Empty Shelves

The shelves containing our (pre-Seed) adult lives are slowly emptying.

That wasn’t a metaphor. I mean, we’re finally making some headway on making some space to put a baby in. Or at least the baby support apparatus — babies themselves are still fairly compact, even in this modern era where every damn thing has cupholders on it. We emptied out a nice little plastic filing box which the baby would fit in nicely, at least until around age two, provided it curled up a little. But, no. I’m living in my own little personal fear of the Giant Mounds of Stuff. I acquire too many material possessions, for good reasons and bad. It builds up; occasionally I get rid of some of it, but seemingly not at the rate it arrives. Growing up it fit (barely) into a bedroom; since then it’s fitted into (for the most part) increasingly larger apartments as my (and then our) living situations and careers developed. Okay sofar — messy but comfortable, and I do realize I could do without it if I had to. My occasional Stuff Crisis Fantasy goes like this: economy (or whatever) goes to hell, necessitating drastic cost- or risk-reduction measures in living arrangement. Rent truck, fill with everything but the proverbial change of underwear and hot plate. Drive truck to cheapest real estate in the U.S. (in the fantasy, that’s usually Oklahoma, mostly because I read a few years ago that $90k there will get you a quadruple-wide on 25 acres.) Empty truck, return to City blissfully unencumbered but quietly feeling reassured that mounds of stuff are still packed away awaiting better days.

Implausible, but whatever. It can stand in for something more sensible. But Stuff represents an obligation of sorts. You have to pay to keep it un-stolen and out of the rain, which usually means taking space meant for people and using it for objects. Obligations become liabilities in the face of risks, and one job of a parent is to manage risks on their child’s behalf. Our child, meanwhile, will have all sorts of needs, and some of them are attended to by the use of more Stuff. Babies take in nutritious stuff at one end, excrete messy and smelly stuff from the other, need to be maintained within certain basic temperature, humidity and radiation parameters, provided with various maturation-inducing stimuli, and isolated to some degree from pathogens, parasites and predators. A bunch of that is customarily done with Stuff, which you have to keep somewhere when you’re not using it (and hoist onto the 14 Mission when you are). So the house has to accommodate it, which implies certain liabilities in terms of real estate, employment, disaster planning, etc. Risk management, essentially.

Risk’s been on my mind more lately. Partly because managing it is part of my job, and partly because the US economy is currently going through an elaborate, obfuscated and expensive demonstration of the sort of messes you can make when you don’t manage risk correctly. The greater fool theory is subject to violent corrections, and anyway I haven’t seen it usefully applied to childrearing.

To all that general end, we’ve taken various loads of Stuff to be gotten rid of. A carload or so donated to charities. Another carload to e-waste collection (not a clean business, that). I spent an afternoon dismantling and removing platters from hard drives. I also bought some lumber and spent a couple of days building furniture to hold more stuff, whilst Beth and I have started peering at diagrams and books and catalogs relating to the sorts of furniture useful in managing the stuff associated with children, or at least keeping them off the floor during the application of food, cleaning products, sleep or stimuli.

A small amount of progress has in fact been made. We can see the shelves, now. One that I can see from here is actually empty, and there are plans which should empty a few more. If nothing else, each empty shelf is a tiny bit less risk the Seed will be born into. And one more place they can sleep, if need be.

– Devin

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