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cultural vandal | by maryann johanson

what am I keeping? some Christmas ornaments, for one

One of the things that first prompted me to think that up and moving to London for an indeterminate length of time was a feasible thing for me to do was the realization that I was simply not very attached to most of the stuff that had accrued around me over the past 20 or so years of my independent adult life. That was going to make it easy to give up my apartment without worrying about having a place to put everything while I was gone.

I don’t mean it to sound like I’m getting all Zen or anything in my old age when I say that there has been something very cathartic about getting rid of stuff in one way or another (selling it, giving it away, recycling, or putting it in the garbage only as a last resort). But it’s been weirdly satisfying to know that I as the master of my stuff, not the other way around, and that even as much as I’ve enjoyed my stuff and used my stuff and been oddly comforted to have my stuff around me all these years, my stuff isn’t an albatross that will hold me back.

I hope I’m not disappointing Karl Morton IV, who in comments following another of these transition-diary posts wrote:

I’m glad you’re not getting all superior and self-righteous about this. I’ve known too many people who’ve gone through what it sounds like you are who’ve turned into, “GET RID OF EVERYTHING, it’s just STUFF, you sheep-like MORONS” people. Then they wanna borrow things. Anyway, good on ya for not going there. :)

In fact, having to decide what is worth keeping has made me enjoy and appreciate and want the stuff that I will be putting into storage all the more. I don’t think people are sheep or morons for liking their stuff; I do think that it’s too easy to accumulate more stuff than you need or even really want even when you are aware of the seductive power of stuff and are on guard against. I mean, there are literally no closets in my apartment, which I honestly did not think was a major disadvantage when I was deciding to take the place because I’ve never really been a packrat, but somehow as I’ve been cleaning out the place I’m still coming across stuff that I’d totally forgotten I’d had. I wouldn’t have acquired that stuff if I hadn’t really thought I’d needed it and would use it… and clearly I was wrong about that.

All that said, there is stuff that I treasure, and would be heartbroken to give up when I have any choice in the matter. Some of that consists of the Christmas decorations I’ve slowly gathered over the last 20 years. Not all the decorations, but the ones I picked out specially because they were strange and lovely and that I know I would never find anywhere again.

I think it was the first Christmas in my own apartment when I found — in a Conran’s store that is long since gone — a collection of ornaments made of heavy paper depicting Robin Hood and his band of merry men (and woman). This isn’t the whole set, but it gives you an idea how charming and unusual they are:

I love putting these on my Christmas tree each year (or at least each year when I actually have a tree; some years I’ve skipped it), and they always give me great pleasure to look upon. So I’m packing them carefully away along with others of my most favorite ornaments, and they’ll go up on another Christmas tree at some point in the future, on a Christmas tree that could only have been decorated by me.

In a way, I’m still getting a bit of comfort from my stuff. The fact that I can love some of it so fiercely while finding it very easy to dispose of most of it tells me that I’m not one of those sad people on that documentary show Hoarders, who are held hostage by their stuff. Instead, I hope it means I’ve found a healthy middle ground on which I can be selective about which of my things I imbue with sentimental value.

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