The Wages of Stuff

I’m sorry to have left you here for so long. Sorry this blog is now covered in a layer of fine dust and a few sticky strands of a cobweb. I have been moving and when you are moving, very little else can happen mentally.

Partially that’s because all my stuff was wrapped in old newspapers (stuff I don’t care about) or precious bubble wrap (stuff I do care about), tossed in cardboard boxes, masking-taped, and then left in the darkness. Mostly it’s because moving blots out all other thoughts. It’s all-consuming.

I hate moving, perhaps more than any other routine life experience of that doesn’t involve tragedy or invasive surgery. Moving sucks. It’s a like second job, but one where you’re shelling out money. You work at work, then come home only to find even more work waiting for you. In your house, where you are supposed to be safe from work. You even come to resent your house, with its stuff that needs packing and floors that need scrubbing and furniture that needs donating or on-Craigslist-selling. You start looking forward to being at your office. There are no boxes to pack there. And you get paid.

Now, moving comes in three stages, two of which are awful but have benefits, and one of which is the worst thing you can do to yourself that doesn’t involve the word “auto-vivisection.”

First, you need to find a new place. This is theoretically exciting. You’re going to move somewhere better! A better apartment, a better neighborhood. No more waking up at 3 a.m. as drunks hurl bottles at the iron bars that cage your windows, making you feel like a zoo tiger. No more staring out said caged windows at an asphalt parking lot, able only to admire the rainbow sheen of leaked oil in a puddle. No more getting coffee from a coffee bar with red lights, tiny tables, cold metal chairs, and an interior waterfall.

But it’s still stressful. You troll Craigslist, looking for something still in your price range but still nicer than what you are currently living in at your price range. You see a series of dingy apartments. You start to compromise. No dishwasher, doable. No back porch, doable. 30 blocks to the El, doable. UNDER the El, doable. Bedrooms laid out in such a way that any combination of bed and dresser creates a feng shui nightmare that will destabilize your chi for decades. Doable.

Finally, though, you find a place. It’s perfect, it’s affordable, it’s right around the block from a coffee shop that has plush chairs, Intelligentsia, and no open mic night. It’s… taken before your credit check clears. So, then you find a new place. It’s fine. You don’t need a dishwasher, or more than one window, or heat, or to not live over a bar with the words “OPEN ‘TIL 4 AM” proudly displayed in the window. But no bars on the window! This’ll do.

Then you reach stage two. Stage two is the worst. Stage two is packing. Packing is horrible because it forces you to stare yourself in the face. It forces you to not only look at, but move around and pack, everything you own. It forces you to constantly muttering the following words: “What is wrong with me? When did I buy this? Why do I own this?”

You own a lot of junk. At least I do. The past few weeks of packing were truly soul-sucking and dispiriting. I was confronted with two facts while placing everything I own in boxes: 1.) I don’t own much. 2.) What I do own is largely crap.

The more I packed, the more my stuff began to seem like ants, or dust, or Hydra heads. The more boxes I filled, the more stuff came crawling out of closet corners and the backs of drawers. Stuff I’d bought, or been given, on a whim. Stuff I had lost use for but had not thrown away thinking someday that use might present itself again. Stuff that belonged in the darkness of forgetfulness, literally and metaphorically at the bottom of my sock drawer.

Stuff that weighed down on me, physically and mentally. Why, God why, do I own a Beanie Baby bear with a spider on its head? Why do I have an end table I never use? A Cubs jersey I never wear? A red fedora. Large sets of glasses and plates when I have no intention of ever hosting any party, ever? A whisk. I own a whisk. I have never whisked anything, and yet there it is. Staring at me from the depths of its drawer, mocking me.

I started to fantasize about burning it all. Just pouring out a gallon of gasoline and striking a match. If I didn’t live in an apartment building with other people, I probably would have (note to Ayako: we should probably never live in a house).

Granted, I’d want to save a few things from the flames. My computer, because it has my pictures, music, and writings. My TV, because it’s nice and it’d be expensive to replace (but that’s it). Most importantly, a few objects with sentimental value. A bookmark. A lantern. A couple of t-shirts. Some pictures. Some books. Oh, and underwear. They’re not really sentimental, except for the few pairs I bought in a Taipei 7-11. But that’s a long story.

I began to enjoy my apartment much more once everything was packed away, once it became simple. Sitting on my soon-to-be-donated sofa with nothing but a messenger bag with a book, said bookmark, a notebook, a couple of pens, and my netbook, felt wonderful. The stuff was gone. All that remained were the essentials. I felt free.

And then we got to the new place. Which is wide and warm and wonderful. Lots of light, lots of room. Room to stretch. Room to breathe. Room, unfortunately, to put stuff. And the stuff came back with a vengeance, bursting out of boxes and cluttering up my wide, airy rooms. The stuff is running rampant again.

Unpacking, stage three, at least allows you to be creative. To move the stuff around, find better places for all of it (like, say, the basement storage room). Find stuff that other stuff looks good when placed next to. Still, the stuff persists. It’s everywhere. Pressing, pawing, demanding its space.

The pharaohs were famously buried with all their stuff, up to and including their servants. They wanted all that gold, all those jewels, in the afterlife. The thought of an eternity with all their stuff must have sounded like heaven.

But it sounds like hell to me.



Add yours →

  1. But the nice thing about moving is that while you’re packing, it forces you to simplify your life. Do I really need 6 kitchen spoons? These books I’ll never read again? 10 blankets, seriously? Yes, you pack these things up, but you give them away, and you don’t have to unpack them. Moving, while a pain in the butt, can be a refreshingly clean slate. Unless you’re moving in with Chris. 😛

  2. Yeah, I did get rid of a lot of stuff, which was nice. But fire would have gotten rid of more.

  3. Flooding got rid of mine. Documents especially.

  4. congrats on your new place! can’t wait to see it! 🙂

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