I just spent the last few hours transferring thousands of photos from my white, clunky 2008 MacBook (yep, still runs) on to my external hard drive. Photos that I’ve collected over the last 10 years from Allentown and New York City, San Francisco and Las Vegas. And everywhere else in between. They’re from my digital camera (remember those?) and from various iPhones. Some of them were sent to me by other people. To be honest, I didn’t even realize I collected that many photos. But there they were. Each one tied to a different memory, a different place, a different person, a different experience. And the only reason I decided to do this was because I simply wanted to dump my current 957 iPhone photos to make space for more.
Living in a tiny studio apartment in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, means I constantly find myself at war with space and stuff. I’m the exact opposite of a hoarder. I’ve never been too emotionally connected to material items. Purging is something I do about every three months. (Honestly, where did all of that clothing come from though? I just donated three bags.) Oddly enough, “stuff” has sort of been this summer’s unintentional theme.
It all kind of started a few months ago when my mom and her siblings were faced with the impossible decision to put their parents (my grandparents, obviously) into a nursing home. It was very clear that they needed extra care, and their beautiful Bethlehem home, one that my Pop-pop, an architect, designed, was too large and too much to tend. Once they were placed in their new home, my mom was faced with yet another life-changing decision: What to do with the house? The one that I practically grew up in. The one where my Nanny taught me to sing Do-Re-Mi. The one where some hundred family gatherings took place.
Box by box, she and her siblings began to pack nearly a century’s worth of stuff into boxes. Not even just stuff. Memories and stories. Some of it was donated. Some of it was set aside for me, my sister, my cousins, etc. Some of it went to the curb. My mom would call or text me photos of stuff that she thought I might like to have. Stuff that I would have loved to keep, but didn’t really fit in my tiny studio apartment. There was some stuff that I requested, like my Nanny’s vintage tea set and old blue prints from my Pop-pop’s basement, but a part of me felt selfish for making such requests due to the nature of the situation. She set them aside anyway. And I’m glad she did.
As she was busy packing up my grandparent’s house and determining what stuff was important and what stuff really wasn’t, I was helping a good friend do the same thing as she sifted through the last remaining boxes of belongings left behind at her now ex-fiance’s apartment. More stuff. More memories. More stories. More stuff that just ended up on the sidewalk.
When I first moved into my studio, I tossed a lot of stuff from my old apartment and only kept what I really needed. There was something very rewarding about a fresh start in my own place with my own stuff. To this day, I still find myself organizing, re-organizing, throwing stuff away. And only recently did I find myself digging for stuff, Polaroids from 10 years ago to be exact, that I couldn’t believe I actually had saved tucked away in a small black pleather photo album. But I was glad that I did.
It’s not very often that I find myself digging for stuff in hopes of having a grand moment of reminiscence. But the feeling of nostalgia was too great to ignore.
Impossible to ignore is also the feeling of disappointment after losing my handmade wolf pack ring while I was in LA. Never have I ever felt so connected to a material item. It’s almost absurd. I suppose the thing that saddens me the most is that I promised myself I would buy that ring if I did something to really earn it. And I earned it after landing a new job a year and a half ago. Honestly, it was the only piece of jewelry that I ever spent good money on, and now it’s gone. After re-reading this paragraph, I kind of sound silly admitting it. But it’s the truth. So I’m going to keep it.
In keeping true to my somewhat minimalist lifestyle these days, I actually contemplated giving up my stuff in favor of a shared economy situation complete with apartments off Airbnb around the city, clothing shipped by Rent the Runway, food from Seamless and other delivery services, storage in the cloud, etc. Absurd, I know. But I thought it could make for a really great book. The idea of giving up all my stuff just gave me too much anxiety.
Stuff. We fill our lives with stuff to influence our happiness, keep ourselves busy, distract us from reality, connect with other people, improve social status, the list goes on. As I get older, I welcome simplicity and am thankful that stuff doesn’t define who I am as a person. But I’m still going to collect those photos. And I’m still going to frame that blueprint. And who knows, I may still even replace that wolf pack ring.