Cleaning out my closet: examining the self in stuff

Piles of colorful things, upon things.

My boyfriend had to move suddenly, two weeks ago. He knew it was coming, but not when. So when the call came, we threw his possessions into boxes, those boxes into our cars, and drove them to his next destination, helter skelter, sharpies and packing tape flying as fast as our feet. As his house got emptier and the pile of boxes stacked taller than our heads. I thought about how much we are, as first world people. How each of us comes with more accessories than Barbie’s dream house, more than any of us realize until we have to jigsaw our own lives.

And as we packed, we  took stock of each item, like some material judgement day. It felt cleansing, to examine the necessity of a cupboard full of tupperware, four white Oxford shirts, hangers piled like plastic skeletons in the corner. We find things we don’t know we own, when packing up bedrooms. And we keep them anyway, to lose again. What wealth we have, to keep things just to lose them.

Do our belongings make us feel safe, I wonder? Do we surround ourselves with things because they’re that much insulation from or within our world? Because if we can fill a moving van with ourselves, there’s that much more proof we exist?

Cleaning out his house made me take stock of my own material goods.

“Look at your closet!” My boyfriend told me, exasperated as I asked him how many mismatched souvenir mugs one man really needs. “You’re one to talk!”

And he was right. So yesterday, I spent all day yesterday stripping down my clothing, condensing it to half its original bulk. I kept only those pieces that I see when I close my eyes and picture myself. I got rid of old school papers I kept under the pretense of paper trails, tchotchkes I didn’t buy and never really wanted and mementos of times I don’t remember, people I met once in a different lifetime and have since forgotten so completely, the cards they sent me lose their meaning. As I combed through these bits of pieces of what constituted my Stuff, I realized most of it didn’t speak to me at all, or it spoke to a person I haven’t been in years, but had been too busy evolving from to throw away.

Today, as I look around my bright, orderly space, I feel wood-nymph light. I like having less, because it makes me feel unencumbered. I’ve been a traveler almost as long as I can remember and, while the chances of picking up and leaving suddenly seem slim, it’s calming to know I could fit myself into one suitcase. It feels like a reclamation, this lightening. I’d spread my Stuff thickly over my space like batter in a pan, and scraping it away felt like a fresh start.

That’s all it takes, sometimes. By examining my possessions at length and deciding what I wanted, what I needed and most importantly, what I didn’t, I was able to examine myself, too. I acknowledge my power, as someone with the luxury of excess belongings. But I also nod to the power of refusing to let our possessions possess us.

We need to make that a choice, I think. We need to choose not only what we accumulate, but how and why. I want to reject the consumerism of buying as comfort, as statement, as creed. Belongings aren’t wrong, and accumulation isn’t a character flaw, unless the reason is.

This blog originally appeared on The Keystone Inkwell.

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