Personal

Things for Other People

I have no need for a kitchen table. The majority of my eating is done:

  1. From the coffee table while sitting on the couch
  2. From the coffee table while sitting on the floor in front of the couch, because couches are difficult
  3. While staring absentmindedly at my reflection in the mirror over my kitchen sink
  4. From the side of my desk as I try to avoid getting crumbs on my laptop while browsing the internet which I could just as easily do in five minutes once my dinner is done but that’s five whole minutes and it’s so long from now

And four chairs? I have no need for four kitchen table chairs. You know why the table or those chairs exist in my home? For other people. For the once in a while occasion where other people come over and expect somewhere to sit that doesn’t involve pretending they’re in an opium den with no opium. Because society, man. Society.

I looked around the apartment and realized that probably three quarters of my belongings have no reason for existing most of the time. I’m one guy – I don’t need a couch and two chairs and a footrest and a beanbag ottoman. You know what the ottoman gets used for the most? Holding the spare PS3 controller while it’s charging.

Very little of what I own is actually for me. It’s for other people. Chairs for other people to sit on. A tiny little overburdened window-mounted air conditioner so other people don’t die of heatstroke when they walk into my tropical apartment in the summer. Blankets so other people don’t lose appendages to frostbite when they walk into my meatlocker of an apartment in the winter.

There are three different sets of plates in my kitchen cabinets. Three. Different. Sets. Know how many I use? One. One set. One set of four identical black plates. Why are the others there? For when other people come over to eat and don’t want to share plates. The nerve of some people.

I could easily get rid of about half of my stuff and move into a cardboard box but it gets cold here and it’s hard to get a permit to install a proper furnace in those. So instead of adopting a transient nomadic lifestyle, it’s time to start stripping some of this stuff out of my life.

Because it’s just stuff.

Stuff I don’t need. Stuff that exists for no reason other than that other people may occasionally use it. And that’s a terrible reason to own things. Fortunately I’ve always had a pretty strong ability to avoid buying stuff just because I want it – if I don’t need it and it’s not a particularly emotionally compelling work of art, it’s staying on the shelf.

There’s a difference between being able to have something, and needing to have something. It’s important to know the difference. Otherwise you just end up owning things for other people, and those things end up owning you.

Tech

Up and Gone; Or, The Ease of Relocating in the Digital Age

I recently had the pleasure of dogsitting for my parents while they were out of town, and in the process of temporarily relocating myself to their house, I realized something.

It’s extremely easy to pick up and relocate ourselves in an age where everything has gone digital.

This isn’t really a surprise. There are lots of books and blogs extolling the virtues of a location-independent lifestyle. Even for those of us who aren’t globe-trotting, it’s become remarkably easy to just… leave. For the two weeks I was living at my parents’ house taking care of their dog, I packed a single bag with a few changes of clothes and basic toiletries, a couple books, and my laptop. (Plus my phone, but that’s always on me and thus not really counted as packing.) That’s it.

All my other possessions were unimportant.

Granted, I wasn’t packing for a survival trek. I knew there would be food on hand and a kitchen to prepare it, a bed to sleep in, and functioning utilities. But it was interesting to see just how few of my own things I needed in order to be away from home for two weeks.

  • Mail was not a concern – all my bills are handled online, and personal letters have long been replaced by email, texts, and the social web. The sum total of my physical mail for two weeks was a pair of Netflix envelopes and a handful of unwanted marketing flyers and catalogs (which go straight to the trash).
  • Netflix and Hulu were at the ready for movies and TV. iTunes holds my music library. A couple books, which could just as easily have been library loans, and a very active dog sufficed for most of my entertainment.
  • Two weeks’ worth of clothing really doesn’t take up much space and can be packed fairly quickly. A few pairs of jeans, several t-shirts and overshirts for work, and some sweatshirts, plus a coat and gloves, all of which fits well in a moderately-sized duffle bag.

My laptop and my phone are undoubtedly my two most important possessions. Those two devices have replaced (or at least could replace) my mailbox, my media center, a bookshelf, paper notebooks, my alarm clock, and a phonebook, among other things. Digital storage is cheaper than ever, so I could easily back up all my DVDs to a portable harddrive.

Obviously there are some things I can’t digitize. My couch, for one. And as easy as it might be to order a pizza online, I like cooking, so my kitchen is here to stay. But the rest of my stuff? That’s just it – it’s just stuff. I’m planning to overhaul my belongings, going by the rule of “If I had to move right now and could only take one car, would this go with me?” My guess is that the answer will consistently tend toward “no.”

What else in my life can I digitize to reduce my clutter? Moving to a monastery and renouncing all worldly things is out of the question, but I’m open to suggestions.