Me and My Stuff

Since I’m traveling a bunch this summer (3ish weeks in the SF/Bay area, a couple of weeks in New England with some stops in NY and a brief excursion to MD likely), I’ve been considering what I will be taking with me on these trips and am just about 100% certain that I’ll be leaving behind my computer and taking only my iPhone and iPad. This is partly dependent on getting my PodCastle episodes done and submitted ahead of my trips as the iPad doesn’t really have a good app for putting those together. However, I’m also thinking that even if I don’t get all of those episodes done before my travels, as long as I can borrow someone’s computer for a couple of hours I can put them together that way.

Thinking about these trips and carrying the minimal amounts of stuff I need so I don’t have to check bags and can travel light, I have also been thinking about my life in general and my relationship with stuff. It’s been changing for a while now, and I think I’m going to make some further changes this summer by making some assessments about what I need and how “light” I want to travel through life. There are some great sites that talk about living a “minimal” lifestyle, including, Minimal Mac, and Art of Minimalism and I’m not going to get rid of everything I own: especially as I’ll be moving into a new apartment this summer, and one that I’ll be sharing with a friend from school. So yes, things like my futon, kitchen table and chairs, and a few other pieces of furniture are, at present, non-negotiable. Bookshelves, for a grad student are nothing less than a necessity, as is the need to own a lot of books. In reality, I don’t have a lot of stuff, but I do have things I don’t need and/or use, clothes that I no longer wear, knick-knacks and the odd electronic equipment that I don’t really need.

After the end of the semester, I plan on doing a thorough cleaning of my apartment and make sure that everything I own can be put into one of the following categories: Trash/Recycle/Donate, Necessity, Useful for Now, and Unsure. The first two are completely self-explanatory. By Useful for Now, I mean things like furniture and other household items. This is stuff that is not necessary per se, but considering the fact that I am going to be living in Pittsburgh for at least 3-4 more years, there is no reason to get rid of it. Unsure will be all those things that I might not use presently but I should at least give myself time to consider the cost of replacing down the line if it turns out that the item may become useful. An example of this is my small, hand-turned washing “machine” and electric spin-dryer. I don’t use them regularly any more, but they might prove an essential in case of a) a long power outage, b) the apocalypse, c) a long camping trip with friends, or d) the rather likely chance that I might, sometime in the future, move into an apartment that does not have laundry facilities. (Ok, so I’ve just convinced myself that these will actually go into a new category: Worth Keeping.)

Of course, all of these kinds of choices are contextual and there is no correct “right” way for everyone. If I lived 40 miles outside of a city my necessities would be different than they are now. If I weren’t in grad school I might very well shift away from owning physical copies of any but my most favorite books and rely on digital books and libraries. If I end up moving to Hawaii sometime in the future, you can bet that most anything that seems useful will quickly become something I sell or donate. The point isn’t to indulge in minimalism for it’s own sake, but, as Merlin Mann has pointed out, to find out what is enough for the task at hand—in this case that task is living my life—and then stop pointlessly adding on more and more stuff.

At it’s most basic level, the issue resolves to the basic question: do you own your things or do your things own you? I suspect, for most of us, the answer is mixed and complex (as the answers to most “basic” questions often are), but I am definitely feeling the urge to really think hard about that question and the relationship between me and my stuff.

On this day..