I have a lot of stuff. Do you? If I don’t spend enough time getting rid of the stuff that comes into the house it starts piling up. And yet, I still find myself at the store buying more stuff, even when there is already stuff at home that I don’t need. There have been many books written on how to eliminate, manage, utilize and store stuff, but I don’t think I know anyone who feels they have their stuff perfectly controlled.

Nowadays, to make things even worse, our stuff is getting more and more complicated. Modern stuff has special features and new-and-improved skills and bells and whistles. Modern stuff requires specialized batteries, specific cords, updated software, particular cleaners and secret codes. It makes my head hurt just thinking about it!

A couple of weeks ago I discovered that my printer had quit working. Just like that. No warning, no glitches, no opportunity to bang it in just the right spot. It just quit. I noticed a brownout in the middle of the night after the last big storm that rolled through (if you can remember that far back) and I wondered if that had something to do with it. The power had gone off, was turned back on, went out again, then back on and then in the middle of the night I was awakened by the sound of the fan fading in and out, in and out, and the tell-tale beeps of the microwave coming on multiple times. I had a feeling it wasn’t a good thing, but I didn’t discover the broken printer until a while afterwards.

To be honest, though, it was probably just time for it to go. I have had that printer for four or five years, so it has had a good life by today’s standards. The last printer I had quit working suddenly and, strangely, just a few weeks after the one-year warranty ran out. Call me paranoid, but that simply didn’t feel like a coincidence. I mean it was connected to the internet at all times and I know “they” were talking to it. If they could tell it to update its software, they could surely tell it when it was time to shut down. Meanwhile, the cost of a new one is so low that you are crazy to pay someone to fix an old one, so off to the landfill it goes (or appliance recycling if you are organized) and you scan the sale papers and the interwebs for a replacement.

Things just don’t last like they used to, and whenever I have to deal with a malfunction I am reminded of Guy Clark’s song “Stuff That Works.”

I got an ol’ pair of boots, and they fit just right

I can work all day, and I can dance all night

I got an ol’ used car, and it runs just like a top

I get the feelin’ it ain’t ever gonna stop.

I drive an old used car with a manual transmission for this very reason, even when it breaks it is easier to fix than the fancy newfangled bells-and-whistles machines that most people pine for. The last car I bought before it was of similar ilk. I bought it used from friends with 115,000 miles on it, drove it to 300,000+ with one transmission replacement and sold it for about a third of what I had paid for it after driving it for seven years. I know that this is not the way that everyone thinks, or even should, but I was really proud of that. Call me crazy, but I’ll take simple and reliable over fancy and fragile every time.

When my parents got engaged, Dad asked Mom if she wanted an engagement ring or a house. She chose a house and they bought one, along with a new washing machine, in 1965. She dried our laundry on a clothesline in the backyard until they bought a new dryer when my sister was born in 1971. We lived in that house until I went off to college in 1985, and they moved the washer and dryer to a bigger house about 2 miles away. We can’t remember which got replaced when, but I know they still had them when my daughter was born in 1999, and there is a chance that they moved one of them to Virginia around 2004, but our memories are apparently less reliable than those machines. Can you imagine any of today’s models lasting that long?

We are supposed to have things “better” now than they did back in the day, but I often wonder if that’s true when it feels like there are fewer things we can count on and so many more things we think we need. Stuff seems to be more disposable these days and we don’t hesitate to replace, and I really don’t like how that feels.

What is your stuff that works? Hopefully, in a largely unreliable world, we can at least count on the people in our lives. We hope that our family and closest friends will be there for us when we need them. I know mine will, but we are human, so sometimes failure occurs. Clark classifies it nicely in the chorus:

Stuff that works, stuff that holds up

The kind of stuff you don’t hang on the wall

Stuff that’s real, stuff you feel

The kind of stuff you reach for when you fall.

Here’s hoping for more stuff that works in all of our lives, and less of the stuff to throw away.

Monica Sheppard is a freelance graphic designer, beekeeper, mother and community supporter living in Rome.

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