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Just Stuff

When I was a teacher, if a student wrote a paper with the word “stuff” in it, I would mark through it with a red pen and ask, “Just what does the word ‘stuff’ mean?”
Because of this past weekend, I think I know.

Twenty or so family members gathered at my brother’s house on Sunday afternoon to box, pack, and move their possessions. They are building a new house and they have to be out of their present home by the end of this month. We worked all day and it didn’t matter how many times we filled the moving trucks, we never got anywhere near finished. After 16 years of marriage and three boys, my brother and his wife have quite an impressive accumulation of “stuff.”

We live in an age when it’s easy to accumulate significant amounts of non-essential items. For example, the toys that come with children’s meals at fast food restaurants: what do you do with them when your children reach the age where they think they are too old for the toys, but they still want the food? I found bags of them in my nephew’s closet and I suspect if I checked the twins’ closet I’d find a matching set.

Or what about clothes? Most of us have things hanging in our closets that we haven’t worn for years, but we still refuse to get rid of them just in case they come back in style, or we lose weight, or whatever.

I came home from my brother’s house, looked around my own, and vowed never to move. I wouldn’t know where to start. My closets, my attic, every nook and cranny is full of…well…stuff. I have a lovely collection of seashells from 20 years of family vacations at the beach. And the attic is full of baby clothes, even though my babies now range from ages 10 to 20.

Not long ago I read a story about a couple whose house burned down. Their grown children drove for miles to be with them in their hour of need. In the space of just a few hours they had lost everything.

“Mom,” the daughter said, “all your pictures, your silverware, and china. It’s all gone!”

The mother wiped her daughter’s tears from her cheeks, looked around at her family, and smiled. “Oh, honey, everything I need is standing right here next to me. Everything else is just stuff.”

And that’s what “stuff” really means.

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