When I was on location working one year, my grandmother took two of my cousins into the garage where I had about seven boxes stored with everything I had left in the world, and told them to go through the boxes and take whatever they wanted to take. And they did. One of my most precious mementos was in those cartons and they took that too. When I finished working on that film I took what was left and I moved into a studio apartment to get away from her.
She never apologized for what she did.
Not long after I moved in with my new boyfriend, I noticed small things would go missing. I’d look for them everywhere and they would never turn up again. I tried to keep track of items finally by photographing everything in it’s place and then I’d wait for some odd item to go missing again. I never did figure it out. Finally we moved away into another state, and my things stopped disappearing.
Then I went to visit his sister one weekend and saw all around me, things that used to belong to me. I asked her why she had so many of my possessions and she very innocently told me, “My mom told me to go downstairs and take whatever I wanted. So I did. Do you want it back?”
Of course I did not want it back, but the idea that something that belonged to me, something that could have been very dear to me, was up for grabs, simply boggled my mind. I was just a yard sale, a bunch of freebies, to people I thought loved and respected me. I don’t blame the sister any more than I blame my own cousins for taking my belongings. I blame the person holding them up as available and allowing others to pilfer my things or to take whatever they wanted to take. I blame that person.
What would possess someone to take another’s belongings and offer them up to anyone that wanted them?
All of this was a great lesson in letting go of material possessions. Not that I’m in the habit of just opening my door and allowing people to just have at it, but I place a smaller value on “stuff” than I used to. I still like stuff and I still buy and collect stuff, but these days if I see someone that could make better use of it than I do, I give it to them.
One of my first Coach purses comes to mind. I like the vintage all leather Coach purses, before they became covered in C’s. One of my shopping pals bought this gorgeous, buttery soft leather purse for his wife when we were carousing the mall one afternoon. I told him that she would LOVE it! Well, she didn’t love it, so he sent it to me and told me to enjoy it and I did for a time. Then out to dinner with a good friend one night she admired it as it hung on the back of my chair. This Coach was a swanky one and a brilliant green color, hard to miss. It also had a steep retail price tag, so it was indeed a prize. But seeing how much my friend adored the bag made me go home and empty it’s contents. The next time she and I had dinner, I handed her over the soft flannel bag it was stored in. My friend squealed with joy. I knew she would enjoy it as much as I did and once that joy sparkled in another friend’s eye, she would pass it along to them.
That’s how stuff should live among us. It should hold a place for the next bit of stuff. Not so it dies a slow and ragged death in our death grip, but so it leaves us just in time to be loved and adored by someone new. I do not believe that we should have the same commitment to stuff that we have to a person. Sentimental stuff might be the only exception. A baby’s tooth, my wedding band, my husband’s handprint in clay when he was a child. Those kinds of items might be the only thing I place a premium on. The rest can be sold on eBay or shared with my friends.
I don’t like to be stolen from though. I think people that steal are skeevy. They have no redeeming qualities at all and nothing trustworthy to give us. Once I know someone steals, I stop trusting anything they say. There is no moral foundation there for them to build upon. In some countries they get their hands chopped off. Imagine if that happened here. I know a few people that would be walking around handless.
I guess it’s just stuff, unless someone tries to steal it. I wonder why that is. Why is something more valuable once another person tries to take it from you without permission? Where does the sudden valuation come from?
The Ten Commandments keep coming to mind here, even though my own personal feelings about who wrote them doesn’t line up with what everyone likes to think.
Thou shalt not steal.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
I’m going to say that once you start coveting stuff, you’re apt to try stealing it and that’s what this commandment is saying not to do. If you never pine for it, then you won’t be inclined to try taking it. But how do you keep yourself from pining for something someone else possesses? I’m not sure how to tell you to stop doing that, except maybe see it as a personal challenge to get that on your own steam, instead of taking it without permission. Work for it. If something means that much to you, get a job and buy your own. That sort of scene happens everyday. People everywhere are working for the things they want to have in life. You shouldn’t feel any differently than they do.
