"Cultivate poverty like a garden herb, like sage. Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends. Things do not change, we change. Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts.”
-Henry David Thoreau
I’ve always been a big fan of stuff. I love it. I love buying it, looking at it, playing with it, sharing it, hoarding it, displaying it, accumulating it. I had knick-knacks from all over the world: a miniature Eiffel Tower from Paris, newspapers from Taiwan, sari fabric from India, the boots that I wore hitchhiking across the US. Some of my favorite stuff included an incense burner shaped like a genie lamp, a set of Russian nesting doll measuring cups, an old globe ornament that opened to reveal scenes of animals around the world, a bright blue rustic wood shelf. I hoarded fabric and craft supplies like an artsy dragon. I spent my time searching and perusing stores - both physical and online - for the perfect thing. The thing that would bring my collection together; that would represent me - my values, beliefs, longings, secrets, hopes, disappointments, heartbreaks, triumphs - to anyone I allowed into my lair.
I had boxes of mementos: a mask I made in a 7th grade elective class, some little plastic toys that had once held meaning, steampunk green goggles, a notebook full of blank-backed postcards, a battered silk scarf used to play dress-up, bags of seashells from childhood vacations past, my grandmother's novelty thimbles, an airplane barf-bag puppet, a lone fingerless glove, a rock from a senior class retreat. Stuff. I convinced myself all were precious, representative, worth keeping around. I could really sell myself on keeping these things after the occasional purge in which I would throw away a thing or two. But in the days and weeks after a purge, little fibrous feelers would begin to tickle my insides leaving sticky burrs of guilt to grow in my gut, my heart, my mind.
Somehow, somewhere along the way I had talked myself into believing there was energy in the things I kept around me, and that throwing away a Happy Meal Spongebob Squarepants toy was an act of betrayal against poor twelve year-old me; that if my child self knew that my adult self could so easily and heartlessly discard these prized possessions she would mourn her future self, she would be disappointed in me.
See, things do have energy, but not the kind I was purporting them to have. My stuff wasn’t representational of who I was at a certain point in time, but instead my stuff was representational of the things I clung to for comfort during a childhood and adolescence rife with confusion and loneliness. I found more comfort in things than I ever did in people. From a terribly young age I learned that people hurt, but things didn’t. I could control things. I could use things as props and aids for my imagination. I could escape into things, and not feel so alone. So to part with a thing became as, if not more, difficult than to part with certain people. Things reminded me of the times I felt happy, peaceful, and comforted. It’s not necessarily that having things made me happy, but I had used them to help create some sense and calm in times of chaos.
And that is an energy that if left unchecked, if left to its own devices, will start as an innocent young shoot and explode into an oppressive and monstrous tangle of thorny vines.
It happened that each object sprouted tendrils, and long, searching, snaking vines that began, innocently enough, to creep over my shoulders, around my toes, up my arms. Soon enough I found myself tethered to things. They had lodged deep in my heart and mind, and I carried them wherever I went. People would know me by my things. I couldn’t recognize myself without my things. With every step I dragged a jungle. To get rid of a thing meant to get rid of a part of myself.
It is painful to pull barbs out of flesh. It is painful to prune back what has grown into and under skin.
I don’t have those things anymore. For a handful of messy and obnoxiously nuanced and detailed reasons (which I won’t get into here and now) I was forced, more or less, to part with the majority of my things. I packed the necessities, stowed away a boxful of paintings and a few momentos worth keeping, and left the rest on the curb. I set fire to this jungle, and ran as fast as I could away from the screaming, burning vines. The bloodletting and bleeding was brief. I survived on the very real energy of myself and my closest loved ones. I gathered what I could in my memory, and released the rest to drift skywards with the smoke.
*Side Note: I kept all my hundreds of books. So everything I own, apart from my library, fits into the aforementioned containers.