You can worry about the article, you can forget the article, or you can change the article.
I am three days into The Purge. I’m reporting from the dusty trenches (shelves, closets, and floors) and I can tell you that the center of a purge is a tornado of chaos, of emotional exhaustion, and a despair that clings to your skin like the smell of onions and grease. The middle of a purge is ugly, confusing, inexplicably dirty and depressing because you’re lifting items out of obscurity and scrutinizing their worth in the present tense of your life. You’re deciding if you need them, want, them, or are just scared to get rid of them. You look at bad pottery you made in Junior High that your own mother didn’t keep and you cling to it as though keeping it might give you some power over the past. But it doesn’t. It has lingered in the darkness of your shit for years emitting a malignant memory of pain, a pain you haven’t felt for a thousand years. You’ve let it live there in the dark because you hoped the next time you unearthed it it would be different, prettier, better, cooler. But it never is. It’s just a creepy-ass bad piece of pottery that you won’t throw away because the truth is that you think if you throw it away you’re throwing yourself away.
It’s important to recognize that you aren’t you’re stuff and your stuff isn’t you. One exists to serve the other, and when it no longer serves it becomes a placeholder for memories you don’t even care about, for things you thought you might do but didn’t really want to do all that much. Like making paper out of your dryer lint. Or turning that weird fancy jar of Austrian flaked fish into a three Michelin Star meal. You were never going to do those things but it was important at one time to believe you could or might do them. You needed to believe in possibilities, potentiality, and exploration. But guess what? When you bravely throw that lint into the garbage and you toss out that awful jar of expensive nasty fish – five new things will come into your life to fulfill that same purpose, the same need to believe in something that hasn’t happened yet, something you haven’t done yet, something you hope to make the time to explore. Believe me when I say that you will never be short of shit to put on your shelves of potential personal growth.
I have tossed things this week I’ve held onto for 20 year’s worth of moves that, when I’m being honest with myself, I know I only have because I feel guilty not wanting them. I feel the weight of responsibility to my species to collect meaning and keep mementos of everything. But at 47 years old I still haven’t accomplished what I know I came here to accomplish and these mementos are not only not important to me but they’re holding back my growth. There are belongings that I enjoy looking at every day, that enrich my space, inspire me, or enchant me. There are things I might never want to live without but what I need in my life can and does change to make room for new things. That’s how stuff works. That’s how life works too.
The reason, if you need one, that people have to die at some point is because people keep being born. There’s not enough room in the entire universe for beings or entities or THINGS to live for an eternity. Stars die and new ones are born. Humans die to make room for new ones. The world needs new humans so it can evolve, develop, improve, and regenerate. Old fuckers have a lot of wisdom to share with young fuckers until at some point they stop having new experiences, new thoughts, or the desire to contribute any more. New lives are waiting in the wings for the space to exist. If too many of us exist at once our world sickens and dies. Like it’s doing now.
The shit you hang onto and the shit you keep must be kept in balance. You can be a collector without being a hoarder. You can be a minimalist without complete austerity.
What I love about a purge is that I see myself more clearly once I get through it. My goals re-enter center stage in my life as my belongings decrease making room for clarity. If you know me you know I’m no minimalist. I like having pretty and cool things around me and because I love to make a lot of things there are always stores of tools and supplies that I need in order to open up the fabric of the universe whenever I need to. I always have stuff. But the only way I can keep having stuff is to get rid of stuff on a fairly regular basis.
Things I’ve gotten rid of so far:
A ceramic cookie animal thingy I don’t like that someone gave to me who I didn’t want to offend.
2 boxes of clothes.
All the shoes I haven’t been able to wear for years but kept as a relic of the way-back when I could wear a lot of different shoes.
A box full of linens I don’t use.
My fake food collection (except for my bunch of fake radishes).
Several vases I don’t use because I don’t like them enough.
65% of the contents of my desk.
A bunch of office-y things I no longer have a use for.
Getting rid of things is as energizing as getting new things. I feel like I’m making room for new thoughts, new actions, new air. I’m getting better at it as I age. I’m probably practicing for the day I don’t need anything else besides my teeth and skin just before I give them up to make room for someone brand new. I know that the only way I can control when and how I die is if I kill myself (and that level of control is dangerously magnetic to me) but I’m holding out for a different prize. I’m always holding out for the hope that I’ll live long enough to achieve the things I’ve imagined for myself since I first discovered the power of connectivity and language.
I’m not done here yet.
Purging is a living metaphor for clearing your desk of everything so you can start writing a new book. It’s a living metaphor for beginning a new stage in life. It’s a declaration of purpose. It’s a declaration of spiritual and emotional growth.
To look at a thing you’ve loved, and remember how much joy it used to bring you, and to be able to recognize it no longer belongs with you and let it go is power. Trusting that you’ll always remember what’s most important to you without objects to jog your memory is power. You might be tempted to think you’ll need a trunk full of mementos for when you’re old and Alzheimer’s has taken over but those mementos won’t help you remember what you no longer even recognize. What your heart and mind need to remember, they will.
My last thought on this subject for tonight is that more and more I’m seeing my home and my stuff as a stage set in which my life is played out. A good stage set projects a deliberate mood, underscores the characters living in it, and never has too little or too much stuff in it than the story calls for. I want my stage set to support me not swallow me whole.