Possessing or possessed?
I have a lot of stuff. This is the first observation someone makes when they step into my home. When people have helped me move in the past (an act of love and support that I cannot overstate the massiveness of) they usually say of all the boxes or the piles of wall art, “How did you fit all this in your old place?” and they wonder nervously how I will fit it all into my new place. But I always do.
When I move into my own space, I am pretty much moved in after two weeks. I have people over and they say, wow, how long have you lived here? And I modestly say eighteen days, or two months, and I enjoy their surprise with the pride of a 45-year old being mistaken for 32. I purge cars full of things to various recipients. I assess and discard and regift and repurpose. Everything I choose to keep has a story, a purpose, or a potential purpose, and I try to keep that latter category under control.
I have often felt trapped by my stuff. If I could just narrow it down to what would fit in a van, I could move to London or into one of those tiny homes. I fantasize about the Pinterest-generated ascetic life of one skillet, an e-reader, a laptop with excellent speakers, and a personality-defining single funky piece of art dominating my sunny but narrow flat. My only pet a lush green plant. My only clothing a perfect capsule wardrobe of rotating interchangeable items. Inspired, I put Marie Kondo on and start to do a sweep of my house. Before I have moved three feet I am admiring the way I arranged those books, the knick knacks in front of those books, the feel of the rug beneath my feet. It all sparks joy. Being in my space as it is sparks my joy. Variety is the spice of life. To hell with capsule wardrobes. I go through my massive CD collection and pick something out to fill my space further with music.
I visit my father in his home. He is the narrow part of the hourglass; upon their deaths, all his relatives back three generations have spilled massive waves of sand down into his bottleneck; below that choke point it will eventually be my responsibility to deal with all their artifacts. These precious family items were just swept willy nilly into a storage building; some things are valuable or beautiful, other things are worthless and dead weight. Nothing has been curated. Nothing has been sorted. It’s just a mine of potentially important stuff buried in a mountain of definitely worthless stuff, all of it crumbling, compressing itself into strata of sedimentary sentiment. Were this storage building to burn down, the nation of silverfish would declare it a national day of mourning.
I am terrified of the day I will become queen of the mountain. Our family tree ends with myself and my millennial sister who has no interest in any of the history of these people she never knew. I feel the weight of sacredness in the words “great-great grandfather” and I appreciate the craftsmanship of some of the items which once were in his hands. A leather box of letters documenting a courtship that eventually resulted in my late grandfather seems nearly priceless and yet, whether I were to conserve them or digitize them or frame them, who would care about them when I am gone? Who cares about them now? Should I just recycle them? It seems wrong to discard it all as nothing.
When I hold my great-great aunt’s Civil War-era doll in my hand, her chipped wooden head and sun-stained dress mere echoes of their former beauty, I know this doll survived to 2019 because it was important to her. I can’t just discard her. She sparks no joy in me; I had no war to terrify me, no decades afterward to turn this plaything into a talisman. But she has value. She has weight. She is an innocent tyrant, keeping me from my fantasy London flat or the storage building from being a little rental apartment.
Someday, the eye-rolling children of my friends’ children will probably be tasked with going through the boxes of Christmas cards I saved, the sketchbooks I clung to, the snowglobes that slowly evaporated into the ether, to pick out anything they like before it all goes to Space Goodwill or whatever the dumping ground of choice will be in a few decades. The little tin Amsterdam house, or my great grandmother’s silver baby cup, or the Cornish pixie I bought on Etsy, someone will sift and assess these things and throw them out, or they will feel the weight of them and keep them because they’re cool. By then I’ll have my father’s bronzed baby bootie, probably, or the Buddha statue that lives in the fireplace, too. Those items, sacred to me but meaningless to these future kids, what will become of them?
I know a guy who had to sell his house and almost everything he owned when he lost his job. He moved into a tiny studio apartment where he cannot make the artistic projects that so fulfilled him. He has no room for tools, materials, or workspace. I was horror-struck at the notion and wondered what I would sell, or what would even be sellable, if that happened to me. I look around my artistically cluttered home and feel guilty for the obscene stretches of space, my neatly organized closets, and I wish I could box up some of my space — and some of my tools — to give him, so he could have the liberty to make his art again, to feel good in his space after such a loss. “Hey, I got you a closet for Christmas!”
For now, I live surrounded by the things that make my home comfortable, welcoming, that reflect my tastes and personality, and that enable me to do my thing. They have shaped my life into where I can live and what I can do, but for now I accept their rule while I am fortunate enough to be their subject.