LIVE: The Stuff of Life

2 weeks ago, I moved our 2-bedroom apartment to a 3-bedroom townhouse. I did the packing mostly on my own, as well as the unpacking.

My previous experiences with moving have been pretty easy: the stuff I own fits in a bedroom and two kitchen cupboards. Until recently, I didn’t even have furniture of my own, always moving from furnished place to furnished place, carrying my clothes, books and computer along–the only necessary things for my life.

This time, though, I wasn’t just moving myself: I was moving two people with all their accumulated stuff and furniture.

As my semi-bohemian life in my 20s showed, I can live with very little stuff. Entertainment and reading are digital now; I scaled down my book collection when I moved from Edmonton and have never looked back. My computer can be used as a television screen–that’s why I got it in the first place. I own enough clothing to get by, but have little need for a big wardrobe since I spend most of my time at home anyway. I spend more on pyjamas than actual clothes.

My partner, however, has a thing for things. (Well, I don’t know. He just owns a lot of stuff). Aside from the necessary furniture like a couch and a bed and a desk, which are totally justifiable, he owns a ton of stuff, from DVDs to his wardrobe to his numerous collectibles. And I’m not even talking about his shoe collection.

As I packed and unpacked everything over the space of a week, I started thinking about how our lives are defined by things. The stuff that we own.

How much pleasure am I getting from these objects? How much meaning? How are they influencing my life?

More and more, I feel like I am living the life disconnected. Making my life on the web, it might sound like connection is a factor of my success. But I’m not talking about this kind of connection. I’m talking about living the life disconnected from our bodies, from our environments and from our souls. From other human beings.

For about a year, I’ve felt like something was missing in my life. Something important, something that mattered, something that made me feel like the drudge and grind of daily life wasn’t in vain, like every day wasn’t like the day before and wouldn’t be like the day after.

After the money I spent to move our stuff from one place to another, the exhausted body I had after five days of packing, unpacking, buying, placing, moving, washing, shelving, the constant worry that the new place wouldn’t be big enough for all our accumulated stuff (mostly his) despite one more room…

It all became clear.

I have too much stuff. I don’t have enough life.

What’s the stuff of life? Experiences. Memories. I feel stuck, weighed down to soullessness by the things that attach themselves to my body like millions of little anchors. Clothes need washing. DVDs need watching. Car needs gasing. Shoes need wearing. Things need using. But there is very little in this past year that I find worthy of remembering.

I’ve seen nothing beautiful.

I’ve done nothing amazing.

I have experienced nothing but the increasing hollowness of my life, nothing but the impression of drowning into a sea of things that clamour for more money to increase their numbers, like so many cancer cells eating away at my soul, taking it apart and selling it for spare parts.

I am sick of it all.

Every week, my body gets fatter from trying to fill the void of my increasingly poor soul. Every week that goes like the one before, just like the one after, kills me a little bit more.

I make my own schedule. I work the hours I wish.

Do you want to know what I do with those hours that I so proudly free by being self-employed?

Nothing.

I watch television. Sometimes, rarely, I take walks. I wash dishes. I do laundry. I play video games. Sometimes I read. I wait.

These are all distractions because I don’t want to think about what’s missing in my life. This morning, I was wondering why I feel so lazy, why I feel like my skills and my intelligence and my potential are going to waste, and why I can’t just will myself out of it.

I have nothing to live for but the drudgery of another day spent doing the same damn thing all over again.

Despite my getting bigger every week, I am starving–my soul is starving.

The stuff we own is suffocating me. The real stuff of life–laughter, beauty, love, touch, tears, amazement, learning, friendship–pass me by because there is no space for them anymore, all worried that I am about taking care of stuff and making space for stuff and making more money to buy more stuff.

I would gladly give it all away if it meant seeing the sun set on a beach on another continent, dancing to drums until it came back up, hearing the stories of interesting people and loving someone unfettered by budgeting.

Photo by the United Nations

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6 Responses to “LIVE: The Stuff of Life”

  1. JD says:

    Just one word: Balance. Things are important, they bring back memories, make us feel at home. Having people in your life is also important. But you can’t live other people’s lives or buy things because they are on sale. You have to have a reason for everything, and also have your own life. It’s just about finding the right balance. Don’t let yourself go on Black Friday or Boxing Day, that’s just stupid. Don’t buy things that don’t represent anything to you just because they are cheap. And only stay in touch with people that makes you happy. Find your balance and you will.

