I moved from Orange County (OC) back to the San Francisco Bay Area last month. It was a painful experience with all the back and forth, packing, dealing with the movers and their hidden and unexpected costs, and the unpacking that in my case may never be complete. For a single guy, I just have way too much stuff:
- Several hundred books, of all genres, many of which I have only partially read or not read at all; text books going all the way back to my undergrad courses. I checked one online and mine is seven editions behind the latest!
- Hundreds of original CDs with their cases but many mismatched and some damaged.
- Postcards and letters from friends and ex’s from ions ago. You can tell how old they are as I don’t think people nowadays write love letters any more, let alone hand-written ones.
- Hundreds of business cards from leads, customers, partners, acquaintances, restaurants, cafes and bars from all over.
- More than one thousand paper photos (from the analog photography days) in tens of big fat heavy albums.
- Clothes that I have not worn in years, shirts, shoes, ties, and vests from the 90s and a few even from the 80s. Not really wearable any more unless I want to get laughed at and be ridiculed. My only hope was that one of these years they might make good Halloween costumes!
- Dishes, silverware, glassware, etc. to feed and entertain 20 people. I have about 30 wine and champagne glasses. As I was packing, I broke a few plates and glasses. It was not intentional but I certainly didn’t mind getting rid of a few pieces.
- Souvenirs from friends and from my own travel around the world — from Osaka and Kyoto to Perth and Adelaide, from Tehran and Isfahan to Istanbul and Izmir, from Berlin and Munich to Barcelona, from Rome and Florence to Paris and Nice, from Brussels and Bruges to Geneva, from Amsterdam to London, from New York and Miami to San Francisco and San Diego, from Montreal to Vancouver, from St. Maarten and Cancun to Cabo San Lucas to Kauai and Maui, … to name a few.
A friend of mine recently told me that I was a collector; “collector of many things”, she said, “even friends and ex-girlfriends”! She said that I had a story for every item, an emotional attachment which prevented me from letting go of it. I never thought of it that way but I think she may be onto something.
On this post I am only focusing on the physical and material things which are more obvious since they take space, and can weigh a lot. But in the digital world thinking about my 100,000+ emails going back to 1995, 5,000+ digital photos, and the thousands of connections, friends and followers that I have across various social networks, I certainly am a collector. I covered the digital stuff at length in an article on my TekTrends blog, Digital Footprint and Virtual Social Influence, a few months back. But at least the digital stuff doesn’t take that much visible space and thanks to software tools, it is much easier to organize and manage.
Now had I been an organized person and maintained the material collections in a manageable fashion, it would not be so bad. But I am not. I am a mess and I think I’ve only gotten worse in the recent years. My life is cluttered and in chaos.
In May 1995, shortly after I moved from New Jersey to California, I went to see an apartment for rent in Los Gatos, a suburb of San Jose. A distinguished older gentleman who was moving out, was selling his furniture. He was a Sean Connery look alike with the voice of Garrison Keillor. He seemed worldly, wise and experienced. He must have been in his 60s. I was happy to get his solid wood cal king bedroom set with its mattress for only $75! And he sure was happy to get rid of it. He even offered me additional things virtually for free. But the thing that stayed with me all these years was his comment that at some point in your life you reach a point when you want to simplify things. He added that I was young and still collecting stuff but I would understand what he said when I got older.
Now it is years later and I finally fully appreciate what that man told me back in 1995. For some time now I’ve felt the burden of the excessive and often outdated and useless material things that I have accumulated over the years. But this last move was the turning point for me. I can’t take it any more. I have decided to cut down.
However, it is going to take some work and discipline. I got rid of a few boxes of stuff during my move, but that barely put a dent in my belongings. My attempt to give up on a lot of other things failed. Somehow I felt compelled to still hang on to them. But I am determined to get rid of more stuff. Recently my friend who diagnosed me with being a “collector”, helped me sort out through piles of clothes and fill up 2-3 boxes to give away. It is a liberating feeling to do that. As a friend put it, “there is a lightness and a sense of freedom that comes with simplicity.”
I have also decided to stop buying and collecting things I don’t really need. This part is not so hard. Despite my earlier interest in shopping (which pleased many of my female friends) nowadays I barely shop. In fact I can’t even stand going into a mall any more. Whenever I see a mall, I think of what the great American comedian, author and social critic, George Carlin said, that we stole this land from the native Indians and Mexicans and turned it into one big *%^$ shopping mall! The US economy to a large part is based on people like me being sucker consumers and buying stuff — often on credit. Well, sorry Uncle Sam, no more. I’ve already done more than my share. It is time to cut down and lighten up my life’s load.
This article is primarily on the physical, material and tangible things in one’s life. But needless to say that many of us could benefit from cutting down on the emotional and mental baggage from our past that we carry with us. Clearing and cleansing one’s mind is partly what I mean by unmind — the name of this blog — as I wrote about it here earlier. But to unmind is a far bigger challenge than throwing physical junk out. It may require authenticity, deep spirituality, discipline, a lot of training, meditation, and confronting and overcoming your deepest fears, to attain it. Most of us never quite get there.