if you’re damaged and you know it, clap your hands

There’s a trend circling the internet lately, of personal minimalism. Having less is more. Things are useless. Owning one t-shirt and one pair of shoes means you’re winning at life. Decor is a pointless fallacy of man, and owning things it to be owned by those things. Your stuff is vain and ridiculous, and by extension, you are a terrible person. You’re a peacock.

Okay, I’m a peacock. So what? Maybe there’s a reason for my things; those useless trinkets you look down on and smugly think how much quinoa and craft beer you could have bought with the money I spent. In fact, there is a reason – two of them. And here they are.

Not having things – useless, decorative things – recalls two very dark periods in my life:

When I was young, my mother would routinely take away my stuff as punishment for anything she had perceived me as doing wrong. Talk back? Take my stuff. Didn’t do my chores? Take my stuff. Bad day at the deli? Take my stuff. Every night before I went to sleep, I would pack up a bag of my favourite items and hide it under my bed. This served three purposes: 1) if the house caught fire, I could escape with my favourite things; 2) if I needed to run away, I was already packed, and 3) if my things were hidden, my mother couldn’t throw them away while I was at school as punishment for something I had or hadn’t done.

When I was older, I moved to Calgary with little more than my clothes and a computer. I tried staying with relatives while I settled into a new city, but was kicked out of the house by my sister-in-law – I had to find a place to live, which ate most of my salary. I lived there for several years with next to nothing; sleeping on a donated twin mattress on the floor. I had no television. I also had no friends and no car and no cat, as I had to leave her behind in Victoria. My co-workers took pity on me and gave me household items so I could eat and get to work each day, but it still remains the bleakest period of my life – not so much because I didn’t have things, but because I was so isolated. My life was on the computer. If I looked away from that screen, I became immediately aware of how empty my life was – it was all around me in the form of a barren room with barren walls and dead silence.

That leads us to today: I have a lot of stuff. My home office is completely filled with things, each more ridiculous and useless than the last. There are boxes within boxes, all filled with a dazzling array of treasured crap – toys, childhood mementos that survived my mother, terrible fashion mistakes, ticket stubs, more Pez dispensers than the sum of all Pez I’ve ever eaten. The list is enormous, and to most people, a terrible mess of shit that I surround myself with and will one day inevitably die in when the earthquake hits and I am crushed by a mountain of Hello Kitty figures. Ed hates all my clutter – my move into the spare bedroom was brought on by my growing tired of his constant bitching about all my stuff, and his being fed up with my things. If he had his way, we’d have a sparse, modern condo: clean and empty with no trinkets or useless decor cluttering up the joint – just a neat, tidy home with ample space and extra income .. but since it’s not entirely up to him, we live with stuff. My stuff.

I am really bothered and offended when people get on their high horse and talk about how much better their lives are without stuff. I’d be much more accepting of the movement if every single article, tweet, Facebook update, and random comment about it wasn’t so fucking SMUG – look how advanced I am; I don’t watch TV or care about gadgets or fill my life with useless memories or eat meat or murder anyone, so I am clearly better than you. It’s always childless asshats who say this, because I’ve never met a parent who didn’t have things all over their house – but beyond that, there is nothing wrong with having things. Your bare shelves or walls do not make you better than me; it just means your defining life moments did not involve an attachment to stuff. Good for you. You’re lucky.

Let’s throw a hypothetical into the situation, though: what if you grew up with a traumatic life moment that meant you feel better when your pockets are full of raisins? The raisins don’t serve a purpose – you don’t like eating them, you just like having them around. They make you feel safe, and they’re fun at parties when you pull them out of your pockets and make people guess how many you’re carrying. Raisins aren’t expensive, and you can afford to have them by the pocketful. Sure, it’s a little inconvenient, but they make you feel better even if it’s kind of weird. Pocket Raisins certainly aren’t for everyone, but that doesn’t concern you at all – as long as you have raisins in your pocket, you are happy.

Who are we to look down on your Pocket Raisins? What you have in your pockets is of no concern to anyone but you, and if they make you feel better and maybe make up for some really terrible times in your life, who are we to write lofty articles about how life would be so much better for everyone if they just emptied their pockets of raisins? We’d be big jerks to do that, wouldn’t we. Big, condescending jerks who managed to get through life without raisin trauma and now preach that to everyone as a way of feeling better about our own empty pockets.

You don’t know me (well, maybe you do – I blog a lot), but I’m pretty sure until now you had no idea why I seem to collect as much shit as I do, and why I always have weird things lying around, and why my pockets are full of raisins. There’s a reason behind all of it, and I would really appreciate it if you would stop being so arrogant and snooty about how your life is fucking awesome because you don’t have things. I DO have things, and my life is also fucking awesome. My lifestyle isn’t for everyone, and I’ll be damned if I ever write a disdainful, presumptuous post claiming that people who DON’T own knick-knacks and random shit are somehow broken and missing out on the true meaning of life, and I would really appreciate the same from you.

