Thursday, November 16, 2017

Not the Downsizing Post I Thought I Was Going To Write

It's a 24-karat-gold-plated model race car, symbolic of his vast collection. Obsession? Flamoboyant consumerism as flashy as the car itself? It was one of many, many oddities we uncovered. Ultimately we bought it from the estate, as a reminder of a lesson learned.

Can you stand one more post from me about downsizing, minimalism, and a surfeit of possessions? Because I really need to process this.

A friend's brother had died unexpectedly last summer while we were touring with the Galeon and she was left to clean his apartment and put it on the market for sale. He had lived just a few hours drive from us so we went over to help. The brother had been an extreme hoarder and even  though friend and her husband and son had already spent weeks working on cleaning the place before we arrived, it was still crammed with possessions. I mean, extreme television-show-hoarders/shopping-addicts level of crammed.

The things someone chooses to surround themselves with always give a window into the person. Some of the sad possessions were aspirational -- a fruit juicer and cookbook, still in its packaging, may have hinted at hopes of healthier eating. There was an extensive collection of NASCAR memorabilia, and lots of creature comforts for car camping, obviously a hobby he enjoyed. There were far too many televisions a single person in a two-bedroom apartment. And there were some things that made no sense -- two space heaters and a humidifier, in south Florida?

His life, full of possessions, was exactly the opposite end of the spectrum from our necessarily sparse one.  Maximum to minimum. A quiet, perhaps somewhat sad and lonely, homebody surrounded by his "stuff," rarely traveling further than the couple hours' drive to Daytona for the races; and my crazy-busy tumbleweed life, crammed with adventures and friends and travel but almost no "stuff" by modern American standards. In fact, we joke that we can always recognize former cruisers, even when they move back on land, because their apartments or houses are always sparsely furnished, mostly with new furnishings, because they sold everything and don't have the accumulated clutter of a lifetime that people of that age would normally have.

It's become a truism in the liveaboard community that first you have to get rid of all your possessions in order to move onto a boat. Almost every boat blogger I know has written on the topic, the weird relationship we have to our "things," and how they can weigh you down. I know I have been one of those writers, racking up a total of 15 posts on one aspect or another, tagged "organizing/downsizing." And I thought that the process of helping clean up my friend's brother's apartment was going to be another example of the same thing, decrying the impulse to acquire that is, in fact, built into us by our evolution; in prehistoric times it would have been an advantage. Obviously, in the case of hoarding that impulse has run amok, though that doesn't necessarily mean that acquiring, itself, is always an unmitigated evil.

But that's not the direction the story went. We gathered all the NASCAR memorabilia and consigned it with a collectibles store in Daytona. We commented on the irony that it was entirely possible, given the location, that he had first purchased some of these items from this same store, and they were coming full circle -- ah, the waste of materialism.  But maybe, maybe not. Getting rid of possessions and living a life of freedom on a boat or RV or housesitting or traveling is one way to have a good life, but certainly not the only way. There is nothing wrong with hanging out at home and surrounding yourself with things that make you comfortable, or are useful, or that spark happy memories or that you think beautiful. It's just another way to make a life that works. Different, but no less valid. Would it be ironic if this collection had gone full circle? Yes, ironic, but that does necessarily make the collecting itself necessarily futile. On their circular journey, these things stopped along the way, to make someone happy.

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