Once upon a time there was a man who lived in a small village. He lived on his own in a large house since he was divorced and his children had grown up and had homes and families of their own. He wasn’t sad or lonely because he had lots of grandchildren who he loved very much and who he showered with affection, more than he had been able to with his own children which was common for a man of his generation and background. In many ways he was happy and content and he lived his life as he wished. He had a close circle of friends and spent a lot of time with them.
But this man had a secret. A secret that only his immediate family really knew about. He kept stuff, lots of stuff. Never got rid of it just in case it might be useful one day. It started after his wife left him. He loved her you see and I guess she loved him too but it was just one of those relationships that didn’t work and they had drifted too far apart for it to be mended. She met someone else who cared for her in ways her husband was unable to do and moved on with her life.
So the stuff started arriving in the house to fill the space that she had left. Spare furniture that no-one wanted, the odd bed, a single armchair and a scratched bookcase that perhaps would go to the salerooms one day. Then books, not shelves of them but boxes of them that people had read, or maybe not read, and didn’t love anymore. The man promised himself he would read them all and he did read many of them. But he returned them to their boxes and piles on the table just in case he decided he might like to read them again one day.
And so it went on. The furniture and stuff continued to arrive and at first he placed it in the attic bedrooms and there was still plenty of space. And as his family visited him, they commented that this stuff was starting to take over. But the man told them that it was his life and that some of his stuff was valuable you know or that it would be one day if he just held onto it long enough. And if pushed by his family he was likely to lose his temper so to avoid any discomfort everyone kept quiet and didn’t talk about the stuff. The stuff that arrived in boxes and bags or that was carried in through the front door and filled the rooms day by day as the years went by.
Before anyone had really realised it, the house was full, not full like you and I might think, but FULL!!! Cupboards full of stuff, ornaments, gadgets, board games, jigsaws, crockery. If it went in a house the man had it – in abundance. Five versions at least. No-one spoke about it. Few people went inside the house so no-one apart from the family really knew. The family were concerned but kept quiet because it was too scary to do something different. The man always said he wanted to get rid of the stuff but still more arrived so that one day there was only a little space left in the main living room and one bedroom of the four that could be used. Even the kitchen was full, and I mean FULL of stuff.
And the man was to all appearances happy and content. But occasionally, in quiet moments, he admitted he was overwhelmed by the stuff and it scared him. It scared him to live with it but it scared him even more to think about letting go of it. Because some of it might be valuable you know, because some of it had strong emotional attachments and brought back happy memories of years long gone. And the family talked amongst themselves and said “Something has to be done” but they didn’t know what.
Because it was scary to think how much work there was to do and how upsetting it would be for the man to have his stuff taken away. Because he had a temper to be reckoned with if he became frightened you were talking about getting rid of his stuff. And so even though it was scary to think about the future with all this stuff, it was easier to keep quiet and do nothing. Over the years fear came to live at the man’s house with all the stuff. The fear of living with it and the fear of losing it grew fatter and fatter as the stuff got more and more.
Then one day the man died. Suddenly and quietly in his sleep surrounded by his stuff. Even his family who loved him were overwhelmed by just how much stuff there really was. It was hard for them to see the man that they loved had been surrounded by the fear of letting go, fear packed into cupboards and boxes in every corner of the house. They felt sad that they had been unable to chase out the fear because it had been easier to let the man live the way he had chosen but they couldn’t help but wonder what life would have been like for the man without the stuff as they finally got rid of it all.
Now I don’t want to leave you with the idea that this man led a sad life. Because in many, many ways he didn’t. He loved and was loved which is perhaps the most important thing of all. He was generous to a fault at times and spent many happy times with the people close to him. But still at night he went home to the house full of stuff and lived with the fear locked away inside all his stuff because the fear of change was just too much to contemplate.
So when you find yourself facing a decision, wondering if you should make a change to your life and it seems a little scary or maybe a lot scary, remember the story of the man with the stuff. Will your decision, frightening though it might be, leave you living a life free of stuff or will it leave you just feeling comfortable with what you have right now but still afraid of the stuff you have not dealt with somewhere in the back of your head or even in boxes in rooms in your house? The decision is yours. Only you can decide. But I suspect the man might have done it differently all those years ago if he had known that fear lived and grew in all that stuff that he kept at home.
Written with much love and affection for the man who is no longer with us.