What happens when you no longer have a desire to collect and keep everything? When your things become and stay things, and to keep them is to increase the weight you must carry. Every scarf, every picture frame, every pair of shoes and toiletry item adding up to a sum greater than the weight you’re able or willing to bear. What happens then?
This is the question I’ve pondered and answered in a thousand different ways since I left home seven months ago.
Things used to be a passion of mine. They used to make me happy. Shopping was something I did to kill time, to cure a bad mood, and only sometimes out of necessity. Usually, I went shopping just to collect- to increase my carbon footprint. To make it look and feel like I had amounted to something because, “look at all my shiny new toys!”
I wonder, is this a condition we become addicted to as children? “Show and tell day” used to feed and starve the egos of myself and my peers depending upon what each child’s parents had provided him or her to bring to school that day. We did this, seemingly, to make the other kids jealous. And if that wasn’t the purpose, who knows, but that’s certainly the lasting impression it left on me.
I remember hating this game. I dreaded this day in school because I was never going to have the best thing to show and tell about. It was always going to be “cool girl” who sat in the back of class and wore clothes I wished I owned. No matter what you thought you had to show off, she always had something better and stood up with more confidence than anyone else sitting in the rows of desks in front of her. She was the highlight of the show- and I wanted to be her. I wanted to be “cool girl,” and so did all the other girls who weren’t her. But this was never going to happen for me in school.
My mother did not spoil my sister or I. We were never hungry or wanting for anything important- we were certainly taken care of- but we didn’t get all the “cool kid” items when everyone else did. We had to wait until we earned it with our weekly chores or maybe when that item went on sale. She taught us that having things took time, money, effort and most importantly work.
I was the last to get a cell phone and the last to get the new “Roxy” tee shirt or “Volcom” sweatshirt. I was always late to the “trend party,” until I took things into my own hands as soon as I had the chance.
I got a job at 16 and a second one at 17. I didn’t have bills to pay, so what did I need with all that money? Things. More and more things. MAC makeup and high heeled shoes. Blonde highlights for my hair and all the best new CDs. “If only I could make enough money to get a Honda Civic like ‘cool girl’ and stop driving this piece of shit Chevy Lumina,” I’d say to myself.
Later, I got the brand new Honda Civic and would never speak of the Chevy Lumina again (until now anyway).
As an early adult I climbed the latter at work as fast I could. I was determined to earn enough money to buy all the toys I wanted. I would impress the cool kids now, I thought, but by that time there was no one “cooler” around than me. I had everything I wanted when I wanted it. I had cracked the code!
And then came reality.
Something happened as it registered that I had met all my materialistic goals. I realized that the feeling of happiness I was searching for all along had not come along with my pile of shiny toys. I came to understand that I wasn’t just looking for the ability to buy “things” since that day in Kindergarten during show and tell. I had been searching for the ability to be confident in what I had, no matter what that was, and the independence to provide that “thing” for myself. It was never about the toys… or later the designer shoes and handbags.
It was about me.
This harsh reality left me with a large burden of things I no longer saw necessary. A massive pile of junk to deal with, to carry, or to throw away. So I opted, mostly, to throw it all away. And as I did, each item that left my shiny pile took away a small amount of weight off my back- a weight I didn’t ever realize was there.
With my belongings gone or packed away in my parents attic, I was left only with what I could actually carry on my back- and that was far less than I had been figuratively carrying around for years, even though it physically felt like a thousand pounds when I lifted it.
I felt vulnerable and naked with just a backpack. Bared down to the basics. Basics I never would have paid any mind to the last 25 years of my life. Basics that never mattered before and yet mattered more than anything else now. It was about survival, now, not about show and tell.
The burden of my “things” was now everything and nothing at the same time. I felt every pound on my shoulders and lower back. I felt heavier if I added a tube of toothpaste. It was all too much- yet far too little.
As I continued on, living out of my backpack, wearing the same outfits over and over, no longer styling my hair with a million products I couldn’t carry or trying to look perfect, I became another person entirely. A person not exactly unlike who I used to be, but definitely different.
This new person didn’t give a shit about showing anyone anything. I no longer had any toys to brag about and knew if I did I would resent them for adding more weight to my already-too-heavy pack. Subconsciously, I slowly began to appreciate the simple concept that I had everything I needed with or without that final bag of “things” I now carried in the big ugly red backpack. I had everything I needed inside my shell of a body. And those “things” I needed were always resting there, inside me. They were there all along.
The jokes on me, I suppose. I never needed to bring anything to that dreadful “show and tell” day in school. If I could go back to that day, I’d bring only myself. I would stand up in front of the classroom boldly saying “I brought something very special that no one else has ever brought to class before. Something… someone I’m excited to show you. Let me tell you about…me.”