Saturday, September 08, 2007

Pruning the Mountain of Things

Junk is the enemy.

For a few weeks now it's been my goal to start tossing again. The last few days it's been hot and the heavy air adds to my feeling of being closed in on every side by needless stuff. But making the time to really attack the mountain in any disciplined fashion is really quite hard. I would much rather read or learn a tune or meet friends or sleep. But I know that parting with even a small pile of clothes or other unnecessary items will ultimately help ease the burden of being surrounded by junk.

Compared to others, I really don't have all that much and so the pruning should be relatively easy. I'm not using almost any of the storage space above my garage -- a few weeks ago I finally broke down and put a couple of small boxes up there, which I will probably forget when I eventually move away. I have one really small TV which isn't on much, and a collection of DVDs that consists mostly of family-friendly viewing, including a few concert and instructional cds. I have a piano -- my mother's Steinway upright, badly in need of a tuning. I have furniture, including an old chair that came from my room at my mother's house, and which my son refuses to allow me to part with. I have sole custody of three string instruments and another that is on temporary loan. I have a tons of cds and books, a washer and dryer, bikes, garden stuff, a growing collection of those cool fold-out camp chairs (we use them all the time) and a gigantic mound of stuff from my mother's house that is of little value other than the sentimentality of it.

I'm really at a place where I want to right-size. Most of what needs to go amounts to small and rarely-used items that keep getting shuffled aside, or papers that I'm holding onto for no truly good reason. I feel cluttered and want to just put the clutter out.

I've also been more careful in the last year about what I bring into the house. We eat better quality food of higher nutritional value. We go to a concert or a museum instead of shopping; I can buy laundry detergent at 9:30 on a Tuesday night when my kids are at dad's. The children have whatever they need to read or wear, and probably will be taking music lessons soon. Even the most recent birthday present my daughter and I bought for a little friend of hers bears the mark of my increasing practicality -- a Disney Princess hooded towel set, wrapped in a pink wicker basket that the birthday girl can use for storing something in her room.

I hear all the time about the acquisition habits of others. While I like my stuff, and wouldn't mind having a few things like new carpet or floors, a wine cooler, a new coffee pot, or a nice Gibson F-5, the majority of stuff I hear people investing in is just junk. Sure I enjoy sitting on my butt once in a while and watching a movie. I like it better to go with friends or my kids to see a movie and then hang out afterwards. Will having a home theatre system make my life easier, the quality of life for my children better? Will it deepen my understanding of humanity or make me a better musician or person to have a bigger tv or video games to go with it? Will it make me smarter, or more interesting to the people I deal with all over the country? I've lived without these things for almost five years, and I don't know where I would get the time to waste if I had them.

One good investment I made recently was last night's Duhks show at The Kent Stage. This is a collection of formidable young musicians who are relatively fearless about how far their musicianship and creativity can take them. And the experience of sharing the evening of incredible live music with my kids was pretty cool. This tune, Mountains of Things, is one you're likely familiar with if you are a Tracy Chapman fan. I love the Duhks take on it and the message always hits home for me.

Off to rest so I can start moving my mountain tomorrow.


At September 10, 2007 12:05 PM, Blogger DrDon said...

Well, everyone has their thing. I struggle with this because I HATE clutter, and my house is full of it. Most of it is my wife's and after she left, she left it all there. I'm sloooowly making some progress in getting through it.

So, I can relate to what you're saying. Angela took more than half of the DVDs when she left and I haven't bought one new one since. I just don't care to own that many more movies. Frankly, I find that I just can't go back and watch the same movie over and over too many times. So, the ones I really like to collect are old sci-fi or horror movies from my childhood. Even that's stupid but I will watch those movies more than once.

I just think this is all part of our consumer society. We constantly emphasize people's possessions on TV, especially the excesses of the wealthy. It's become the standard by which we gauge ourselves against others. Now you find people teenagers who, if they work at all, make about 5K a year but they have extensive DVD collections, 100 pairs or shoes, etc. Drive by most suburban homes and the cars are parked outside because the garage is so packed with crap. Folks, your car is your second biggest investment outside of your house. Doesn't make sense to expose it to the elements to protect your collection of old newspapers.

Still, all this being said, some people would find it a monumental waste of time to attend a bluegrass concert. They'd rather look through their collection of comic books or spend their money owning all the Matrix movies. I wouldn't really mind that too much except that some of these folks are the same one foreclosing on their mortgages and screwing up the economy for the rest of us. If you've got money to spare, buy whatever you want. Live it up. If you have to take a variable rate, no money down, risky mortgage to buy a house so you can spend your money on stockpiles of junk, get your priorities straight.

At September 10, 2007 9:09 PM, Blogger Mando Mama said...

Hello Doc,
Nice to hear from you. I think we all do have stuff that might be stupid to others that means enough to us to hang on to. I think it's rather cool the breadth of knowledge of Mid-Century Horror you and MBB possess. Don't give that up! ;-)

Seriously, you are right. I don't begrudge anyone their stuff, but, ultimately, spending time with stuff weakens the human interaction and also leads some folks down a path of false security or even intimacy. "How can there be anything wrong with my life? Look at the cool stuff I have." As the song says, they pray their grave will be deep and wide enough for all their thangs.

I, too, covet, o my LORD how I covet. I could spend a lottery on iTunes. We have a great little home but I would so love a big backyard for my kids -- and a wrap-around porch, and maybe even a barn for making music (part open space, part studio)! I want a new mando, but, I know my playing hasn't earned it. I really want to be a good musician, and I remind myself, practice, the fun part of owning an instrument of any quality, is free.

I hope you're doing well. Tossing at this stage is very hard. If you need a drink of courage give me a shout.


At September 10, 2007 9:38 PM, Anonymous Q E said...

Great! A fine move!

Do we need more stuff?

Just to have new stuff?

Just to have more stuff?

try this the next time you have a desire to have more stuff:

Ask yourself 3 times, carefully considering if you really need it. Yes, we do need some stuff, but not that much. Aquiring stuff just to have stuff never satisfies for long, and we always want more. Live with less and enjoy life.

Free yourself from clutter, open up your space.

Live with less and enjoy life!

- Quantum Environmentalists

At September 12, 2007 5:47 AM, Blogger Mando Mama said...

QE, I really like the three-times rule. That's a really useful tool! I have a list of things that I think we really do need but even prioritizing those will make a difference. I will teach my kids this rule of asking three times, too.


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