Helped someone move today and realised something new about myself. I’ve noticed shades of it over the years, hints. My girlfriend and I have a running joke that I’ll never take anything paper if it’s handed to me. There’s logic, of course. Whenever someone tries to hand me a flyer, a coupon or anything that’ll likely end up in the bin, I save the object the trip and refuse it outright. If I know I don’t need it, why would I? That path leads to unnecessary work for recycling factories. Why waste my effort and theirs if I could instead go to a website and get all the same information? Most of the time the concept of holding onto an object for some amount of time in order to save a dollar or so seems like a bad trade off. I could have one fewer dollar, but less overall clutter. It’s cleaner and saves me from sifting through things. On the tiniest macro level, it’s streamlining my day to day operations. On a person to person level, it makes me seem like an officious tosspot. I already knew I hated picking up papers, so what did I learn?
When my girlfriend was prepping to move in, we had a lot of trouble moving her out. She had a great many things. There were piles that’d accumulated over years in some cases. She had a huge room, thus no need to cut down. There are many words you could use to describe this behaviour, She prefers the term pack rat (which makes me assume she was a problematically dominant card during Return to Ravnica era standard). It was a process to get through. It took time, patience and many garbage bags, but we got there. It was far easier for me, having no emotional attachment to the both literal and metaphorical baggage, to throw things out. In fact I delighted in doing so, because it meant the piles were smaller. Eventually the piles got so small that they fit into the aforementioned literal baggage and we threw them into cars and onwards to my place. Now it’s our place. Wait, the question is still unanswered. Why am I being so elusive. Okay, here goes.
When I arrived to help move today, I couldn’t believe how many things there were. I assumed I’d merely see stacks of boxes, but no. There were stacks of boxes, but there was also a lounge full of porcelain figures, antique lamps and trinkets. SO many trinkets. The useful kitchen objects had been packed away. The shelf full of colourful objects of all shapes and sizes had not. The walls were still lined with canvas, prints, photos. So much furniture and assorted objects. There were things that existed seemingly as surfaces on which other things could be rested, in some strange circle of purpose. Deep inside I felt a stirring of existential dread. We were up two flights of steep, narrow stairs. How could the volume of items ever hope to travel along such a treacherous thoroughfare? Why would anyone own this much stuff? Why would people own things at all? What if there was a fire? What if you needed to leave at a moment’s notice? What if you had to get rid of it all for some reason? What if you died and everything you owned become someone else’s burden? Why would anyone willingly make themselves that vulnerably to so many negative outcomes?
That was it. There’s a threshold at which “stuff” terrifies me. The idea that at a certain point the ownership of possessions inverts. You become beholden to the things you accumulate. The more that you own, the more that you’re responsible for. This in turn makes me hesitant to acquire objects. Experiences, you can keep without taking up physical space. Unnecessary clutter does nothing but weigh you down. There’s another side of this, obviously, and that I have yet to work out. Am I afraid of being tied down? Of committing to something? Am I scared that one day I’ll need to escape from a situation and the perceived burden of downsizing will be enough to prevent me moving towards happiness? On some level am I afraid of being subject to entropy, surrounded by objects that aren’t? That I’ll accumulate a prison around myself that will outlive me? To have disposable goods with greater longevity than a living, breathing organism? Does this in turn draw my focus to my own insignificance? How fleeting my existence is in a wider scope? The grand pointlessness of it all? The question of why that lives at the end of each thought?
You’ll one day kick the bucket, but that bucket will still be there after you’re gone.