There are posts on Medium about decluttering as a spiritual practice, how we can learn things when we declutter and there is even a book by Marie Kondo about tidying up. I think these are great articles and resources to follow in order to live a life less burdened by the things we own.
But what if you start from a position of not owning much of anything?
That is where I am.
When I was a graduate student I made $18,400/year through my graduate stipend as a teaching assistant and the National Science Fdn under a PIRE grant. I wasn’t thinking about buying anything except food, rent, and coffee. I took a job in Louisville, Kentucky that required the use of my PhD and when the movers (paid for by said company) came to get my stuff I noticed that I didn’t have much of anything. My only furniture was a mattress, a folding table, a coffee table, and some lamps. My apartment resembled Rust Cohle’s in True Detective Season 1.
I didn’t buy anything for a few months and then as people started to express interest in visiting I thought about things like a proper bed, a couch, and the usual things that normal people have. During this time I also started writing fiction on Medium. One piece that I wrote dealt with the things that we own as people and how do those things fit in with our story? Then I realized something last night.
The things we own all have a story. Where did they come from and how do they fit in with our own narrative?
When I realized that my own stuff could have a story I started looking at everything from a different perspective. The brown v-neck merino wool J-Crew sweater I have I actually got from a club in Manhattan where I lost my jacket. I ended up stealing the jacket of some guy who was friend’s with my cousin Keith Maiorana. I returned the jacket and when I went back to the club the next morning the bouncer offered up a brown v-neck sweater as recompense. I was there for Keith Maiorana’s 30th birthday. A kitschy mug with horses running wild that fits about a pint of beer or a proper cup of coffee used to belong to my Uncle James who passed away. He was a brilliant mathematician and I barely knew him. My other brown wool sweater with a mock turtle neck came from a Goodwill that I visited in San Francisco because I didn’t realize summer could be that cold. I was in San Francisco for my first American Chemical Society conference and that sweater will always make me think of that trip. A terrible grey Hanes hoodie I got at a target reminds me of when I used to live in Brooklyn.
I could list the things and their accompanying stories, but this post would get too long. Not every story is happy. I want to own things that make me feel melancholy, anger, joy, and laughter. When I put on a piece of clothing I want to remember a fun week in San Francisco. When I drink coffee I want to remember my dead Uncle. When I put on a pair of sunglasses I want to remember an ex-girlfriend.
Our lives are a collection of stories and experiences. The things we own are a direct reflection of our lives.
I’m a Millennial. My generation supposedly values experiences over physical things. I think we can have both experiences and own things that remind of those experiences. I’m not advocating the buying of mementos. I’m advocating that we should be mindful of the things in our lives. That white shirt with the messed up button could end up being the shirt I wear to a show of my favorite band. We don’t need to buy mementos because we can make them by being mindful.
Despite not owning very many things my apartment is still kind of a mess. I’m not tidy (Sorry Marie Kondo). Would I be happy if I became tidy? Maybe. I know I’m happy when shave with a razor that my grandmother gave me as a gift. Maybe being mindful is the first step to being tidy.
Once you are tidy sustain it by thinking about what the story is behind your possessions. What is your story?
I’ll leave you the reader with one last message from Tyler Durden.