My stuff is fucking awesome, and no one can take it away from me – there’s simply too much of it, and that’s okay.

caw, motherfuckers.

caw, motherfuckers.

11 thoughts on “if you’re damaged and you know it, clap your hands

  1. Hey… you can have as much stuff as you want and it isn’t a problem. You’ve worked out the friction with your spousal unit, and you seem to be able to find what you need when you need it.

    It’s your stuff, roll around naked in it if you like.

    I like owning stuff and I like neatness. I hate craft beer, and I’d have to learn how to cook in order to figure out what you do with quinoa. Nobody wants that.

    You have fine stuff, so be smug as you bask in its awesomeness.

  2. I worry that if you’re saying your need for possessions is due to childhood trauma, it’s only really gonna fuel the belief that Stuff Is Bad(tm). In comparison, I wonder if this minimalist movement might sort of be anti-home or anti-nesting (though I don’t like the term “nesting”, since I’m not planning on laying eggs). Like there’s something wrong for building a home for yourself where you’re comfortable and like to spend time.

    Assuming it’s not a health hazard, I don’t see why we have to justify our non-minimalist homes at all.

    • If the childhood trauma aspect was the biggest piece, I’d still be hiding my valuables (and they’d likely be the same ones they were when I was seven) so I don’t think that’s really the biggest takeaway here. Also, there’s just so many neat things out there and I would like to own them all and take them to bed with me to coo at and pet as I fall asleep.

      I am part magpie, part Gollum.

  3. I’m the type accused of being phlegmatic and non-emotional (which is often true) so you’d think I’m not the type to have attachment to stuff, but I’m ‘guilty’ of the exact same thing. But for me it goes further than just keeping things. I sometimes try to create ‘time capsules’ , and deposit them in places I cannot access without a ladder and dedication. I force myself revisit them only after a few years (In fact I did this just yesterday). Another quirk of mine is to keep stuff that I’ve written. I just like looking at my rough work or notes I made for the previous year’s exams and just reflect on that, I think you might understand the strange sort of satisfaction that gives.

    I can venture as to what might be going on here, atleast in my case. We become completely different people over time. People I knew five years ago honestly shouldn’t be friends with me today simply because everything about me bar my DNA is different, including my ideologies and my philosophy. Having these things around just provide us with anchor points in our lives, and makes us feel good about our lives now.

    To be honest, I’ve not had a life one tenth as eventful as yours, but I’m happy about who I am today, and I believe I’m better off than I was when I had that stuff. But I wonder, how much satisfaction would we have gained from our stuff if our lives today were worse than what it was? Would it give the same satisfaction?

  4. I find it kind of creepy when I visit people’s homes and they look like showrooms…. it’s like… where’s all your stuff? Piles of books, photos, misc papers, etc.? I don’t understand how people are able to get to that point of minimalism. I fall somewhere in the middle – I like to do a major purge every ~5 years and get rid of the excess stuff, but I also hoard craft supplies. To each their own, I say.

  5. Amen sister!

    My family is forever berating me on how much “stuff” I have. In the times when I am emotionally and/or physically just finished, it helps to have things around me to remind me of better times. I’m surrounded by the stories of things I have done, and all kinds of things to inspire me. Thank goodness I had accumulated so many craft supplies, or I’d not have been able to keep myself busy the last little while.

    I have always felt less than comfortable in a place where people own showroom houses, not homes. If I smile and compliment their chosen style of living (because I accept that there are certainly perks to it), they can do the same for me!

  6. There are reasons behind everyone’s choices, really. Personally I have found as I’ve gotten old and weary that having too much stuff in my home or things on my desk is stressful in the same was as having too many things on my to-do list/calendar. The more stuff and clutter I get rid of, the better I feel. A huge mental weight lifts from my shoulders every time I purge things, but that’s just my experience/personal therapy.

    I’ve shared/recommended this for the same reason I’d recommend a good restaurant – I’ve found something that I really enjoy and think others (of course not all) would too. Hopefully that doesn’t come across as preachy or negative in any way, it’s really a positive/enthusiastic thing.

    I’m quite bothered by the social/environmental/humanitarian impacts of western consumerist and consumption culture, but that’s a separate issue. Reading a few books on the subject was very interesting but also fairly grim. That said I still highly recommend a short film/book called “The Story of Stuff”.. interesting stuff regardless of your side of the fence.

  7. My mom died in August & I had to clean out her house. I had to close my eyes & give away/ throw out a lot of stuff. But I kep I lot of things I liked & that gave me good memories. And I’m re-thinking my idea that stuff is meaningless. When someone dies, aside from the memories (which will fade) all we have let of them is thier stuff. I drink from her coffee mug every morning beacuse it makes me feel good…

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