Thursday, October 2, 2008
When I was a little kid, I was very protective of my stuff. I was meticulous about taking care of my room, and I used to worry about what would happen to my stuff after I died. I remember lying in bed one night wondering what would happen to my stuffed animals.
Later, when I was in college, I used to go to flea markets with friends, buying up all kinds of fun stuff from the 1950s and ‘60s (which in the late ‘80s could still be found in abundance). I’d take it home and clean it up, and then be left with the dilemma of storage and, ultimately, disposal. How could I ever locate a worthy recipient for my stuff -- someone who would appreciate it, know how old it was, who made it, how carefully I had restored it?
In the 1990s, I had a series of two-bedroom apartments, largely so I could have enough space for my stuff.
And yet, paradoxically, all this stuff used to nag at me. I had a constant urge to thin it out, to give things away or sell them. I felt trapped by it all. I used to think about moving or traveling for an extended period, and then I’d think, “But I can’t, because what would I do with all my stuff?”
As I’ve written before, the turning point was when I came back from Morocco, in 1994, and began unpacking boxes and boxes of stuff that I’d stored -- and wondered, “What IS all this?”
That’s when I finally began a decade-long purge of my mid-century flea market finds, selling them through local consignment shops or on eBay. I also eventually sold most of the stuff I brought back from Africa -- and I didn’t bring back much. When I moved to New York, I whittled things down to an extreme level, since I now live in one room.
So you see, I have a strangely fraught relationship with stuff. I think I feel an unusually heavy burden of responsibility about possessions -- an unhealthy burden, even. I have found that the best way for me to deal with stuff is just to not own it. Then I don’t have to think about it at all.
The downside, of course, is that I also don’t get to enjoy it. I still have that Urge to Purge, and I own very little. Where does it end? Is this a kind of anorexia of possessions? Isn’t a constant desire to purge just as problematic as a constant desire to purchase? Aren’t they just different forms of attachment?
(Photo: Greenpoint, Brooklyn, Sept. 2008)