Rheya Tanner

I'm Stuffed

The tragedy of making room in my spare room.

Rhetoric intro photo

An old, yellowed typography ruler. A year’s worth of unshredded mail. A dozen episodes of Barney on VHS. A manual AB antenna switcher, the kind cavemen had to solder to their TVs back in ancient times. Assorted coins, quirky ones, like half dollars and buffalo nickels and a Chuck E. Cheese token from 1988. The replacement AC filters I’ve been looking for for months (damn it, I just caved and bought new ones two weeks ago).

This is but a small sample of the mountain of Stuff all over the floor in the spare room I use as an office, theoretically, when it’s not stuffed full of Stuff. I sit cross-legged on the floor in the middle of the Stuff, the centerpiece of my own hellscape. Cradled in my hands is a black baby sock that’d been upcycled into a coin purse.

Man, I used to love this thing. I got it when I was in high school and kept it on me 24/7 until I stopped carrying cash.I reach over to add it to my Keep pile, when I hear a voice from above. “Do you really want to hang onto that?”

I look up at the source of the voice—my boyfriend, hunched over me in his office chair like The Thinker—and I know what my answer is supposed to be.

“I mean, I can’t just get rid of it.” That wasn’t it.

I’ll say it: I’m grateful for Stuff. Maybe that sounds superficial, especially with the whole “extreme downsizing” thing we’re up our own ass about right now—as if living in your car and having three items to your name is some kind of flex.

For me, it’s not Stuff itself so much as the meaning of Stuff. Every knickknack and craft scrap is a tiny piece of my identity, a snapshot of who I was once upon a time. I love the potential of Stuff, even useless Stuff like old keys and paint swatches; they only become trash when you throw them out.

But my original Stuff-management strategy (shove it in the back room and close the door, pretty brilliant) doesn’t cut it  anymore. Not now that I have this person who cares about me and visits a lot and has a more, shall we say, minimalist take on Stuff. He’s kind of like my own personal Marie Kondo, which I like, except when I don’t.

And I don’t like it right now, as I sit clutching my beloved sock like a Free Elf, confronting a series of hard, probing questions: “Do you use it?” I used to. “Do you use it now?” No, but I might use it again. “Have you used it in the last year?” No. “Two years?” … No. “Then maybe it’s time to let it go.”

Easier said than done.

Sure, I completely forgot this sock-purse-thing existed until two minutes ago. But now that I’ve remembered it, how could I bear to part with it?

My brow furrows as I survey the vast ocean of Stuff we’ve barely made a dent in, clogging the room I’d really like to use again.

I heave a big sigh and toss it over to the Give pile. Out with the old, in with the new, right? I’ve been pretty grateful for all the new I’ve been handed lately. I ought to make room for more.

“Perfect. And what about this?” He says, holding up one of my old notebooks from college. “Do we still need to hold onto it?”

I mean … I can’t just get rid of it.

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