Commentary: Stuff

By Louis A. Zona

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – I got the biggest kick out of Howard Stern’s latest pronouncement, that he will become what he calls a “minimalist.”

He is not referring to the abstract art movement of the 1960s. Instead, he pledges to lighten his life. He is going through every closet, every drawer and every possible storage area in his home and getting rid of anything that he deems no longer necessary.

His new motto might be “Get rid of it!” He even discourages gifts of any kind since they eventually become items that occupy space and get in the way.

What inspired Stern to become a minimalist was reading “Goodbye Things,” a book by Fumio Sasaki that encourages a simple life style, free of the burden of owning too much stuff.

Other books on the topic include “The Joy of Less” by Francine Jay and “Declutter Like a Mother” by Allie Casazza. All propose a heavy-handed approach when it comes to clearing clutter from our lives.

And then there’s me. Clutter abounds! I don’t know why I keep stuff but I do. And every time that I think that I should go Howard Stern’s route, my emotions take over as I realize that I just can’t get rid of my ninth-grade yearbook where it’s written that anything is possible for a willing heart.

That’s me: a willing heart but one with too much clutter. How can I get rid of Broadway Playbills that remind me of great times with family or friends?

Will I ever be able to get rid of my Roberto Clemente signed baseball card or that framed picture of me with Omar Vizquel and another with Bill Mazeroski, two Hall of Famers?  I would be nuts to toss those photos into the dumpster.

Just the other day, a friend who owns a frame shop told me of an unusual request from one of his customers who just might have the answer. He asked the frame shop if it would duplicate his not-yet-occupied coffin and create a replica including the original decorative carvings. His plan was to take his stuff, those items that he just could not pitch into the landfill, and place them in the re-created coffin so that he would actually be taking his stuff with him. The second coffin would be placed next to the one holding his body. Clutter worries solved!

You know what? That is exactly the solution that I was thinking about. The answer to not wanting to get rid of stuff is not to get rid of stuff.

And if you can take the stuff with you like the ancient Egyptian pharaohs, the dozens of Playbills, my 25 signed baseballs, my cap guns from childhood, my Frank Sinatra boxed sets, my 50 art books, the 50 suit jackets and 10 pairs of shoes, etc., can thus remain with me through all eternity.

If my pharaoh approach does not work, however, there is only one thing left as far as my stuff is concerned. I will just have to do the unthinkable and bring in a cold-hearted outsider who will wear a T-shirt that reads “Get Rid of It!”

Such a person would mean business and would not tolerate me saying, “Not my three baseball gloves,” not the Erector set that my dad bought me when I was 10 years old and definitely not my letter from Richard Nixon.

Since I will probably have to fire the guy with the “Get Rid of It!” T-shirt, I will just have to review exactly what is in those five plastic 5-gallon containers (and not those that contain Christmas or Halloween door and window decorations).

I will just have to “be a man” as Marlon Brando’s Don Corleone in “The Godfather” shouts at the wimpy musician who begs for his help.

Yep, I’m going to have to put blinders on and simply throw stuff away no matter its emotional content or the fact that I might not have viewed it in 10 years. As far as clothes are concerned, I like my clothes. Yes, I know that there are suits, shirts, ties and shoes that I have not even touched in a decade. But I know in what closet they reside. If they no longer fit, though, I will just have to hold onto them until they do, thereby challenging myself to lose a pound or two or, better yet, taking certain wayward trousers to the tailor.

But in all seriousness, a real problem does exist regarding the accumulation of stuff. I do not think that I could be as tough as Howard Stern who has tossed out anything and everything to lighten his world.

Minimalism suits him well but it cannot work for me. I am simply too emotional when it comes to certain things that I associate with my parents and siblings or pieces that I connect with my career or education. And yes, I have more than 50 jackets but I like my clothes and enjoy wearing them.

They make me happy as do more than a few pairs of shoes, baseball caps and dress shirts. For those of you who, like me, hold onto things and thereby unintentionally make a problem for those who follow, know that most people are like us.

Psychiatrists probably have a name for our affliction but whatever it’s called, it has no easy fix.