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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Needless Things

I can say with good confidence that I've lived a good third of my life as a pack rat. I took care of everything I've ever owned, and nothing went to waste. Or rather, not much has been thrown out that really should have been - trading cards from series that had nothing to do with sports (Garbage Pail Kids, Desert Storm trading cards, etc.); the long cardboard boxes the CDs used to be packaged in (because I enjoyed the artwork); and stacks upon stacks of jewel cases and (formerly) blank media for software, music, document files, movies, pictures, and anything else I clung to as if losing even the most neglected piece of errata would be the equivalent of having a lobotomy and losing precious memories.


As I went through upheavals in my life, or moved to various locations, things became lost or misplaced. At the time, "starting over" meant reclaiming those things form whatever source I could find, so that I might comfortably increase and expand my collection and become a living example of a George Carlin routine. It was comfortable living in a kingdom of my own past, without any room for the present or future on the shelves, or in the corners, or even on top of stacks of books, papers, and music that threatened to topple at any moment.


Over the past few years, I started to accept that technology had finally arrived at a point where I could comfortably start getting rid of "stuff," rather than sighing heavily as I watched circumstances flip the tables and discard the contents all over the floor.


This started with the concept of carving an elephant - based on a children's joke between an inquisitive person and an artist working on a statue. It goes something like this:


Inquisitive Person: What are you working on?
Artist: I'm carving a statue of an elephant.
Inquisitive Person: How do you carve an elephant?
Artist: It's easy. I just look at the block of stone, and take away everything that isn't an elephant!


This almost Talmudic venture into humor (Life is like a river?) eventually turned into a property (complete with domain and everything, because I thought I was just that good) based on the concept of keeping one's life free of clutter, drama, and anything else that hindered happy living. However, I was not exactly at the point where I could seriously tackle such a project (on an emotional or psychological level), so it went by the wayside, as I continued to needlessly collect and acquire "stuff" I'd lost in the previous years (especially when the things I really needed to reclaim weren't external, in the least). Just like learning something new, or reducing your adult beverage intake from three pitchers of margaritas to only one, simply because you know something is good for you (in a larger sense), doesn't mean you can bring yourself to actually do it. After all, I've never seen a cat walk into a pet carrier if it knew it was being taken to the vet.


I think the big shift came the year I was given an iPod (Reciprocity), as well as purchasing an e-reader. When I considered both devices and ventured back into taking Valve's Steam service more seriously, as well as options for cloud storage, it became very apparent that a lot of the physical things I owned (or rather, that were in my possession) weren't really necessary. Sure, I'd copied and recopied hundreds of thousands of files to various hard drives and blank DVDs over the years, for the sake of backing up my digital life, but even those things take up space. Suddenly, I could make my entire music collection disappear, yet accessible any time I wanted. My collection of games wasn't so much portable, as it was playable from any computer, anywhere I went. Books? I have a Nook (two, actually, thanks to my friend, Shane), so unless it's something that is out of print, or is heavily reliant on images and textures (Gryphon & Sabine comes to mind), then I can get he books I want for pennies on the price of a physical copy (though I still hesitate over the disparity in price and how the publishing industry really needs to rethink its current model so neither readers nor authors get screwed), and carry an entire library wherever I go without having to haul around a backpack like I'm some student who is afraid of using a locker (I never trusted them, to be honest). Don't misunderstand me - sometimes it's great to hold a book and read it in its original form, much like "writing" in the traditional sense without a keyboard. But apart from my personal collection, a number of signed copies, manuscripts, etc., almost anything else can live happily on a micro SD card.


I think a lot of the above maundering comes from running an eBay store, recently watching shows about antiques, and a lot of reflection on the sheer amounts of junk I've acquired over the years. Mostly because I know that, at some point, at least a few of these things are going to get donated or sold to some lucky individuals.


Most things do not actually hold memories. I say "most" because there are some things that become cherished, and should not be thrown away - ever. However, if those things are lost or given away, the memory or feelings that are mapped to those items don't simply dissipate. There are certain books, cuff links, suspenders - hell, movie ticket stubs - that I will never lose or give up, but even though the physical matter deteriorates, the things they signify will never disappear.


I guess what I'm trying to say is that if something really matters, as far as memories and feelings go, write them down (notepad applications and private blogs are wonderful things). If you have old pictures and papers, scan them and upload them to a reliable storage service. Music is a no-brainer these days (though avoid iTunes to keep your happiest music memories from being associated with feelings of frustration due to Apple's interface and bloated software), and just look for alternatives to reduce clutter and keep the little things you hold dear.


I'm not suggesting any of you give up your collections or hobbies. I'm lucky in that most of mine can exist virtually, and the ones that can't live in the æther get documented in pictures or words, in case those pastimes become no longer viable.


Once again, technology has made itself available, and it's just a matter of being willing to embrace it and all of the facets of our lives it can "free up" for things like exploring other avenues, acquainting ourselves with new ideas and experiences, or simply getting new things to fill up those freshly emptied shelves.

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