stuffI moved into a new place recently. It was time. Three years in one house was sufficient for a bunch of stuff to accumulate. Junk sneaks in. Sometimes, by way of less than desirable gifts. It makes its way into closets and under beds after Christmas and every birthday. Other times, due to broken coping mechanisms, one finds himself wandering around the home section of the supermarket before going home. I needed a ten pack of camo duct tape. I needed all of it. Until I moved.

During the weeks prior to relocating, I created a pile of things to be donated. It stood outside my bedroom door. It continued to grow into a heap of items that were definitely useful- to someone else. It took a few loads to deliver it all to the thrift store around the corner, during which I swore stuff off forever. I imagined my new apartment would be beautifully minimalistic, to the effect of simultaneously screaming zen, shalom and namaste to any and all who happened to cross the threshold and enter into my simple sanctuary of white walls and low furniture.

Even after the purge, it still took several trips to move all of my stuff. As I packed with my friends, then drove across town, I was amazed at how much I still owned and was therefore responsible to. Stuff needs to be maintained and dusted and moved and it consumes life, even after a particular amount of life has been spent in the process of gaining said stuff.

Once everything had been successfully transferred from the old residence to the new, I realized that there was going to be a problem. I’d left 2500 square feet of shared awkwardness, messes and crumbs for 650 of my own space. Though I was living in a fourth of the space I had been, it was up to me to fill it. My current situation was more than minimalistic: it was empty– bookshelf and chaise in the living room empty.

This would not suffice when I invited friends– whole families over. What would we do, all sit on the chaise together? Or cross-legged on the floor? That’s only neat when you’ve got millions, like Steve Jobs had. And I just haven’t had the time to make my millions yet. I hadn’t even donated anything that could be sat on. Too soon after disposing of excess and unwanted possessions, I found myself on the prowl for more.

How many hours of my life did I trade for that end-table? What about that lamp that is actually pretty cool? Those chairs cost me, but at least butts will fill them. More quickly than I could have hoped or dreaded, a couch to match the chaise and other fine trappings seemed to be closing in around and above me as I established my new space. And then there were curtains.

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While acquiring things, what are we actually building? Monuments to self, the American Dream or comfort? Is a house built from need or want? When we wall ourselves in with bookcases, lamps and appliances, is that for protection or play or vanity?

Could a man emerge from his belongings like a butterfly from its cocoon, with hardcover wings and white paged feathers, covered in lines of fading black type? Or was that cluttered chrysalis of belongings actually a mausoleum? Was it a sepulcher, in which the man finds himself prematurely buried, unable to escape, like an Edgar Allan Poe story? The walls of electronics and books and furniture and debt, a prison  of possessions siphoning days and years from life until only a corpse can be found, fallen between chairs and matching couch.

Things belonging to the deceased need to be cleaned and considered. Keep or to bequeath to the store down the street? Thus, the curse of claim has passed from one generation or hand to the next.

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I hate stuff.