21st Century Life

The stuff owning us

Having spent some time backpacking around the world makes you realise how little stuff you actually need on a day-to-day basis. Far from me to be a minimalist, I still vowed on the road that the first thing I’d do when coming back was get rid of some of my crap.

Every time I have moved, I have been confronted by the seemingly insurmountable task of sorting through my belongings, making piles of things to get rid of, only to run out of time and simply stuffing everything into boxes and suitcases with the intent to really get to the bottom of it when I’m settled wherever it is I’m going. The thing that happens every time is quite simple: I look at the boxes, open one up, empty it on the floor, and then take a cigarette break that turns into an “aperitif” break, turning into a “one episode of this or that show” that without fail ends up with me, slightly drunk, kicking the pile of now on the floor stuff in a corner at 3 am. Of course, I do tidy up, please read here “I fold all the clothes without looking at them and put all the books back on shelves”.

My last “move” was just before I went travelling. I shipped all my belongings, without discriminations, to my mum’s place, and hoped by the time I came back, a fairy will have magically taking care of it all and I wouldn’t have to deal with it. Strangely enough, the fairy let me down. And because I have no job, no money, and therefore nothing to do, my mum and I decided it was the PERFECT time to start decluttering 20 odd years of mechanical accumulations. I have to admit, I am quite proud of myself: when I do something, I do it properly. Which means, of course, that when I started buying, I bought the entire store, and when I started turning a blind eye to the piles getting bigger and bigger, I left it until they were threatening to kill us both in an avalanche of H&M tops and never worn high heels. Heels being very dangerous in an avalanche because of the pointy bit, I started with shoes, figuring out it would be easy. And it was! I knew I could do this!

Sparing you the details, I eventually felt like I had done it. I had gone through all my books, clothes, shoes, accessories and the like, and I had made… PILES OF STUFF I DIDN’T WANT. I admit I’m leading you astray; it was not the first time I had “decluttered”. I did so before leaving and gave so much stuff to charity the old woman in charge of donation was drowning in a sea of my unwanted stuff. Which leads to my piles of stuff. These stuff are not stuff I would want to just give to charity because I can sell them. Or at least I thought I could. I folded and sorted out everything in so many different bags, suitcases and boxes “to sell” that I have currently no means to enter into my room. Books have been taken care of, some sold, some given away, but clothes! Oh dear, clothes!

What does one do when one is in the middle of a crisis? One Googles for hours trying to find a solution. From Minimalist websites advocating the “live with only 5 possessions” shenanigans to the online buy&sell websites, the forums of women’s magazines (it seems this problem is really only a female problem. Thought confirmed by the fact that pretty much all those minimalists are men) and the bookmarking of every and any shop that could potentially relieve me of my bags and boxes, I’ve come to the conclusion that “sorting through” my stuff is as far as I am capable to go.

That statement poses some problems. 1 – I could really use the money, and 2 – I (or more accurately, my mum) could really use the space. These two things are at the core of everything: I want to declutter, but I also want to make some cash. And it seems one and the other are mutually exclusive. I could, of course, put everything online and wait for months for my stuff to trickle out of their bags into the bags of unsuspecting buyers, who do not realise what they are really buying is all my past, with the baggage attached to it. Or I could just dump it all at the charity shop and let the poor little old woman deal with it for me. One would give me cash, the other would give me space, neither is satisfactory.

Why do I think I could sell my unwanted possessions? Because it’s my past. And my past has to be worth something, dammit! Hence the title of this article. All my stuff owns me because it weights me down. But it also links me to my past, make me reminisce and… I’m never going to be able to get rid of it, am I? Not only because I can’t find a way to, but because, deep down, I might not want to.

We attach ourselves to inanimate objects and give them what linguists such as Ferdinand de Saussure call signified and signifiers. De Saussure was talking about language, and I might be talking about shoes, but I infuse more meaning into them than they have as objects. This is what takes them from being “a pile of crap” to being “MY pile of crap”. And MY pile of crap deserves some respect. The vicious circle of “it owns me because I feel I own it, even whilst wanting it out of my life” is what makes me pack and repack endlessly, moving and shipping it all over the world, dragging it and having to worry about it over and over again. And frankly, it has to stop.

I’ve stopped buying stuff a while ago, but if you have, by any chance, any idea of how I could unburden myself of some items, please fell free to comment below.

Warning: if ANYONE mentions eBay, I might have to find that someone and throttle them.

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