I came home (to the apartment I pay rent to live in the majority of this year, in Oklahoma) last weekend. I came home to my university, to my friends, and to my stuff.
At first I thought I might try to make this post about Catholicism and stuff, in keeping with this theme I’ve pretty definitively decided I’ve established, but that’s about eight thousand more words than I have time to write this morning before work. Catholicism has a bizarre relationship with stuff. For a religion based on the teachings of a guy whose big thing was “sell all your possessions, leave your home and come and follow me,” we sure as hell made a big deal out of it when the most recently-appointed head servant of God on Earth opted not to wear the traditional jewel-encrusted silk hat in his everyday dealings and sold his vintage motorcycle to open up an orphanage. The fact that this shook us up as much as it did is maybe something we should be examining more closely, is all I’m saying.
But this isn’t going to be about Catholicism and stuff – it’s going to be about me and stuff, because I’m much more qualified to make statements about that. The problem with this post is that I think it’s going to end up being mostly observational – I know how I relate, physically, to my stuff, but I’m not sure I can actually put it in any kind of wider context, because I don’t really… think about my stuff.
I used to be a hell of an accumulator of stuff. In high school, I had a dresser that my dad called my “altar,” because it was so covered in knick-knacks and things vaguely important or not important at all– a dollar-store ornament shaped like a mermaid, a plastic unicorn I’d got at a garage sale when I was eight years old, little pretty things got from friends over the years, postcards and candles and toys. I had boxes full under my bed, bags full in the attic, bookshelves full throughout the house, and I even knew what and where the vast majority of it was.
When I got the fuck out of Georgia, I spent something like three days going through every single stupid, pointless, precious thing in my room and got rid of most of it. A year before, I don’t think I’d have been able to do it; but my leaving for college both coincided perfectly with the end of my first long-term relationship and offered the biggest leap of distance I could possibly have expected. I felt like I was springing from under a pile of stuff, shedding mermaid ornaments in my wake, scattering the pages of her letters behind me, leaping off of the piles of books and the stacked-up boxes toward something higher and brighter. Turning my life into something that fit into a single suitcase and a few boxes felt necessary and important– a liminal sacrifice, an offering left to some god of small beginnings.
In four years, I’ve never turned back into an accumulator. This is partly because I haven’t been in the same state (or country) for more than nine months at a time or so in four years; it is important, right now, that the vast majority of my life be able to fit into the back of a car. I try not to spend money on my furniture. I actively seek things to which I will not become attached. At the end of every spring, I sit down and shed the unnecessary again. It’s become a ritual; a process of deciding which memories need a physical anchor, and which ones I will simply need to relive until I don’t need any help remembering them. I have learned not to attach my memories of events to things if I don’t have to. I have learned to choose what things are better for having a memory attached to them, and which have value with or without one.
I divide things now into permanent and temporary, and will remember this as the first year since I left Georgia that I bought more permanent than temporary things to live with. I will not be giving away my coffeemaker when I leave this apartment; I will take my matching towel set with me when I go, and my mediocre pots and pans, and my mattress. My friend came over yesterday and talked about cleaning out her apartment; she complained about her boyfriend’s habit of pointless accumulation (“What if I neeeed that? He always says! It’s a goddamn tinsel cat, John!”), and told me over coffee how amazing it would be just to abandon it all, dump it all in bags on the sidewalk and fuck off to Europe with nothing but a backpack full of stuff.
I’m still never quite sure what to say in reply. I bought matching plates and mugs this year, with glazed poppies on them– subdued, but in a classy way; probably a little more than I strictly needed to spend; far too many for just me. It was an act of defiance against my lifestyle. I’m going to have these for a long time. I’m going to take these with me when I go. It was a determined lie to myself: I am coming to a place in my life where these plates will never chip in transit.
I told my parents I might not be moving back to Georgia in the summer, before I fuck off to law school. I told them I didn’t think it was worth it, to move all my stuff twice in three months. I only realized this year that, despite the fact that I’ve been living on my own since I was eighteen, I don’t have to go back. I don’t have to relinquish this place so quickly. My stuff is sparse; but maybe this year, I won’t have to clean it out to get where I’m going next.
…You know, people come in and say “god damn! You’ve got a lot of things shaped like owls!” And it’s true. (Oh, god, it’s so true.) But looking back at this, I think the most important revelation I’ve garnered from writing this post is that I don’t throw owls away. In four years, the only thing I can really be said to have accumulated is things shaped like owls, all given to me by other people. I realize now that it’s not that I have so many owls– it’s that the ratio of owls to things-that-are-not-owls increases every year that I clean out my apartment and do not rid myself of any owls. In ten transient years, I will end up owning nothing but owls and maybe a couch.
I don’t have a problem YOU have a problem