If you’re the kind of person that gets emotionally attached to things: your ex-boyfriend’s sweatshirt that still kind of smells like him, the sneakers you wore to run your first 5K (even though they smell like death and have giant holes in them), the t-shirt from your first concert…have I got a cure for you! Pack all that sentimental crap into boxes and move it to a place already filled with sentimental crap. I guarantee that within twenty minutes, you’ll be tossing things in the donation bin with ruthless authority.
I am a pack rat. I come from a family of pack rats. Between the four of us, we could fill a house with useless objects we keep “just in case”. When I first moved out of the house, it was easier to push the sentimental detritus of my life into corners of my old bedroom and leave them to deal with later. I didn’t have to decide if the sweatshirt Wolf gave me should go to the donation bin because it could hang in the back of an empty closet, bothering no one. I didn’t have to sort through the absurd number of shoes I’ve accumulated and decide which ones actually fit my lifestyle or give up hope of ever fitting into my high school size 4 dresses again. But when you’re moving an entire apartment’s worth of stuff into the spatial equivalent of a dorm room, some things have got to go. And it’s kind of refreshing actually.
There was a woman in my writing class this past semester who wrote a beautiful story about traveling around the East Coast in a converted school bus with a bunch of poets and performers. Without a lot of personal space and vagabond kind of life for the entire summer, she couldn’t take much more than a single suitcase of clothes. And maybe the performance-quality of her voice as she read the story aloud to the class, or the beautiful turn of phrase that just kind of hit me, but I found myself writing on a post-it in my notebook, with triple underlines, a single phrase of hers: the me-sized me.
With the banality of everyday life stripped away. Without all the possessions we claim we can’t live without, travelling around like Ken Kesey’s band of misfits in a graffiti-covered bus, she said she felt the limits of her own being: the space that she physically occupied being the boundary that separated her from the world. Here is my skin, here is where “I” stop and the world begins. It’s a very small space, really. Stripped down to it, it’s kind of hard to keep up the illusion that the world doesn’t affect you and that you do not affect the world around you. Normally though, we don’t have to worry about that. We insulate ourselves with our things. We spread out and take up space with objects that we collect and pile around us like block forts: this is my area, you can’t come in. But ultimately, it’s as silly to think we can keep out the world with our things as it is for a kid to believe his Legos, chairs, and blankets have built a real, impenetrable castle.
Don’t get me wrong, I still have a lot of stuff. Hundreds of books, dozens of shoes, and at least four pairs of jeans that I swear I’ll fit into soon. But by getting rid of things I once thought were important, that I would need someday, it feels like stripping away a layer to reveal someone a little smaller and a little freer underneath. And it also makes me hope that the things that are weighing me down now, that are insulating the me-sized me like a fluffy parka, might soon feel unnecessary. Maybe the pride that has kept me so NYC-centric—the fear that not “making it” here meant I could not make it anywhere—will seem as outdated and ill-fitting as the double-XL sweatshirt of Wolf’s I used to burrow into. Because the me-sized me is a lot smaller than I thought it was…but it’s also a whole lot bigger on the inside.