By Lisa Smith Molinari
I’ve been told that my family of five weighs more than 15,000 pounds.
No, we are not morbidly obese – that figure is actually the total weight of all of our stuff. Everything from the half-chewed pencil in the desk drawer to the 1978 Baldwin upright piano, and all the socks, cookie sheets, end tables, and dog toys in between.
As a military family, we have to move every few years. Each time, a team of movers wraps all our stuff in paper, packs it into boxes, nails it into crates, weighs it, and delivers it to our next temporary home.
Prior to every move, we take a few weeks to sort through our 15,000 pounds of stuff and “purge” unnecessary items like old clothes, outgrown toys, and beat up furniture.
Getting rid of things has always been difficult for me. As a child, I used to squirrel everything away – toys, coins, rocks, shells, candy, notes, photos, etc. – and I am still doing it to this day. I can attach practical or sentimental value to almost anything to make it worth keeping.
Sixteen years ago we were about to move from England to Virginia, and were sorting through our stuff in preparation to be packed. My husband was going through all the little drawers in his big roll top desk, and came upon a small white plastic clamp holding a hard brownish object.
“What the heck is this?” he asked, holding the clamp up to the light.
“Oh, that’s Hayden’s umbilical cord.” I said, briefly looking up from a file box of bank statements.
“His umbilical cord?!” he said, astonished, tossing the dehydrated fragment back into the drawer. “That looks like something you’d find in a bowl of Chex Mix…what if I had accidentally eaten it? I’m throwing it away.”
“WAIT!” I shouted, lunging for the dried up morsel of sinew. I held the plastic clamp and gazed at the petrified remnants of the bridge of flesh that once connected my son and me. I thought of the life-giving nourishment that flowed through the cord and how it symbolized my undying love for my son.
Just then, my husband interrupted my reverie, “Hon, you’re not going to keep that thing are you? It’s like a dried up piece of raw chicken!”
As I reluctantly threw the scabby scrap into the trash, I wondered if discarding our original physical bond might adversely affect the emotional tie between my son and me.
Crazy, I know.
That is the insane thought process I go through every time we move.
I could give in to my hoarding tendencies and tell myself that every scrap of paper and old shoe is indispensable, because it is useful or holds some dear memory. But then, the US military would fine us for going over the allowable weight limit for a family of five.
Thanks to Uncle Sam, I am not a hoarder, but I still battle my propensity to packrat every time we move.
This time, I hesitated over a restaurant matchbook from a night when the kids didn’t embarrass us. I had a lot of trouble parting with my 1980s Bermuda bag and its buttoned covers, still convinced that wooden handled purses will come back into style. And I couldn’t get myself to part with the tin drum that my son used to beat when we went Christmas caroling with the neighbors.
With each move, I have to remind myself that, although our stuff comforts us and makes us feel at home in unfamiliar places, the 15,000 pounds of stuff that follows us around the world does not make us who we are.
It is merely stuff, without which, we still have a hefty family life, weighty with memories, loaded with laughter, and laden with tons of love.