I don't mean this in a suicidal kind of way. I mean it more in the sense of computers, fax machines, and shiny sequined tank tops flying out my window while I set fire to a pile of bank statements. You see, money really can keep you warm at night, in a literal kind of way.

I've recently realized that I am very slowly buying a massive collection of context. But it's a plastic, inflexible kind of context, and I move past it faster than I can remember where I put it. I know that objects can't make me happy, yet I continue to buy them, watching them pile up around me. Why? Because they make me comfortable. And I wonder if I could be happy without being comfortable; if I could survive without anything to go back to. It's always been one of my biggest fears - being left exposed - and at the same time it's also one of my biggest fascinations. I keep coming back to this image in my mind of a leaf floating in the breeze, at the mercy of the elements but finally able to move.

Everything around me, everything I've bought or acquired, is like some sort of extension of myself. Once they latch on, letting go is like sawing off an arm. There will come a point where I'm ready to strip it all away, I hope, and come to terms with what's left. I'm not ready to do this yet, and I don't know if I ever will be, but it's nice to know that it's a possibility. Playing the game becomes a lot more fun when you realize that not playing is a viable option.

A few years ago, my father tried to teach a group of business people about the principle of Non-Attachment. He came armed with flip charts and microphones and an army of smelly markers. As he took a step away from his giant flip chart to respond to a question about the details of this very principle, the microphone attached to his shirt collar came loose and clattered to the ground. Silence followed, and then applause. A moment later, as he looked around him and noticed that he was completely on his own, he understood.

My father is a good man, with a unique way of stumbling headlong into truth. I guess it runs in the family. And one day, when I actually do burn all of the bank statemnts and the phone bills, I hope he'll be there to watch. I think we'd both get a big kick out of it.

As Brad Pitt's character in Fight Club remarked, "The things you own end up owning you." Hardly profound in itself; anyone who's seen the movie has tucked that scrap of cosmic wisdom away for the next time they feel like they have too much stuff. That doesn't happen often, and even less often do we packrats actually manage to discard a significant portion of stuff. "I might need that sometime real soon! I'd love to be able to give this to my kids someday!"
I think the mindset that leads to hoard lust is deeply rooted, and it takes a real mental shock, an uncontrolled transforming experience, to shake it off. Nobody wakes up on Spring Cleaning morning and says, "woah, all this crap is going in the trash today!" Not when you still listen to that CD occasionally, not when this book was so full of rare insight, not when Mom would have conniptions if you scrapped these heirloom quilts, not when those umpteen volumes of diaries have faithfully recorded your ecstasies and agonies through the years.
Somewhere between ages 12 and 31, I accumulated enough books, notebooks, CD's, videotape, magazines, computers and accessories to fill a small U-Haul truck. My girl and I had it all shipped to follow us (along with her stuff, of course), from New Jersey to Florida. In October of 1999, one crucial domino, the relationship with my girl, toppled. The ensuing chain reaction was the "uncontrolled transforming experience" that made shedding decades of stuff I never really used, not only thinkable but even do-able. When the dust settled, I was back in New Jersey, with exactly one carload of stuff. What wasn't in the car, I had sold, or it ended up in a dumpster.
For me, "getting rid of it all" took a strong dose of despair. I don't recommend despair. On the road, though, I discovered something I had never felt in my life: freedom from possessions. Right there, on four wheels, ready to accompany me anywhere I could drive, was everything I wanted and could have.
Now, a-year-and-some later, I have a few regrets... I wish the relationship hadn't fallen down and broken in the first place, but that involves someone beyond myself; there's the factor beyond my control. What was within my control was my destination. I wish I had headed someplace where it doesn't snow. I wish I had rented a little room instead of this huge apartment where I need a flatmate (with her decades of baggage) to help cover the monthly rent. The books I brought back to New Jersey have mostly just gathered dust - I regret I didn't ditch them when I was still crazy enough. They breed and multiply, you know...

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