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The Way I See It: All This Stuff is Driving Me Crazy

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I’ve been thinking about a lot of stuff lately. 

Your stuff. My stuff. Everyone’s stuff. Stuff we don’t want anymore. Stuff we don’t need. Stuff we keep buying. Stuff we want to get rid of but haven’t gotten around to discarding. Stuff we just don’t want to deal with. Stuff we don’t even know what to do with.

Pianos come to mind. Ever try to get rid of one, let alone lift one? Ditto old couches, whose maneuvering out of the house — to sit unwanted and moldering by the roadside — is a ponderous geometry puzzle.

Then there’s stuff we figured our kids would want, but somehow they don’t want. Ungrateful wretches. Grandpa’s picture of the back forty or the tenement he was raised in, that ugly family heirloom hutch, the set of silverware they surely would need when they throw big parties. The loveseat and the ladder-back antique chair that’s been in the family for 150 years. The knitted throw to go over it. The box of family VCR tapes, school yearbooks, and athletic mementos. Your grandma’s fur coat. Several coffee brewers that got tucked back in a kitchen closet somewhere.

And over there in the corner, or in a cardboard box, or tossed in a drawer, hissing metaphorically, a writhing snake’s nest of black wire cords with transformers at one end and a coupling at the other that fits nothing you own anymore, dumped atop a pile of old electronic devices — iPods, voice recorders, transistor radios, ancient computers, and printers. And don’t even ask me about old tools, the kind with cords attached that have things called plugs at the end of them. 

So, you get the drift. Actually, it’s more like a clutter tsunami, one that floods barns, basements, spare rooms, and sheds, along with myriad ubiquitous storage locker complexes around us. Which somehow are all full! But I’m getting ahead of myself as to how I know this …

My rumination is inspired — not the right word, perhaps dropped on my head is better? — by a recent visit to the ReStore in Barre, which has been itself restored after the July flood and refilled to the brim as a useful and salient monument to our consumer culture.

I was there with a legitimate purpose: to help stock a family member’s new apartment. My eyes got quickly waylaid. If there aren’t a thousand dusty cups lining stacks of shelves there, I would be shocked, though now there are 996, since I bought four from a lovely blue set to replace my motley mix of unmatched cups.

This was a rare and uncharacteristic moment of seeking coherence and visual kitchen umami (in porcelain), despite the fact I cannot think when I last had four people over who all wanted coffee or tea after dinner. But they look pretty now hanging on hooks under the glass-fronted cabinet.

However, the truth is I already have my mother’s lovely china, which I bought at her direction while on R&R in Hong Kong during that little dustup in Asia back in the 1960s and ‘70s, so I have no shortage of lovely cups. Go figure.

Which is my point exactly.

People: What on earth are we doing drowning ourselves in stuff? Everything in the ReStore once graced someone else’s house, from spoons and forks to washing machines and desks. Sure, some housewares get outdated, but wasn’t Vermont’s bedrock axiom, “waste not, want not?”

Of course, that was before TJ Maxx, Wayfair, Costco, and Walmart infiltrated our psyche and the internet brought consumption compunction to our fingertips. This dalliance with the consumer devil is our American conundrum. The more we kit out kitchens and redecorate after perusing online rugs and couches and tables and cruising the HomeGoods and Home Depot aisles, the more we have to eventually unload.

Fortunately, the ReStore provides a venue. Bring your unwanted stuff, buy it at pennies on the dollar. I came away with silverware, plates and bowls, glasses, cookware and kitchen gadgets, a cutting board, knives and graters and lamps, a veritable second- and third-hand wedding registry of new home outfitting at your dusty fingertips, all for pennies on the dollar.

Wandering through the jam-packed building, marveling at the variety of stuff there, I had several thoughts. First, what a great idea the ReStore is: Folks are happy to drop off stuff they don’t want for others to use. Second, how did we ever get to a place where we have so much stuff we happily give it away? Third, a lot of stuff we throw out is desperately needed in other places in the world.

And fourth, I am going to go back with a box of stuff to get rid of, er, donate — and damn sure will leave my wallet at home.

Andrew Nemethy’s stuff is in the basement of his home in Adamant. Please come steal some of it. 

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