I am afraid of packing.
Let me clarify, I am afraid of packing to move in the way we are moving - without a final destination for an unknown quantity of time - and that means a lot of purging. It means getting rid of a lot of stuff. A lot of things that I have been carrying for decades.
In my mind I am a minimalist. My walls are a soft white. My rooms are spare and uncluttered. My dining room table is empty of the stacks of paper and a broken necklace and pieces of art and that Brownie camera we got from Jen and Todd that I keep meaning to send to Sasha. Come to think of it, in my mind, my mind is uncluttered, too. But the reality is that my kids tease us about being hoarders. The reality is that I hold onto things for sentimental reasons, and as an artist with a practice in a variety of disciplines I always think I am saving things to turn them into art someday.
When I was a kid I loved Shel Silverstein’s poem “Hector the Collector.”
Hector the Collector
Loved these things with all his soul--
Loved them more then shining diamonds,
Loved them more than glistenin' gold.
Hector called to all the people,
'Come and share my treasure trunk!'
And all the silly sightless people
Came and looked ... and called it junk.
Maybe the truth looks more like a tornado touched down in the middle of our living room. Maybe the truth is I am the kind of person who begins one task and then distractedly leaves the room to begin another important thing I’ve realized needs doing and then suddenly veers over to a third area that must be tackled until nothing is completed and everything is in chaos. Maybe the truth is I don’t know how to let go of my “treasures.” Maybe the truth is that Marie Kondo would be a welcome sight at our door. Maybe the truth is I will be a minimalist in our next home.
. . . . .
I am a classic Taurus Rat, a person who tends to make piles of things, who likes sorting and organizing into like categories, a person who feels a bit allergic to junk drawers and catch-all baskets that collide with disparate and neglected things. I like the breeziness of throwing away what needs discarding, of purging the cabinets of mismatched drinkware, of trudging down into the bowels of the basement to tackle the boxes that everyone avoids.
I’ve been amazed in some ways by how ruthless I’ve become for the move out of our home of the past 5 years. Having already been through a rather large slashing and burning in my last move (out of San Francisco), I have a significantly smaller pile than Amy of personal items to go through and make discerning decisions about. Of course, we’ve accumulated plenty of things together, and while many of these have been fairly easy to tackle, what astonishes me is the volume and variety of objects. They are not easy to sort, categorize, or make piles of. And so at the moment, Evan’s bedroom floor is dotted with a multitude of small collections, and as I’m disassembling the rest of the bins and boxes we’ve kept out of view, I’m being challenged anew by how to make sense of these things, where and if they belong to our still undetermined future.
But one important principle has emerged, which is essentially a question: “Who will find meaning in this after I’m gone?” Or, put another way, “Will this [insert item here] have any meaning to anyone other than me?” It might sound morbid - why am I thinking of death when I’m packing? - but in many ways, it feels like a practical guide for decision-making. So many things I’ve kept over the years are items which I only look at when I’m moving. Otherwise, they lie there, unengaged-with, for years. When I pick them up and hold them in my hands, a slew of memories, sensations, and experiences floods me. These objects have meaning for me because they are mine. But are they empirically meaningful? Are they universally charged? The answer, most often than not, is a resounding No.
The truth is, at the heart of it, I am carrying memories, sensations, and experiences all the time. The objects simply carry the element of physicality, and over the years, I’ve attached meaning to that physicality. I have associated the tangible nature of objects with meaning. But the meaning is already embedded in me. I’ve been marked, permanently, by what I have done and seen and felt. Maybe I can’t remember all of it - and physical objects help me do that - but I hold it nevertheless. And I always will.