Thursday, December 25, 2008


It's been a fairly typical holiday for AK and me - meaning we pretty much lazed around the house or worked on individual projects. Our nod to the season was a walk in the fiercely melting snow (a second walk was cut short when we both sank up to the ankles in melted snow), a tree drawn in washable markers on the sliding glass door, and the surprise win of the Lakers over the 19-in-a-row-win Celtics (and Phil Jackson shaved off his beard! neither of us can cope with this fact). We didn't do presents this year because we're both horrible about asking for gifts and the procuring them in a timely fashion. We pretty much stick to the "Oh, I saw this and now it's yours five minutes after I've purchased it" school of thought when it comes to birthdays and other major gift giving events. This isn't necessarily a stand against commercialism and the acquisitive nature of society, since we do buy stuff. I am never left safely alone in Powell's (even when doing class research there I had to try to focus on the "serendipitous exchange of information" instead of what was newly remaindered) and AK has a serious problem when it comes to fencing shoes. Expressing love through gifts isn't something I inherited from my bargain hunting grandmother (it all went to the twin sister). I'm better at feeding people or finding them books or other bits of info (there's a bit in the JFW podcast mentioned below about how librarians express love through neat bundles of information and I am someone who routinely brings home articles on fencing or interesting bits for her husband in neat pdf form).

While walking today I talked with AK about a number of conversations I've had/blogs I've read lately about people "de-cluttering" - clearing out the garbage and excess possessions in their lives. One blogger I've been following calculated that in a little over ten days, she and her husband took nearly three-quarters of a ton of stuff to the dump or Goodwill. It's difficult for me to wrap my head around that amount of stuff. I get cranky and stifled sometimes when I look around our apartment and realize that it would take me more than a few hours to pack everything up and ship it out (a product of living primarily in dorms, even over the summer, for five years). The husband does hold onto stuff for a while, but it's never gone beyond the level of "Let's take and hour and recycle the soda cans and this room will be normal". What else is going on if you have that much excess in your life?

Maybe what it comes down to is that I find stuff to be overwhelming and often expensive. Some stuff in life is necessary. Some stuff in live makes the act of living more enjoyable. And some stuff seem just to be there for the gathering and collecting. There are a number of pursuits taken up by friends (often of a geeky nature) that seem wholly about acquiring things. Not experiences or knowledge or personal growth, but stuff. If you're into BPAL, you buy and trade imps of scent. If you're into roleplaying, you buy a number of expensive hardbacks. Boardgames have expansion packs. Films keep coming out with special editions or high def versions. Some knitters have stashes that are probably half the size of my local (tiny) knitting store.

Yes, you can certainly get pleasure from a scent and personal growth from problem solving games. These are not empty pursuits. But where's the limit? At what point do you stop enjoying the objects and are just gathering them to have them? Lately I've been clearing out some old magazines and books, including back issues of Victorian Studies. Did I subscribe to this journal because I really cared about the content or because I wanted to be the sort of person who subscribed to the journal? The clothes make the man and the possessions the person. The Ipod and trucker hat makes the hipster. The limited edition BPAL and SF hardback make the geek. What I'm trying to figure out is what exactly makes the M and am I made out of stuff I actually value, stuff I actually need? Do I need all my old notebooks from college? Do I even need the photocopies of my readings from this past quarter (I should probably finish the degree before I start pitching things). At what point do you stop owning stuff and it starts owning you?

This is perhaps not the merriest of Christmas themes, but I'm in the middle of Dickens' "The Haunted Man" and it's not exactly the most cheerful tale I've ever read.


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