Ajax Bell

Author of the Queen City Boys books

Ain’t nothin’ gonna to break my stride

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"Raven and the First Men" by Bill Reid at the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver, BC.

I think the less said about moving the better?  I will say that no matter how long you have to complete it (3 weeks or 3 days) it still sucks just as much. Also rumors of my impending move to the West Coast have been greatly exaggerated.  Sorry.  All I can say about that is that in this economy good jobs are better than freedom to move around.  And in any economy it’s nice to keep a good boyfriend close as well.

Of course since I haven’t been thinking about anything but moving, I don’t have anything else to talk about.  I read this old post from Bruce Sterling.  There’s a lot of irrelevant info in there so let me quote the important parts:

What is “sustainability?” Sustainable practices navigate successfully through time and space, while others crack up and vanish. So basically, the sustainable is about time – time and space. You need to re-think your relationship to material possessions in terms of things that occupy your time. The things that are physically closest to you. Time and space.

In earlier, less technically advanced eras, this approach would have been far-fetched. Material goods were inherently difficult to produce, find, and ship. They were rare and precious. They were closely associated with social prestige. Without important material signifiers such as wedding china, family silver, portraits, a coach-house, a trousseau and so forth, you were advertising your lack of substance to your neighbors. If you failed to surround yourself with a thick material barrier, you were inviting social abuse and possible police suspicion. So it made pragmatic sense to cling to heirlooms, renew all major purchases promptly, and visibly keep up with the Joneses.

That era is dying. It’s not only dying, but the assumptions behind that form of material culture are very dangerous. These objects can no longer protect you from want, from humiliation – in fact they are causes of humiliation, as anyone with a McMansion crammed with Chinese-made goods and an unsellable SUV has now learned at great cost.

Furthermore, many of these objects can damage you personally. The hours you waste stumbling over your piled debris, picking, washing, storing, re-storing, those are hours and spaces that you will never get back in a mortal lifetime. Basically, you have to curate these goods: heat them, cool them, protect them from humidity and vermin. Every moment you devote to them is lost to your children, your friends, your society, yourself.

It’s not bad to own fine things that you like. What you need are things that you GENUINELY like. Things that you cherish, that enhance your existence in the world. The rest is dross.

Do not “economize.” Please. That is not the point. The economy is clearly insane. Even its champions are terrified by it now. It’s melting the North Pole. So “economization” is not your friend. Cheapness can be value-less. Voluntary simplicity is, furthermore, boring. Less can become too much work.

The items that you use incessantly, the items you employ every day, the normal, boring goods that don’t seem luxurious or romantic: these are the critical ones. They are truly central. The everyday object is the monarch of all objects. It’s in your time most, it’s in your space most. It is “where it is at,” and it is “what is going on.”

It takes a while to get this through your head, because it’s the opposite of the legendary of shopping. However: the things that you use every day should be the best-designed things you can get. For instance, you cannot possibly spend too much money on a bed – (assuming you have a regular bed, which in point of fact I do not). You’re spending a third of your lifetime in a bed. Your bed might be sagging, ugly, groaning and infested with dust mites, because you are used to that situation and cannot see it. That calamity might escape your conscious notice. See it. Replace it.

Sell – even give away– anything you never use. Fancy ball gowns, tuxedos, beautiful shoes wrapped in bubblepak that you never wear, useless Christmas gifts from well-meaning relatives, junk that you inherited. Sell that stuff. Take the money, get a real bed. Get radically improved everyday things.

Sterling says some other great stuff, but the main thrust here is rethinking your (my) relationship with stuff.  Obviously we all do this every time we move.  That’s the easy part: you look at something and think, “Do I like this enough to pack it, carry it twice, unpack it and put it away?” But I feel like I haven’t been saying “No,” in answer to that enough.  So I’ve been thinking much harder about what value objects have to me.  Are they sentimentally meaningful? Like old pictures of my grandparents? If yes, I’m making them active by doing things like framing those pictures and putting them up in my office where I see them everyday instead of just storing them away.

I think some of it is a factor of age as well.  I can look at knickknacks and trinkets now and think, “Am I using this as a way to express or define myself?”  If the answer is yes, then out it goes.  I guess maybe I know myself better now?  The same is true with books.  Do I have this book so people will see it and think that I am the kind of person who has this book? Yes? Away with you!  Of course, I also have a Kindle now, which has greatly changed my relationship with books.  I still love books.  I still want them.  But now I look at them and keep only the ones that are rare, special, or with strong visual impact. Shelves of paperback novels I might read again someday? Gone!  If it can be acquired from the library or for the Kindle it doesn’t need to take up space.

And it isn’t happening this week, moving or not, but I would like to move toward simply owning less stuff.  Or more stuff, as long as it’s genuinely meaningful or useful.  I have been thinking about this for a long time and I am glad to have a chance to begin to seriously act on this change.

If you’ve read this far and you’re still wondering how the picture on this post relates, it doesn’t really, but it does.  I just really love that sculpture and I found a postcard picture of it while I was packing and discarding unnecessary objects, so I thought I’d share the picture with you, rather than hoard away the post card.

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