But you have to have it! Um…no, really, no

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Chicago just off the Loop, early in the morning.

Please be prepared, this might come off slightly in the realm of rant. Some of my friends and I, as well as several of my family members and I have been having an ongoing conversation about the acquirement of “stuff” since Knyght and I returned to the U.S. last May.

Everything I own fits inside a three suite cases and a backpack, except for the ironing board I let Knyght buy recently to iron pants for work. My bags might not quite make weight requirements on airlines but I could make them meet the weight requirements. In full discloser, my mother keeps three plastic boxes in her attic for me, my bokkens, and somehow my wedding dress is still in her closet.

I’ll will gladly take a bow and say this is a bit extreme. Not as extreme as some! I’m not going to stay this downsized forever. There is nothing like having to carry all one’s “things” for days at a time to make one wish to own less. When Knyght and I left Japan several years ago, we downsized to a few shipped boxes, three suite cases each (two large and one carry on) and a backpack each. We lost some of the shipped boxes. It was painful for Knyght the first time but he learned. Now we’re both minimalist. Not that we had much before this start. Here’s what our bedroom looked like in Japan.

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That’s Knyght. I rolled him up in our futon because he didn’t want to get up that day. I’m standing with my back against the wall. What you can’t see is our fold up table and the full closet.

We basically lived in one room all winter as it was impossible to heat the living room and the bedroom. Switching the heat source every night was unbearable. Both rooms would end up freezing, especially when the outside looked like this:

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Some of my friends have suggested that now that we’re in the U.S. and planning on staying in one place for a while, we can start to acquire the trappings of “stability”, or “success”, or what is most commonly referred to as “convenience and comfort”.

I just don’t get it. Why would I want to drag myself down with more things? I’m not THAT stable yet. I’ve lived/slept in ten different places in the last twelve months. That’s not settled! That’s called being on the move. I’m going to need some distance, some serious time before I trust myself to stay in one place. Called it post trauma or realism, your choice.

There seems to be this unending pressure to acquire, to have, to possess, at least in some of the places we’ve landed in the last year. Just look at the unending ads, the social obligations to give gifts, the transient nature of what is on the shelves in the stores. You know it’s going to break and require replacement in six to twelve months! I don’t need the stress of needing money to spend like that.

Tongue in cheek here, I found the latest Star Wars episode extremely supportive of minimalism, as I’ve already written about before. Rey travel light! Granted, she needs help along the way from people who have the necessities of life like food and an extra jacket. It’s impossible to live for more than a few days that light. As a human race we would lose valuable artifacts if we were all focused on owning as little as possible. There’s a reason we don’t know very much about certain migrating peoples. As people with history and continuity, we need bastions of stability and collections of memory. I like to refer to Rivendell from Lord of the Rings when making this argument. That place was safety embodied, for travelers, for history, for a community and a viewpoint on existence. We need these places. Not all of us need to own them. We just need access, like public libraries and university collections.

My grandmother’s house is Rivendell for my family. She cares for the family heirlooms and holds the family memories. It’s a stronghold, full of the paintings, the restored one hundred-year-old trunks filled with quilts dating back decades, and the family photographs. It is a place fitted out in wood floors, exposed beams, white washed walls and cast-iron frying pans. The original room of the house was a miner’s cabin and the place has been added on to by each succeeding owner till it is now a sprawling ranch house. It didn’t start out that way, but she and my grandfather built it up, beam by beam and renovation by renovation. It’s beautiful and solid and earthy like a hobbit house. There’s meaning and family and blood in that place. And when we need it, there’s space for all of us to go back to the mother ship, rest, recover, care for each other.

Where is this bridge going?

Getting back to the topic at hand….

I’d love to build a bastion of safety and comfort someday, something full of things that will last and has walls that will stand for more than forty years. Knyght and I want to fill it with comfortable chairs and books and cast-iron pots and the smell of pie cooking in the large oven above a huge center island with a table large enough to feet twenty at a time and hide two German Shepherd sized dogs beneath. But when we’re older. When we can afford it. When we’ve had a chance to fashion and create and put it together piece by piece. No plastic! No cheap substitutes. Pieces should last. Brick. Wool. Stone. Iron. Wood. Something to leave behind that will be useful and not go into a landfill for three hundred years. I want to find this house in a museum in a thousand years.

Until then, though, why? Why weigh ourselves down and spend money on things that we might have to leave behind or pay to ship or carry? Why spend half the money now on the plastic version of something that will break in a year when we could wait and buy the “real” article that will last twenty years? I’m not unhappy. Is there a social obligation to “have”? Oh, yes. It almost seems like other people are deprived when they see someone else choosing not to “have” or “consume”.

We do not need a dozen pair of shoes. We just don’t. We don’t need six different coats. I’m not obligated to have name brand jeans. If I want to sleep on a futon for a couple of years while I’m young, that’s my choice. I’m not suffering. Actually, I’m suffering less because my bank account isn’t having a heart attack. It’s good, really. Life isn’t made out of owning stuff. It’s made out of people, like you, who ever you are, reading this right now – whether or not you want to own a dozen shoes! I like you more than a new couch. A lot more actually. You can probably move yourself most the time!

Getting the Groceries Home on a Bicycle

Grocery shopping! Note: this only works in the inner city or Japan, or China, or South Korea, or many parts of Europe…very well, it works in many parts of the world!

What’s your take? Thoughts? Possessions good? Possessions bad? What kind? Do needs change with our seasons of life of life? Chime in!

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Image credits: All images owned by author.

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7 Responses to But you have to have it! Um…no, really, no

  1. I think you’ve got the right idea. I always remember that quote from the movie Fight Club about your possessions ending up owning you, and its so true. Also, it’s been proven that being in debt can have a negative impact on one’s health, so why put oneself through all of that just to satisfy the expectations of others.

    I do have a fully stocked apartment now, but it was years in coming, and I make a point of only owning things I actually need and use. For me, the environmental considerations also come into play: there’s so much shit that gets produced that I really don’t need, the raw materials from which all come from the earth. And even the most expensive version of things isn’t always that well made, so inevitably it will just end up in the landfill. No thanks; I can make do without just fine.

    The only thing I’ll recommend that you do get if you still do your grocery shopping by bike is a pair of panniers for the back of your bike. This is how I do a lot of shopping and it’s way more convenient. It also gives you much better balance – this remains true even if you’re only carrying a single pannier.

    • Ciara Darren says:

      That was my folding bicycle, sadly couldn’t put panniers on it but it was only a five minute ride on back roads and on big items we used the other bicycle with better mounting options. The picture is from Japan two years ago. Right now I walk for my groceries. Panniers are wonderful! Thank you for the advice. They are definitely safer!

      Thank you for the environmental comment. I’ve been to some of the places we dump our trash from the first world. Scary. And disgusting. I’d rather do without much of the time or use something I know will degrade in a few years safely or easily be recycled. I have more to learn about how to live responsibly.

  2. LFFL says:

    Interesting. Sometimes we do accumulate and spend more money on things we could really do without.

  3. Meg says:

    I myself believe if I’m not using it, get rid of it. I guess it’s because I’m older that I feel like there is nothing worth spending money on. I’d rather spend my money on seeing nature. Things not man made. Unfortunately my other half is always bringing more junk home! Just more crap to dust!

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