Selling Guilt: when stuff is more than stuff

Many years ago, during a particularly slow period of life, I pulled out the hammered dulcimer that I had been carrying around, unplayed, for many years and took us both to a workshop in Mountain View, Arkansas. At that fun event I caught the dulcimer bug and had lots of time to learn and practice both at the workshop and at home. Gradually, I got minimally competent and loved the cheerful sound of that beautiful instrument.

Life moved on. I moved on and my time on the dulcimer got parceled out to other interests. But, I thought to myself, if I had a really professional instrument, I’d spend more time playing. I found the luthier who made the instrument I had long admired, picked out incredibly beautiful woods that called to me, and found it absolutely necessary to have the optional concert bridges.

You can probably figure out what’s coming: I basically never played it. I plunked it a few times and was thrilled at the tone, but realized that this instrument required a major commitment. Even tuning its multitude of strings was challenging. So, it sat there gathering guilt dust for several years until the decision to move to Mexico made me realize it was time to let it go.

Last week I sold it to a professional dulcimer player who wants to give it to his grandson. I should have paid him to take it. The weight of guilt that rolled away would have been worth every penny. And this morning, a mother came by and picked up my original dulcimer for her daughter. More guilt gone, as well as 15 inches of music books and training tapes.

Sometimes the things we buy carry a promise that can only be fulfilled by time and effort. The first time I recognized this phenomenon was when I decided to take up quilting. After several months and two small, (but stunning) quilted pillows, I realized my primary talent in quilting (and most crafts) is the buying of materials and supplies. By the time I reached that Arkansas time of life, I had amassed quite a respectable stash of colorful fabrics that I wasn’t doing anything with. Fortunately, a friend of mine who lived nearby is an amazing quilt artist and was quite happy to take the boxes of guilt off my hands.

It happened again about six years ago when I took up mosaics. Before then, I never even thought about going into thrift stores. Suddenly, I was obsessively combing through them for plates to break, scanning ebay for cheap lots of glass or broken jewelry, haunting the backs of tile stores for discarded samples. That stuff adds up and suddenly my last move meant transporting a thousand pounds of mosaic supplies (literally). Later this week, an angel is going to come cart the rest of it away, leaving me free to say, “I used to do mosaics and I really loved it.”

The bottom-line of all of this selling of guilt is a new resolution to not buy more of it … or at least try not to. However, there is that lovely set of colored pencils that I’ve been looking at, and if I had a little journal, I could sketch plants when I’m on a hike … and then I would just need a small wildflower field guide, and maybe a tiny bag to hold some pens to make notes about where and when …

It doesn’t end, does it?

Afterthought: in talking to a friend about all of this, it struck me that while I have “sold the guilt” held by these items, I’ve also lost the vision they contained. When I bought that concert-level dulcimer, I had a vision of myself playing beautiful music (not in a concert, of course). Selling it means I’ve accepted the truth that I will never choose to put in the time and effort it would take to become a musician. Maybe in another life time?

“Stuff” is pretty powerful stuff.

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