I’m writing from Seattle – a frequent destination since my best friend moved here twelve years ago to earn her MFA and pursue a theatrical career.
Most of my visits to Seattle have been delightful. Like New York, Seattle is “a great place to visit” – but I can also imagine living here. There are interesting restaurants, good theatre, great live music, and a decent NFL team – all concentrated in a lovely geographical setting of hillside neighborhoods overlooking various bodies of water.
My present visit, however, has become mainly about stuff. I’ve volunteered to pitch in with a project few mortals enjoy – moving. My friend has accepted an adjunct post at William & Mary for the coming academic year, and that involves getting considerable impedimenta from one coast to the other.
My friend has saved herself a great deal of trouble by subletting her Seattle apartment, which means that her furniture and kitchen stuff can remain in situ. Still, since my arrival, we have been boxing things for storage, for shipment to Virginia, and for donation to Goodwill and the Seattle Public Library.
Ordinarily, my friend would not need help managing these tasks, but, while she packs, she’s also performing in a musical and finishing the syllabus for her classes at W&M. So my visit – originally to see her show – has been slowly transformed into a working trip.
Like most moderns, I find this business of moving a tad depressing.
For one thing, moving confronts one with the extraordinary waste characteristic of our modern lifestyle. We buy too many things – often on impulse, usually on credit – and often get absolutely no use out of them.
In my own case – and in my friend’s – unrequited consumerism often takes the form of books. I’m old enough to know that – even if I enjoy exceptional good health and longevity – I could fill up the rest of my reading life without ever buying another book.
The logical correlative to this is that – since I will certainly continuing buying books – I must now own books which I will never read. And that’s a waste of money, of natural resources, and – every time I box up books for another move – of raw physical effort.
As my friend is a woman, we must deal – not just with books – but with a great many wardrobe items. Sorting unworn garments is even more depressing than dealing with unread books. For one thing, most garments cost a great deal more than a typical book. For another, most clothing is intended to go quickly out of style.
Obsolescence can also happen with books, of course. Readers addicted to self-improvement, spiritual fads, current events, or celebrity biography must regularly confront the reality of acquisitions which were perhaps better left on the bookstore shelf.
But clothes are far worse, and my heart goes out to women – and fashion-conscious men – who must periodically deal with an accumulation of purchases from which accusing sales tags have never been removed.
For many, another major item of unused, or under-used, stuff consists of gizmos. Revolutionary kitchen appliances, nifty combination tools, and exercise equipment dominate this category, but it also includes – ironically – novel storage systems. Ingenious devices – designed to help us store our superabundance of stuff – often become mere clutter when life summons us to move on.
For several days now, I’ve been helping my friend deal with her stuff – which is hardly fun. But what truly depresses me is that – at some point in the near future – I will have to deal with moving my own stuff yet again.
My apartment in Staunton is roomy, comfortable, convenient, and cheap. I could easily stay there for a long while, but my landlady is selling the house – and whenever she finds a buyer, I will have a month or two to clear out.
With this uncertainty hanging over me, I’ve already begun to view my every possession with a jaundiced eye. At some point, on relatively short notice, I’ll have to pack those items up for yet another move.
Add to this the somber reality that my sister and I will very likely outlive our mother, who – now 95 and in hospice care – is facing life’s ultimate relocation. In the not-too-distant future, my sister and I – assuming we are both alive – will face the task of dealing with the accumulation of Mom’s long, eventful life.
Inevitably, this will include items which might have been of great sentimental value to Mom – but whose significant eludes her children’s best efforts at recall.
These are the thoughts which oppress me on a glorious Sunday morning in this beautiful city. Life can be wonderful, but it would, perhaps, be even more wonderful with fewer possessions – and fewer worries.
Too often, our stuff is more trouble than it’s worth.