Despite the things I own – some of which are, admittedly, fairly expensive and relative luxuries – I’ve never considered myself to be a particularly material person. I like having the things I have, and I’m more than willing to spend the money it takes to have them: a phone with a good camera, a computer powerful enough to do everything I want as fast as it can, ad-free music.
But once I have those things, I’m content. I don’t throw away every old thing, but neither do I hoard. I’ve never been one for the rat race, never felt motivated simply by the opportunity to acquire more (perhaps somewhat to the chagrin of my family, or at least some of them, who don’t always understand that lacking desire).
I admit I have shared in what seems to be a generational fantasy of my peers, one that is, perhaps, borne out of necessity or desperation or simple acceptance: A romanticizing of minimalism, of what would more realistically be called squalor or even homelessness. Would I actually sacrifice a comfortable home and the amenities I currently possess? Probably not. But I hope you’ll forgive my saying – and I am not alone in saying it – that, from a distance, there is something alluring about living with very little, in a small apartment over a store, or in a one-room cabin on a wooded hill, or in a large vehicle comfortable enough to sleep in.
My point is this: I don’t feel like I have any particular want for things in general.
And yet: As I suspect many people do, I find myself and my family’s home inundated with things.
And, in a material, industrial world, this should come as little surprise to anyone, even those who try their best to avoid gathering such a collection of stuff. It has become the natural state of us. Maybe it always has been. Maybe it traces back to our earliest roots, of hunting and gathering to survive the long days and harsh nights. We huddled together for warmth in the darkness, and the things we were compelled to acquire were what kept us alive. Now we lounge in luxury undreamed of by our ancestors, but something in the memory of our genes compels us still. Hunt. Gather. Get. Keep. An obsolete instinct we have yet to escape, despite our best conscious efforts.
Some of the things we have are our own, what we have taken for ourselves, by money or circumstance. As I said above, I own a fairly nice computer, with accoutrements, which I purchased over several years with earnings from the jobs I’ve had in that time. These are supported currently by a lovely old writing desk that I claimed from a house a friend bought, left behind by the woman who sold it as she had no longer any need for the thing.
Many more of our belongings, I suspect, are given to us. I have bin upon bin and box upon box of books, as most writers probably do, many of which I have not so much as opened in years. Some I purchased myself, but if I were to trace their origin, I believe most were gifts: birthdays, holidays, ends and beginnings of school years, simple gestures of kindness and generosity. Two novels, purchased for me from a used book store by my Fiction professor my freshman year of college; trilogies and longer series of fantasy, given as I grew up and realized what I wanted to do with my life; a more-or-less complete collection of Calvin and Hobbes, acquired after I discovered that wonderful comic in my youth.
Returning to that romantic fantasy of the minimal life, sometimes I consider that I might reduce my belongings to what would fit in my car, that I might be able to move freely from place to place without concern for trucks or vans or movers. But the books alone would fill my sedan, pack the seats and trunk and leave room for precious little else. Could I lighten my load, donate these volumes to friends, family, or a public library? In spite of my claim to an immaterial nature, I doubt it. I’ve gone through my library with each move I’ve made – to college, home again, to Virginia, home again – and each time, it barely shrinks.
And my family and I have far older possessions still. Antiques and heirlooms, hand-me-downs and memories that take the form of physical things. The room my great-grandparents shared still holds some of their clothes, and my Grampa Jack’s belongings from the second World War still rest in his old dresser and a box in the attic. The attic of the old family barn is filled with furniture and belongings that gather dust atop the memories; each piece is a relic that goes untouched, but its origin easily recounted if anyone asks.
These are the most indicative of how we gather our things, how the sediment of lives lived hardens into basements and closets and attics and boxes and spare rooms. Not everything is a sentiment, but everything is a story. An event held. A milestone passed. A goal achieved. A choice made.
I have my diploma from college in its leather case. A letter from my 10th grade AP Government teacher, thanking me for a wonderful year (in our tiny, intimate, and wonderful class of 6 students) and presented with a picture from our class’s outing to meet State Senator Gene Yaw. A scrapbook made for me by my classmates in Massachusetts when I moved 300 miles away.
I have clothes that I remember receiving, but which hold no special significance. I have bins of art and craft supplies from hobbies I no longer pursue. I have video game cartridges for systems that no longer exist, which can no longer even be played.
I do not necessarily want all of these things. I do not seek them out, would not fight tooth and nail against their taking. Some of them I’m sure I will give away, whenever next I catalog my belongings and choose only what I truly want to take with me into the next chapter of life.
And what I leave behind?
They will become new memories, new things, for someone else.
Here at the CommUnity Zone, we’re no strangers to building memories – and gathering things all the while. As we prepare for our own move into a new chapter and new space at the end of the month, we’re looking to share those memories with all of you. Stop by our office during our regular office hours to take whatever you like from our giveaway, and check our social media for some pictures of what we’re offering. It’s all free for the taking, first come-first served!