Taking something from someone else simply because you feel entitled to it, does not make it okay. It makes it stealing and you can spend time behind bars for acting out on impulses like that.
I think that along with figuring out why you covet other people’s belongings, you might want to explore why you feel like you need them. That is the true root of your problem. What great, big empty hole exists inside of you that needs to be filled up with things that don’t belong to you and that you have no right to take? Where did that hole come from?
One of my old friends was a notorious kleptomaniac and she wasn’t shy about admitting it either. She grew up in an affluent neighborhood in a house that most everyone would classify as a mansion. She went to the best private school and when she graduated, she was given a vintage Mustang as her first car. On the outside, looking in, she appeared to have it all, but in her own head, she didn’t. She thought nothing at all of lifting a pretty necklace from a dresser at a party she was attending, or dropping a pretty bottle of cologne into her purse at a drugstore.
She told me that her parents were yard sale shoppers. Every piece of clothing she owned had been worn before, by a stranger. This is partially why she could grow up in a nice neighborhood and go to great schools, but I didn’t point that out to her.
She was in the mountains with her boyfriend’s parents one winter and she needed ski bibs and warm clothing and so her mother sent her a box filled with everything she needed for a fabulous ski weekend. In the box were snow suits from the 1970’s and wool sweaters that reeked of moth balls. She said she and her boyfriend put the entire box and it’s contents on the curb for the garbage pickup and spent her school tuition on everything she needed for the trip instead. When school rolled around and she needed to pay her fees, she lied to her parents and told them that she was robbed and they sent her more money and a used stun gun.
I’m going to guess here that the huge hole she was filling was feeling passed over as a child that constantly wore what she viewed as other people’s hand me downs. As she got older, she decided to replace all of those missed opportunities with items that were brand new, even if she still didn’t have to pay for them. As one of her friends, I can tell you that I also suffered from her five finger discounting. My things went missing when she came around too, but I never had the heart, or the nerve, to ask her about it. After a few times being burned I learned that if I cared about it, I locked it up or hid it when she visited. I haven’t seen or heard from her in many years, but I wonder if she’s ever outgrown this habit.
I had a roommate once that invited me over to unwrap Christmas presents one year and I sat across the room and watched as her sister unwrapped gift after gift of items that all belonged to me, including underwear. She sat on the sofa next to her younger sister and they joyfully laughed and squealed, while I sat across the room in total shock. I waited until we were back home to confront her and was again shocked by her response, “Oh what’s the big deal! It’s just stuff! You can buy more!” I admitted that I could indeed buy more and in the meantime perhaps she could find another place to live.
Her parents moved her out the next week while I was at work (you know, working so I could buy stuff to replace what she gave her sister for Christmas) and they ransacked my bedroom, taking whatever they felt was valuable, including every pair of blue jeans I owned. I let it go. I was just so happy to have my privacy and my personal space back.
About 6 years after this happened, and after she and I had finally reconciled our friendship and she had married the man of her dreams and had her first child, she shot herself in the face and died. When I sent my condolences to her family, her mother replied to me, “She never liked you anyway.” If I ever wondered about the hole my friend was trying to fill in her heart, it didn’t take me long to figure it out after this. I am sure my friend never told her mother the truth of how she had treated me. And even in her grief, her own mother still could not find it in her heart to be gracious and forgiving and chose to fan the flames of hatred instead.
People will steal things for a variety of reasons, but unless it’s going to keep you alive, there’s no reason that’s ever going to be good enough.
When I asked my husband how he felt when someone stole something from him, he told me that he hadn’t had a lot of things stolen from him , but it had never had much of a negative impact on him. He said he had always been more surprised by the goodness of others, like someone that found his wallet and returned it to him. This small act of honesty had more of an impact on him than anything he had ever lost because someone felt they needed to take it from him.
That is how I’d like to close this article. I’d like to think there is far more goodness in this world, than there are people that want to steal from you. I’d like to remember that it’s only stuff and I can always get more someday, but a friend that is lost is gone forever. I’d like to know that memories are in my head and in my heart and while stuff fades, maybe I can still replay the good times when I close my eyes at night.