How much is too much?
Anthony is taking the week off, so we’re rerunning this column from March 2009.
Like everybody I know, I have a lot of stuff. I used to have even more stuff—bigger things, different kinds of things. I run a pretty lean shop nowadays, though, and still I have a crapload of stuff. So do you.
I’ve learned how to get rid of big useless things: old basketball backboards, scrap lumber, piles of magazines, broken chairs, half-read books. Some people I know would fix the chairs, read the books, and make artful structures with the lumber. Not me, though.
I used to promise myself that I’d do everything I thought I ought to do, mostly the duties others had urged on me. I accepted hell. Now I recognize the impositions and made-up obligations that used to make me feel bad when I didn’t follow through, and I avoid them easily. Sometimes I sneer.
It’s the little stuff that I haven’t mastered. In a clay dish my youngest son made and gave to me are an old Dunhill lighter that my first wife gave me when we were still engaged, and that I swear someday I’ll have rehabbed into usefulness; a mala bracelet; a key fob in the shape of California that I used to carry after we decided to move here; a rock I gathered on the north shore of Lake Superior on a family camping trip and later polished with the rock polisher my family gave me for Christmas; my “Never trust a cop” button; two mementos from the first two self-development workshops I went to after I moved out here to Wackoland; a spoke wrench to fit my old nipples; a very small clay sculpture. That’s maybe half the contents.
I’m unable to deal with stuff like that. Beggars love me.
I know full well that if it all went away tomorrow, I’d probably be better than ever, as always, but actually getting rid of a certain kind of stuff is still beyond me—even giving it to the Sally, which is my primary outlet.
I can’t help hoping that as long as my “Never trust a cop” button exists, another unsuspecting soul will see it and wake up, like the Buddha did, and if that happens all of my carrying it around for years will have been worth it. I suppose I should wear it.
In moving into our current house, I noticed a box that had been sealed since at least 1990. I threw it away unopened. It was ecologically unfortunate and psychologically exhilarating. I think I grew up a bit.
One of my goals for stuff used to be to have as little miscellaneous stuff as possible, the notion being that stuff ought to have an overall purpose. When I invented that principle, I had no purpose, which explains a lot.