Thursday, September 27, 2012

Rethinking the Tyranny of Objects

It's really for sale!
I once read -- let's blame it on Jack Kerouac because it sounds like him -- that "A man should never own more than he can pack in a car."

No doubt fertilized by the number of articles I've been reading lately about minimalist housing -- we're talking houses of 200 to 300 square feet -- and by the $24,175 in windstorm damage to our home, I have come to the conclusion that I would like to shed myself of things, to enclose myself in a tighter, more easily maintainable space, there to linger with far fewer material objects requiring maintenance and repair. 

But then there is this: what do I do with pictures and keepsakes? A few are easy. I have a Swiss Army knife that I received for my 10th birthday. Pocket, of course. Then there is a cleat I purloined from my football shoes -- high-tops like the immortal Johnny U -- when I made finally made 3rd string varsity at Stephen F. Austin High School in El Paso, Texas.

Knick-knacks are easy. I'm not one much for decorative stuff. I prefer the minimalist Japanese decorating ethos. 

Then there the family portraits and pictures, especially the early 1900s studio portraits of my great-grandparents. Hmm, those two are too big for 200-square feet. Scan them into digital files, obviously, and then pass them on down the family line.

I do need space for a roll-in shower. A microwave. A small refrigerator. Books? Not especially. What's a Kindle for, after all? DVDs? NetFlix. Again transforming digitally into micro-space.

But I am a sentimentalist. Married to a collector of Raggedy Ann and Andy stuff, and other assorted Oh, how cute! objects to look at that justify the expense of housekeeping services. My wife is an accumulator. And I care not at all to discuss the psychological motivations that have one of us lusting after as little-as-possible and the other who delights in catalogs full of dust-catchers.

We're attempting to sell on house and buy another, one closer to her work. A few days ago, amidst the hammering and the nail-guns and the questions and the dirty boots in-and-out, I said, "Let's buy an old fashioned cottage and gut it. Tear out every wall except for those around the bathroom. Live in one room. We could put the bed behind a short glass-brick divider and the kitchen behind another divider, and then make a loft bedroom for the kid. Six hundred square feet of living space would force us to de-junk our lives."

She was less than enthusiastic.  

Do material objects oppress? Constrain? Yes. More costs in time, energy, and emotion.

As the ol' saying goes, "A yacht is a hole in the water where a rich man throws his money." 

Yes, there is the $24,000 loss, mostly reimbursed by insurance but also blowing two weeks of time out of my life. There is the $150 computer chip for the van. A window motor for the Thunderbird. A rebuilt wiper system for the Ranchero. And don't forget $75 to mow the lawn. (Natural landscaping, anyone?) 

Frank Lloyd Wright said it succinctly. "Many wealthy people are little more than janitors to their possessions."

I am far from wealthy. I am, however, a "janitor for my possessions."
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