

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