Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Setting Things, And People, Free


My wife and I are in the midst of moving into a new house. This is our ninth full household move together. The first couple were simple. We just threw the few sticks of furniture we owned into the backs of vans and that was it. Over the course of the next several moves, however, the task became increasingly monumental. Our sticks had become logs and there were lots of them. 

Our most recent move before this one was about purging both before and after the move. We scaled down dramatically, moving into an apartment that was about a third the size of the former house. There was no cellar, garage, or attic in which to hide our excess. I made a half dozen trips to the dump, paid excess recycling fees, and sold formerly cherished items for pennies on the dollar. And even so, we wound up renting the largest storage locker they had, which I arranged as a kind of showroom, then spent well over a year meeting buyers on weekends and evenings to make treasure of my trash.

There was a woman on a Harley who bought my mitre saw to make toys for her newborn nephew. There was a couple who collected Volkswagon memorabilia. When they saw our VW junk, accumulated during my wife's sojourn as an executive with the company, they were excited beyond measure so I just gave it all to them. And then there was the young couple, just starting out, who filled their living room with the same over-sized sectional sofa that had filled our living room when we were just starting out. Everyone had a story. Everyone was going to make something of our nothing. I'd felt a bit of melancholy over some of the things I'd tossed into the the garbage, but nothing but joy about the things that were moving on to the next phase of their lives.


They say "you can't take it with you," which was the spirit behind our purging. As I've been unpacking boxes, however, I've once more, despite my best efforts to stop curating crap, been confronted with excess. It's made me wonder: what if the ancient Egyptians were right? What if you can take it with you? Indeed, what if we have to? What if we must take everything we've accumulated with us into our next life?

That, I think, would be an incredible disappointment. Isn't one of the appeals of the afterlife that we get to wipe the slate clean, start over, and not be burdened by, well, the burdens of life?

When I watch toddlers play, I admire their ability to simply drop what they are doing and move on. They pick up one fascinating object, put it through its paces according to their curiosity, then when the next fascinating object catches their attention, it's unceremoniously dropped to the floor, left there, unpossessed, for others. Later they will learn to hoard and covet, but now they are as free as a person dwelling in the clouds, untethered by the things that tend to weigh us down.


And that is how I've been experiencing this newly discovered excess, each dusty stick or log, possessing me as much as I possess it, an obligation that I've sought to handle by stashing it away in the back corner of a closet, almost, but never quite forgotten. I'm not being ruthless or brutal. I'm not asking myself the Marie Kondo questions. I'm channeling my inner two-year-old: just letting go and moving on.

That said, as a preschool teacher I'm also a professional scavenger, a middle-class bag lady, who knows that the children will make treasure from pretty much any trash I offer them. Unlike me, however, they will not curate the junk. It will not come to own them. It will come alive in their hands for a time, then be dropped to the ground only to be picked up again, a found object, a loose part, that will be reanimated in their hands, minds, and hearts again and again until they are gone -- broken, buried or lost.

I sure hope it's true that you can't take it with you, but just in case, I'm clearing out the shelves and closets and cellars in my life. Things, like people, are not meant to be stored away in dark and dusty places, so I'm setting them free, and as I do, with each thing I drop to the ground, I too become freer.

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