  2. Michiel says:

    You are so right . I did that my whole life until the children were grown up , the mortgage paid and we were debt free . Then we took the Alaska inward passage cruise. Memories to last a lifetime . The beauty , peace and quiet and seeing the frozen fast disappearing glaciers . But still beautiful . Just standing at the ships railings and watching the picture postcard beauty of the green spruce trees reflected on the smooth blue waters of the inward passage as the ships wake made hypnotic ripples. Absolutely stunning . Next year we plan to take the cruise to Asia , Bali and Indonesia . I suddenly realized what I had missed all the years . At least we are still young enough to do them . Do not let the beauty of this life pass you by because one is too busy trying to make a living

  3. I think that writing at home, in relative isolation, tends to be associated with procrastination and depression. It can sound so idyllic, but there are lots of drawbacks. I don’t think you are unique in your response to this situation. There is a study for this: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/dec/13/writers-depression-top-10-risk
    I think the only answer, which is difficult, and I’m always still working on it, is structure and planning and goal-setting. Set a series of small goals to achieve a large goal (break down your tasks), set deliverables, set timelines. This is how software development is done now, and lots of project management generally, and just think of your life as a project to be managed.

    • JD says:

      agree. And always reward yourself when those mini-goals are achieved.

  4. Heldor says:

    Yeah, I comisserate with you. We’ve all got too much stuff. George Carlin proved it in the mid 80s. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MvgN5gCuLac>.

  5. María says:

    Anabelle, I arrived to your blog because I was looking for opinions about living in Vancouver or NA cities (I know you must be completely tired of people arriving because of this, I am writing from Europe and we may have an opportunity to go there or somewhere else in US -not relevant to what I want to say.)
    I have followed your advise and read your last posts. After reading this I have felt so much sadness. I think you express in a very beautiful manner something that feels like a “living asphyxia.” I agree with your the questions you throw to the air. I think there is a lot of truth in them. If things become inert physical witnesses, fossils, they start weighing so much that it is unbearable. For me, when we stay “alive”, flowing in our everyday, being present when our present life stimulates enough to really be there, things don’t weigh so much. Even if not repeatedly used, watched, listened to, etc. they are kind of “alive” in forms of memories or a hinted possible use. Normally I see the things I own like a project, I have them because they stimulate me to do something (like the blender to make a good meal or the liquidizer to make a yummy fruit juice that will avoid the fruits to get bad.)
    If this is not the case, your inner flame is fading. Please don’t let it die.
    If you have the sharp capacity and intelligence to see what is happening around you, take the opportunity to do something with it. So many people have the same situation as you have but cannot see it. Live dissatisfied a life that they think as satisfactory, so they have no clue when coming to the feeling of void. It blows out one day, and they have no idea why.
    You sound as if you are letting yourself bleed slowly. Don’t do it.
    Getting yourself heavier as mirroring your immediate surrounding is poetic. There is something beautiful into it, like we see in melancholy (the beauty of sadness.) I talk from the experience of someone extremely prone to melancholy and mirroring the exterior.
    It is a kind of rebellion, it is a shout of wanting to show how terrible it is what is around. It is a complain. It is a way to hate yourself because you feel you cannot change what is outside and some part of you rebels to it. It would be great if people around would just appear and kill the situation outside so there would not be anything to mirror.
    Unfortunately this almost never happens. And what is worse, by doing this you are doing more than just the literary gesture of expressing what kills you, you are also entering in a vicious circle since our body becomes what we do of it and if you get used to do something it will give you back the same again and again. What I want to say is that when we live in our minds and we have a very active mind and less active body (most of us have that) we tend to see reality in a distorted manner. Since you learn your body to repeat a routine, you will only receive back the need to perpetuate that routine, just because our bodies are done that way. Then it is more difficult to break it. This does not have anything to do with our dissatisfaction or with the beauty of breaking poetry into your life, this has to do with the animal part that we all have.
    It is like condemning yourself without knowing. It is like killing the “I don’t know how to get out of this situation but maybe in the future I will know how” because in the future you will be just a reflex of what you are doing now because your body, your physiology, your biology will not let you even if your mind gets cloudless.
    Can you find a small tiny place of your house completely empty? Can you make empty a small corner? Can you just sit there and imagine you are putting out all the things that you feel are accumulating in your body? Can you free yourself, close your eyes and send one by one all the things you feel are suffocating you to an imaginary fire? Can you purify all your perception of what is in your spiritual presence just by doing that? Can you take out all what you eat and drink, by visualizing and stating you want to get rid of it?
    It is a free choice right for your partner to have as many things as he wants but he will have to respect your need of vacuity. Make one corner of your house yours and have it empty. Just a carpet or a cushion and visualize everyday what you want to get rid of. Move your body, feel it, don’t abandon it. Feel you can give the respect back to it, tell “her” that you will help her get rid of all what is suffocating her.
    Take only things which can fly in your world, which are weightless. Visualize all the things of your house one by one flouting with no gravity, becoming transparent, dissolving in the air, in the snow, in the rain.
    Go for a short trip and package nothing.
    Do one day fasting with only water and teas and feel with every hunger pain that you are getting rid of all the things around you and that you are getting back your soul.

    I don’t know if this will help you, but I wanted at least to send something different into your mind. I know you love reading and that you will travel somewhere else reading my words, which hopefully tell you something out of what you are used to think in the universe of your mind, even if only because my English is strange and there is a Spanish woman writing this at the other side of the world from a small North European country in a grey day outside with a warm heart.
    Don’t let yourself fade.
    Warm regards,
    María

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