Dirty, pretty things

A funny thing happens when you’ve been away from most of your belongings for eight months. You return home and discover that the vast majority of the things that you own – items you’ve gathered and collected over time, a set of objects you might once have thought defined you – were never missed during your absence. As I’ve gone through the simultaneous task of “reclaiming” our home from the previous renter – unpacking some boxes of stuff we’d tossed hastily in the basement – and begun packing for our move back to Ann Arbor in July, I’ve discovered that I own way too many things.

Most of them never crossed my mind while I was away. There are stacks of cookbooks, many with spines uncracked, I bought years ago and with good intentions. There are shelves of glass jars and containers in the basement, empty picture frames, old vases, candle holders and throw cushions.

Some of my stuff I love. These are the things I missed most and often when in Ann Arbor: my shelves of books, my entire yarn collection, my supplies for making mosaics, my own mattress and box spring, my arts and crafts glass lamps and the particular comfort of drinking coffee out of my own mugs. Which leaves piles of stuff, boxes and shelves of things, that never crossed my mind once while I was gone. I’m not one to quote fashion designers, but I read a brief interview with one (whose name I cannot, of course, remember) and was surprised to learn that he has very few items in his closet. In explanation, he said something about the true luxury in life being owning very few things.

I’m not a person who owns very few things. I’m not, truthfully, a person who wants to own very few things. I still require and desire a lot of stuff to meet my needs. I will not be moving to a sparse hut and living off the land anytime soon. I like my overstuffed armchair, come to think of it, and the cushy ottoman. I like my laptop computer and my digital camera and my eighty kinds of bubble bath. I like my CDs and my pieces of pottery and that square glass vase I got at Big Lots.

I do, however, want fewer things than I have at present. Perhaps the real issue is how I feel when I’m in the pursuit of things, when I’m in an acquiring mindset. It’s a slight hunger in me, the feeling like I’m trying to fill something inside me while emptying my bank account. It’s the false glory of something new and shiny and utterly unnecessary. Maybe it’s that I don’t like how much I like feeling that way.

Or maybe it’s just that I’m getting older and having a new couch no longer symbolizes some level of success in my life. Maybe it’s because the events of the past few months have taught me that life will take you different places, often on short notice, and I want to be able to follow it with the least amount of complication.

To that end, I’ve been relatively ruthless in my weeding through our belongings in the past couple of weeks. There’s a pile of clothes which, whether I like them or not, haven’t been worn in two years. The American Kidney Foundation will pick those up on Monday. There are several boxes filled with miscellaneous objects – everything from serving platters to a lap desk to a garlic press – that will either wind up in a yard sale (if we’re feeling insane) or being dropped off at Goodwill (more likely.)

I’ve even weeded through my books and been able to pull out 50, 75 that I can imagine living without. Chris has been equally tough on his CD collection because, yes, it looks pretty to have a ton of them but what’s the point if you haven’t pulled them from their cases in years?

Right now, our house is in total chaos. There are boxes and plastic bins everywhere, some sealed and ready to go, some half-filled, fate undetermined. It drives me crazy to walk from room to room and be reminded constantly of the conflicting feelings I have when it comes to acquiring, owning and parting with things. But it’s also a little exciting, because I know these boxes mean that something’s changing, that things are shifting. I know these say, we’re going somewhere.

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