September 11, 2008 by Allen George
I have too much stuff, and it makes me sick to look at it. Not a figurative sickness – no, a claustrophobic, stomach-churning, on my knees “Oh my God I’m going to scream, I’m drowning in stuff” sickness. My possessions don’t just take up space in my room – they infest my mind and clutter my thoughts. Living in two places does that; over time you spread your stuff and are never faced with the full measure of your hoarding. But now that I have moved back I find I have too much paper, too much camera equipment, and too many clothes. Too much of everything . . .
I threw what I could (mostly paper and packaging), but that’s the easy part. Much harder is divesting myself of my previous purchases, both clothes and photography gear. It’s those decisions that are the hardest, since there’s always the possibility that later, you’ll want to use the item you’re about to give away, and you know that once you want it you’ll regret you sold it. It’s that chance of regret that holds me back from doing the right thing: from simply dropping all my camera gear on the ‘Bay, from giving my clothes to the Salvation Army. This is how accumulation begins.
My attitude towards possessions has been greatly influenced by Thoreau. To a large measure possessions tie you down; their pursuit brings only temporary enjoyment, only temporary appeasement – and to what end? Moreover, it is one thing to buy an item for a specific purpose; another, to do so for the sake of appearances, to mask a failure to perform, or for some dubious “need”. I know the last one well: too often in my life “want” and “need” are conflated. And yet . . . there is a pleasure in owning – I cannot deny that; my bookshelves would call me “Liar!” otherwise. At any rate, I’m trying to short-circuit the entire process, by sitting on purchase impulses as long as possible, and by addressing deficiencies in what I do, as opposed to what I have.
So now I have at least two boxes ready for the dumpster. And before the month is out I’ll have another two with stuff to be repurposed. I know that in some way, downsizing my possessions is akin to clearing my mind. Organize things, organize thoughts, organize a life.