I come from a family of clutterbugs. Or maybe you could call us memory hoarders. We save everything.
We love antiques and scrapbooks. My dad’s parents got married at the start of the Great Depression. My two elderly aunts, both born in the 1930s, remember World War II rations and home gardening. Frugality was necessary for survival.
But I was a 90s child, so I saved everything because I hoard memories. Throwing away or donating possessions or even junk feels like forgetting the memory ever happened at all. When I left my parents’ house, I took as much with me as I could because I didn’t know what I would actually need.
About a year after I moved out, I started purging. Baggy sweaters and denim skirts three sizes too big, creepy old porcelain dolls, anything that was attached to negative memories. I moved two more times throughout college and each time I got rid of more things.
In 2014, a friend introduced me to the concept of minimalism. She told me about the 100 things challenge and showed me Alex Day’s YouTube video showing all 40 things that he owns, which is no longer online.
In 2015, I knew I would move cross country again. I started giving away any books I did not need to own for academic or creative pursuits. I took bags of clothes and old suitcases to the Arc and Goodwill.
Then for five days in September, I purged my apartment.
I filled three and a half dumpsters in my apartment complex with old furniture, papers, and other rubbish. I left anything that seemed salvageable outside the dumpster for my neighbors.
I asked myself, Do I actually need this? Will I use it? And does it fit in the trailer?
Car mechanics advised me that a full 5′ x 8′ trailer would be harder for my car to haul than a 4′ x 8′ trailer. So I unloaded and ditched even more things.
I traveled over 1,200 miles and I couldn’t believe everything I owned was in that one little trailer. Owning so little was weird, but I was free.
Remember I said that I come from a family of hoaders? So my elderly aunt’s house literally looks like an episode of hoarders. Not even kidding. I’ve been unearthing groceries from the 80s in her kitchen.
The more I clean out and throw away here, the more I realize how I don’t have a desire to own things anymore. I have journals and now smartphones and social media to record and share my memories. Ownership of things seems like a burden.
I’ve also been thinking about how Jesus didn’t own many things at all, and the early church placed an emphasis on community rather than possessions. You don’t need to own a lot of things to change the world.
And as I sort through things in my aunt’s house, I keep thinking about this New York Times story I read last month, The Lonely Death of George Bell. This 72 year old guy died alone in his Queens apartment, surrounded by stuff and rotting food. Friends tried to contact him and he grew too depressed to answer. It’s tragic.
I’ve also been reading the Becoming Minimalist blog this year. They started a #ReclaimThanksgiving hashtag last fall in their post recounting the history of Black Friday. I didn’t know that Black Friday wasn’t a thing until the 80s and grew more intense in the 2000s. Or that the first time stores opened on Thanksgiving evening was as recent as 2012. This consumerist mentality bothers me. There’s a cost to retail workers and loss of community even for shoppers.
I’ve read articles in Forbes and the Washington Post that most millennials want experiences, not things. We don’t want large family heirloom furniture. We want roadtrips and concerts and late night stargazing. We want to feel alive and present in a 24/7 world.
I want to live. Not to own.