I’m surrounded by boxes. Chaos. My children are hungry, but any possibility of dinner hinges on me finding the can opener. Yeah, like I know where that is.
Fat chance. It might be a pizza night, except I can’t find the phone book. Come to think of it, there is no working phone yet. We could die here, and it would be days before anyone found out.
Geez, I hate moving.
You can pack for days and not come close to making progress. You can unpack box after box, but for a long time it just gets worse before it comes close to getting better.
You see, houses resist becoming homes, in the same way that homes resist returning to their previous identity as houses. Houses are about brick and stone and wood. Homes are about hopes and dreams and history. Love and conflict. The ultimate petri dish for human beings to develop the practice of being human beings.
Ah, but there’s one part of moving I love. That’s the part where you get to throw stuff away.
Outside on the front curb, right now, is something like the eighth consecutive Mountain O’ Malarkey, otherwise known as my trash. No, you don’t get it. You think you do, but you don’t. I mean a mountain. Big black trash bag after big black trash bag. I lost count. Those three guys from Republic Services hate me. I’m sure my neighbors are proud, because it’s Saturday morning, and the next trash pickup is Tuesday.
There are three derelict lamps. An office chair. A silk tree, which looked a lot more realistic before my youngest son decided to climb it, in his words, “like Jack and the Beanstalk.” Dowels, poles, sticks, wire, wrapping paper, a vacuum cleaner. Broom heads without handles. Handles without any remembered purpose. Big wad of wiring representing vestigial audio equipment and long-forgotten telephone systems.
I’m throwing away containers containing nothing. That’s right. I’m actually discarding stuff that I was saving to store stuff that I did not yet own. Because you just never know when you’re gonna get some more stuff.
Lordy, there’s still the attic with which to reckon. It’s a billion degrees up here. I’m wearing a dust mask. It’s healthier to chain smoke than to spend an hour in my attic.
What was I thinking as I, piece by piece, year by year, put all this crap up here? I own stuff, it turns out, that I never use, never want to touch or see or share, never even think about. I store these treasures in Dante’s Inferno. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here. For all I know, that rolled remnant of linoleum contains the remains of Jimmy Hoffa.
Unbelievable. A manual typewriter. What, did I think they were going to come back into style?
It hits me: What could I possibly own thusly described that would be worth owning?
Oh, yeah, there’s the ministorage with which to contend. Fascinating American phenomenon, the ministorage. Our stuff doesn’t fit in our homes. So we pay people to hold on to our stuff for us. But we retain full visitation rights. Any time we want we can drop by to spend time with our stuff.
Unless, like me, you can’t find your ministorage key, because it’s lost in the madness of moving. I pay a locksmith to break into my ministorage so I can make sure my stuff is OK. Then I lock it up again with a new padlock, so my stuff will be safe until we can be together again.
In the summer of 1979, I put everything I owned in one Volkswagen Beetle and drove from Phoenix to Dallas to begin graduate school. No exaggeration. Everything I owned. Every shoe. Every stitch of clothing. Toothbrush. Music. Photos. Everything. In one little German car.
I didn’t appreciate at the time I would never be that free again.
Moving is embarrassing, because it exposes the shadow side of consumerism, which, of course, is emptiness and absurdity. In the end, consumers don’t own stuff. Our stuff owns us. Our lives are disquietingly similar to a bag lady pushing a stolen grocery cart. Just on a bigger scale.
I have stuff, therefore I am. And I am ridiculous.
Moving can be a powerful time of cleansing. Purifying. The mountains of trash are like the nest of the mythical Phoenix. I step willingly into the next, and set it on fire. Burn down my life. Set myself free.
Kinda fun to wonder who might rise from the ashes.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Clear View Counseling and Wellness Center in Las Vegas. His columns appear on Tuesdays and Sundays. Questions for the Asking Human Matters column or comments can be e-mailed to skalas@review journal.com.STEVEN