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I've been thinking about stuff a lot lately. And not "stuff" in a nonspecific metaphorical sense, but actual stuff -- the objects that fill my shelves and cover just about every flat surface in the apartment.

On Sunday, I went to Quimby's and bought some stuff. Near the register was a tub of pencil monkeys, little smiling rubber monkeys in red fezzes that fit over your eraser. They were cheap and cute, and I almost bought one, but I thought, eh, I can live without a pencil monkey today.

When I got home, I noticed that sitting on top of my computer is a pencil monkey. Where did it come from? How did I get it? And, more importantly, how did I completely forget that I had it? I must see it several times a day, probably for hours at a stretch as I sit in front of my computer typing nonsense and writing papers and reading blogs. I think I just have too much stuff.

I've been thinking this for a while, since even before my little pre-holiday antimaterialist freakout. I've always been a collector of odd things -- disturbing souvenirs, hideous toys, baffling objects, and of course religious kitsch. I see pointless or ugly or just plain weird things, and I have to have them.

But I tried to clean out my little home office this weekend (and I do mean little -- I think this room is 5x8), but there's just no place to put anything. I've got old posters behind the file cabinet, dolls and lizards and picture frames and plastic nuns on every surface, stacks of books under the desk, a closet already filled with boxes of more stuff. I don't know. It's kind of not fun anymore.

I've been wondering what would happen if I just got rid of it all, the snowglobes and magnets and ironic detritus and (maybe even) the nuns. But that scares me. I've always been the weird girl with the weird stuff. Would I still be the same person if I suddenly went minimalist?

Complicating any decision in this matter: a) I'm sentimental. I may no longer like a particular thing in my collection, but if I still like the person I was with when I found it, or it reminds me of some happy event, I probably won't want to part with it (and that probably applies to about 60% of my stuff -- ask me about the yellow plastic deer some day); and 2) I'm married to a fellow obsessive collector, who fully supports my right to waste my hard-earned cash on plastic Baby Jesuses and rusty old buttons that say "Pray for Sex" and thrift-store bedpans that we turn into Easter baskets for unsuspecting friends. I mean, we're people who went to Seattle on our honeymoon so that we could go to Archie McPhee. We live in a three-bedroom apartment, and it's been too small for us for several years now because of all the stuff.

I'm thinking maybe a nice interim step would be to box up a lot of my things to get them out of the way, and see after a year if I actually miss them. But I'm not sure where I would put the box.

Replies: 4 Confessions

I hear you. I have a big old 4 bedroom house and a 2 1/2 car garage and a big time stuff problem. We recently did a huge garage sale and trip to the Goodwill dropoff and the dump and got rid of a huge amount. I can't tell you how satisfying that was. You should definitely do a purge. You will love it.

Don't get rid of everything. Selective stuff is OK. Yes, you would still be loveable you without all the stuff but you love stuff, so keep the good stuff.

The thing that really gets me worked up lately is the waste of the world's resources on making stuff, especially cheap plastic stuff that isn't intended to last and serves no useful purpose. This is a big problem for parents of young children. Kids are bombarded with plastic stuff all the time.

So rail against stuff but love the stuff that makes you happy. Live the paradox and don't feel bad. As a former Seattleite, I say the world would be a darker place without Archie McPhee. But the Golden Arches--they should keep their stuff and free the sweat shop workers.

Doug @ 01/05/2005 09:57 AM CST

You may want to read some of the essays of Walter Benjamin on collecting--he was an obsessive collector himself, and is among the more insightful thinkers and writers of the disastrous 20th Century. Also look at Joseph Cornell's boxes, and start grouping your items into "new" arrangements composed of sets of a dozen or two of single pieces of stuff which can reveal all kinds of unanticipated relationships and insights from the mere interaction of these nominally inanimate things.

neill herring @ 01/05/2005 06:55 PM CST

Holy crap, do you live at MY place?? [If you did, and I didn't see you once in seven years, it would not surprise me.]

Frida @ 01/07/2005 09:21 AM CST

I have been trying to purge my life too, but really, a ziploc bag full of keys from an original bondi blue imac, how can I live without it? Or the drawer full of RSVP game pieces from a earing making scheme that went wrong.

If you do clear out too much stuff, and need adorable tchotchzes (Hell, I have no idea how tro spell it) There's a great shop in Evanston called "possibilities shop" it's on Chicago Ave just south of Dempster, the have a big stock of goodies from Accoutrements, the Archie Mcphee wholesaler.

eighmie @ 01/12/2005 04:47 PM CST

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