I have boxes of T-shirts and clothes I never wear, dishes I don’t use because they are troublesome to unearth. I have projects from grade school through college and stuffed animals from my childhood. Towers of books collect dust while years of engagement calendars provide some record of my life. Magazines, too many to read, lie in piles. Old computers sit idle. These things are passive. They are quiet. Yet they posses an energy. And every day I feel their weight.
Things. They are just things, I tell myself.
Some of this holding on is guilt or laziness. Guilt in that I bought something I only wore once, or never really used; keeping it tells me I did not make a mistake. Laziness in that I dread dealing with it — hooking up those computers and combing through the files, downloading what I want on some outdated system.
I am my own worst enemy. Ennui overcomes me at the thought of dealing with these things. I find excuses not to do it. Work to do. A friend to meet. A book to read. I push away. I push away.
But it is more than that. I am often overcome with emotion — that of my attachment to these things.
Hanging on to a dream or a version of ourselves is a game we play. My language tapes, art supplies, travel books to destinations I’ve not yet been. My keyboard from when I took piano lessons. Will I play again? Am I turning my back on a hope I once had? If I get rid of it, doesn’t the dream die? Doesn’t a part of me die?
Things. They are just things.
I’ve gotten better about donating books to the library. If I want that information someday, I can find it there. In the mean time, someone else can enjoy it. I give it life. I no longer hold it hostage.
Still, on those computers are documents I am not sure I want to let go of. I have my master’s thesis. Stories I’ve written. Photos I’ve scanned in. Even my T-shirts and clothes, they are imbued with my life. That trip to Sydney. Those jeans from Rome. A gift from my mother. Red cowboy boots I wore as a child. And so I hold on.
But there is a line. I am trying to find it.
Some years ago, I finally got rid of my high school graduation dress, which I loved, and a sweater I wore on a first date with a man it took me a long to time to get over. But there is so much more. I have baby clothes, some my mother made, in a couple of drawers in my old dresser. Just a couple of drawers, I tell myself.
And my stuffed animals. This is hard. It is obscene to me to imagine my beloved first teddy bear in a landfill, his cracked pink plastic nose embedded in decomposing coffee grounds, his body buried beneath a warped pizza box. But who would want him? Most of his stuffing gone, his eyes now simple four-hole buttons, he is a teddy bear only I could love.
Things. They are just things.
Still, these things begin to suffocate us. And their importance is an illusion. I once read of someone who lost everything when their home burned down. Family photos, clothing, personal documents. Gone. But once past the sadness of the loss, they realized a certain freedom.
I like that.
I do not wish to lose my things in a fire that way but I like the ceremony of burning things. It is complete. You watch it burn. You know it’s gone. My mother has carried out this ritual. She, too, gets attached to things. I probably learned this from her.
For these things I’m close to, that I need to part with yet cannot imagine blindly donating or throwing away, fire provides a proper burial.
Not all things should be purged from our lives. Few would argue keeping family photos or other treasured pieces of our lives. There is value and history in such things. But only we can decide what to keep. In the end, though, our things do not define us. And the old adage, “You can’t take it with you,” reminds me to live in the present. Enjoy what I have. Now. Otherwise, I need to let them go.