You are moving. You are transferring the things that stick to you, like pills on a very large jersey, from one location to another. Unless you are that guy from the office who takes everything off his desk home with him every day, then unpacks it and realigns it the next, you won’t like it. I don’t think that guy even exists. I just made him up.
When you first caught a bus to the city, you had a single bag slung across one shoulder. It wasn’t even full. Or heavy. You had one arm free.
Back then you could read a book and leave it somewhere when you were done, or give it to someone else to colour their mind. You didn’t feel the need to start your own library. But somewhere along the way, you did. Your library is categorised by genre and arranged by colour, so every shelf is a rainbow spectrum of spines. It looks pretty but you worry that when the big earthquake comes and those bookcases tilt, someone might die a compact death.
It’s not just the books that have got out of hand. The inventory so far includes: camping gear, utensils, plates, a Sega Master System II, appliances, primary school exercise books, furniture, clothes (for every day of the year), two electric typewriters, an early 1990s Apple Macintosh, other machines that work and don’t work, vehicles, an old scout jersey resplendent with badges, fabric, linen, toiletries, a menagerie of shoes… A predilection for op-shops, online auctions and garage sales now bears down on you like a musty avalanche of grandparent clothes and second-hand leftovers.
Now you would need 70 people with bags slung over both shoulders, and a backpack as well. You would need to book several buses for these people to travel in. Only when they drove away could you momentarily pretend your life was as whimsical and unencumbered as you remember. But you’re lying to yourself. You just have too much stuff.
Your accumulation of paraphernalia is like a pack of puppies yapping at your heels. Puppies aren’t easily separated, and they grow up to have more puppies. You now have a space-hungry entourage, a flea-attracting horde of stuff puppies.
You know you must be ruthless with the stuff puppies. You are moving. You try to cull as you pack, but the other puppies look at the puppy in your hand, hovering over the “discard” box, squirming. Their puppy eyes judge you. You can’t do it.
But then you just get fed up. Snap. The place smells like puppy. You can’t move for puppies. They yap. They demand your attention. They lap at your freedom. You set up a great puppy bonfire to end this farce for good, only to discover that this is frowned upon by prominent societies around the world. You don’t like puppies anymore, but your life is puppies. You are stuck. You will deal with them later.
Although you pack some of the place yourself, you are fortunate enough to have professional movers. You have never had anyone move you before (not the romantic or nostalgic kind—you’ve had that before). Two brusque men arrive in sneakers and short shorts. They have tape, boxes, and are completely humourless. You want them to chuckle at your banter. They don’t. You buy them coffees in desperation. They say Thanks, but their eyes say Pack and move your own damn house. It ends with 12 men and a shipping container on a truck. You have never experienced anything quite as emasculating as watching a squadron of hulks move and stack your Queen-sized latex mattress, bookcases and other heavy puppies.
You are in your new place. The stuff puppies remain. The movers’ role was purely mechanical; they were never interested in the contents of your third drawer down, or whether you really needed that pair of steel-capped 1970s hiking boots (they went part-way up Everest). You had hoped they would do some sorting for you. They didn’t.
It takes you longer than it would for most people, but you realise you need to give away or sell your stuff puppies—to friends, family, op-shoppers, other hoarders. They will be happy, you won’t feel bad (the puppies will be looked after), and you’ve taken positive steps towards vacuuming the dusty corners of your existence. Everyone wins.
To make sure this doesn’t get cyclic, you need to change. Simplify. Don’t hold on to things if you don’t need them: be Teflon. You also don’t need mementos from every significant moment to help you remember who you are. Just remember the important stuff. You are not like the fridge, which is defined by its magnets. Distil down whatever you can fit into a shoebox labelled “Special” under the bed, and slide it away. Resist the temptation to go get a kitten.
Published in Sunday magazine (Sunday Star Times), 9 September 2012.