Category: things / stuff / downsizing


home #66

Wall street at Eton, near my old apartment. I was there solving a mystery.

When I was moving out I came across a box of essays and course material… my handwriting was on the box from an old move, but the stuff inside wasn’t mine, it was from university courses I hadn’t taken. I assumed the box belonged to Mishka, who had moved out of the apartment a year previously. But when we finally got a chance to connect, Mishka said she’d never seen it before. Then we noticed a large manila envelope with a sticker label on it, and the name was that of the woman who’d lived next door to us, along with the department at VGH where she worked. We couldn’t imagine how her stuff had gotten into my box but it wasn’t completely impossible; the three of us used to talk in the hallway pretty regularly, and our underground parking stalls were right beside each other. Last night I finally got a chance to bring our old neighbour the box… and found that it wasn’t hers either. That envelope, when we pulled it out further, was an inter-departmental message folder that had gone to her first, then to ten other people within the Providence Health system. Years ago. The last address was in the Kenny building: the psych department at UBC. Inside the envelope was reading material from some animal cognition course. Then I pulled out a different stack of papers and saw that they were from a different course, one that I had taken. What the…???? It was the course where I’d met Mirona back in 2004. Mirona the owner of the box, who must have picked up the envelope during one of her positions as a psych researcher and used it to put her course readings in. Who now lives on another continent. She and I split up in 2006, and I guess I’ve been carrying her box around ever since.

Good people, I know it’s a rotten job, but I really suggest you all dig out the crap in your closets and get rid of it. Today!

And Mirona, if you’re out there reading… what the #&@% should I do with this box????

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Yesterday I was talking about one definition of home as being the separation between your own private space and the rest of the world. Another one that I think a lot of people might have is home as the container that separates their belongings from everybody else’s. Many people have told me the reason they can’t do what I’m doing is that they could never ever give up all their things; home is a place to put your stuff. The irony is, most people buy all that stuff because if they didn’t their home would be a series of empty rooms. They buy stuff to make their big home more comfortable. And of course we all want the biggest home we can afford, right? That’s part of the game as we were taught it: life is a constant struggle to keep claiming more space, and collecting more things. We want the space, and the things, to be ours.

With this definition the idea of my modular home fails, because the bathroom, the kitchen, the study… they’re not mine, they’re shared. With strangers no less! I’m getting all the same needs met, but it’s happening out in the community. Few belongings, no fixed address, and doing most essentials in shared public places… to a lot of people that really does mean homeless.

Hmm. So how come I’m so happy?

I’ve got to wonder how well I’ve learned the lessons of materialism. Sure I just got rid of just about all my stuff, but I still need this, and that, and… I keep thinking that once I have just the right gear, everything will be perfect and I can stop buying things. Today I spent $200 on a pair of shoes. It does make sense from one perspective: I’ll be walking everywhere in winter in Vancouver and I need to keep my feet dry. The $80 I spent on a backpack could be justified the same way. $100 on a heater, yup. $25 on a microfiber towel? Sure, why not! But what am I going to really really really need tomorrow? It’s endless.

When I quit my job I assumed I’d just automatically learn how to make do with less, and to resist the temptation to buy whatever seems essential in the moment. I assumed my spending habits would change because they have to. It’s looking like the only way I’ll learn to stop is when I’ve spent it all.

Can you believe part of my old job sometimes involved helping people learn how to make and follow a budget??? I definitely faked that part. I know the theory, but I just can’t make myself do it.

Does anyone have any advice here?

Btw, I love my shoes ;)

Just kidding about the bid; this one isn’t up for auction, however if you know of any indigenous peruvian people living in town I’d consider giving it to them.

In 1991 in Cuzco Peru I met a man named Walter, who made a living as a travel agent, taxi driver, and middleman connecting tourists with hotels and with hiking guides for the Inca Trail. Near the end of my stay there he told me that a relative of his had been building a foundation for a house and came across something special: an artifact. I didn’t believe him, but I said I’d look at it. In South America there are lots of crafts that replicate things from the past, and when I saw this I assumed it was a reproduction. I did like it though, so I traded him my tent for it, and  also paid him 200 somethings… I forget what the money was called. Anyway it felt exorbitant, for a reproduction. It survived several plane trips in my luggage, made it home okay, and it’s been living on my bookshelf ever since.

Today I figured I’d put it up for auction with all the other stuff: I’d make the LVB $20, tell the story and play with the possibility that it might be real. I thought I’d better do a little bit of research first, so I poked around online, and um… guys, I think it might actually be a real Chimú vessel! For one thing these artifacts seem to be surprisingly common; you can buy one from a dealer for a few hundred dollars. For another it’s definitely hand-made, and matches the colour and texture of real ones perfectly. I’ve sent an email to the Museum of Anthropology to see what they think I should do.

The Chimu people lived on the North coast in Peru from 900AD until 1470AD when they were conquered by the Incas. So my bric-a-brac might be anywhere between 500 and a thousand years old!!!

Getting rid of ‘everything’ is such an interesting process. I go through layers of feeling attached to objects because of memories they evoke, the monetary value they should have (or the replacement value), what they say about me. Each time I let go I feel light, and then along comes another challenge. Of course, if this thing turns out to actually be a Chimú vessel then it probably doesn’t belong to me, so I still need to let it go. It’s enough, I think, that I’ve played a part in its story, and that it’s played a part in mine.

To be totally honest though, I’m not letting go 100%; this auction is serving to disburse all these objects, but the blog is also serving to capture their memory. This winter when what’s with me in the van will be all I possess, or even years from now when I’m all wrinkly, thinking back on my former lives, I’ll still be able to come here and see their images. In that sense they’ll always be mine.

chimu vessel

UPDATE: The MOA never got back to me, but an antique restorer did… he said he couldn’t be sure from the photograph but thought that it certainly could be real. He had nothing to say about the fact that I may have smuggled a (perhaps stolen) historical artifact from its country of origin or how best to rectify that.