Rebecca Tirrell Talbot raises this question in her essay “A Trail of Belongings.” One of the great ironies of our culture is that we are both a highly mobile culture and a highly consumeristic culture, which often means we need to move a lot of stuff and move it quickly (hence PODS).
Downsizing, and then downsizing again. It’s like the process my maternal grandparents followed as they aged. Between my grandfather’s New England practicality and my grandmother’s compulsive generosity, they never collected much. If you opened a closet door, you could actually see everything the closet contained. But they still had to downsize when they sold their house and moved into a retirement home, and several years later my widowed grandmother had to store, sell, or give away almost everything else when she moved into a hospital-room-sized assisted living apartment.
Maybe it’s good to act out that process early in life.
Is there a correlation between growing old and losing ones possessions? Is it a sign of wisdom? Rebecca’s writing reminded me of a passage from one of Wendell Berry’s new short stories, “Sold“:
Mr. Gotrocks hadn’t any sooner paid his investment into it than he hired a man with a bulldozer to smash the house and other buildings all to flinders, and push them into a pile, and set them afire. He pushed out every fence, every landmark that stood above the ground, every tree. A place where generations of people had lived their lives. If they came back now, looking for it, they wouldn’t know where they were.
And so it’s all gone. A new time has come….
I lie awake in the night, and I can see it all in my mind, the old place, the house, all the things I took care of so long. I thought I might miss it, but I don’t. The time has gone when I could do more than worry about it, and I declare it’s a load off my mind. But the thoughts, still, are a kind of company.
If you could take a cold, hard look at your stuff, how tied are you to your belongings?