Thursday, September 9, 2010

What next?

When I got home that day (yes! it was one day!), I sat at my disorganized desk and had a beer. It was only 4 pm, and I rarely drink before dinner.

I looked around the room. WHAT DO I THROW OUT? I have to throw something out! That weekend I got rid of an entire recycling bin of paper - mostly articles from my stint as an archaeology grad student. I kept them because, well, I MIGHT NEED THEM ONE DAY. Also, I hate throwing out paper.
That blue bin? Yep, that's the size of the recycling bins in Tucson.
Photo by Brian Greer.
After this event, I saw "trinkets" and thought GARBAGE. I have tried very hard to resist buying things that have no purpose besides to look pretty sitting somewhere, as in my case, they will look like dust-collection devices. I stopped "collecting" boxes, too.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Hoarding and Fear

When I said I met someone, it's probably not what you were thinking.

I met a Hoarder. I'm not even sure she KNEW she was a hoarder. And, in fact, I didn't know either. We often joked about how we were "pack rats" and we were often saving garbage from work that might be useful for some unknown "craft" project at a later date. We worked at a lab so there was LOTS of cool stuff being thrown out! I could paint those valves and nuts and bolts and glue them in a shadowbox collage. Did I ever do so? Um, no. I did paint a bunch of them gold, though. Then I shoved the junk into a cabinet.

Ideas for old contact cases???
Yes, those are contact lens cases that I collected over years. I figured I might need them someday.

And moved on to another project, another hobby. I still have a ton of rubber stamps from that "collage and altered book" hobby. I never finished a single project. Knitting was a bit more successful - I finished multiple hats, scarves, a sweater, several bags, washcloths, etc. My spending, however, was a bit out of line with my knitting speed. I have at least three very large plastic boxes FULL of yarn. Still.

large unfelted tote
This is an unfinished tote bag, photo from 2007. It's still unfinished. And I still have it.

My friend was very creative as well - she always had some craft in mind, loved thrift stores, and was a potter. We also both had spouses who collected books for a living (oh, ok, grad students, but same thing). Well, as it turns out, her husband got a job, they had to move, and someone volunteered to help clean out the house (after they'd packed up the moving truck already).

I was SCARRED FOR LIFE from this experience. You don't have any idea what it's like until you've been there. There was so much stuff left in the house. It might not have been as bad if we hadn't gone through the kitchen - we dumped out ancient spices (while she wasn't looking. she would have been horrified if she knew we threw them out), expired food, and food with BUGS IN IT.

The lawn was full of JUNK she was "donating." If you saw this stuff.... it was trash. Literally. But, she still saw value in her stuff. Apparently she attempted to sell all sorts of trash at her recent garage sale, but luckily, I missed that. In her laundry room: a box labeled "broken sunglasses" that had no fewer than ten pair; a neatly organized box of plastic sheets from toy packages; a box labeled "gluing projects" that had a legless Barbie doll among other oddities; a box of square cardboard pieces (weigh paper packaging, from work); a box of rusty tools; boxes of easter, halloween, and valentine's day treats all labeled, but never used.

Why am I telling you this? So you know where I'm coming from. That's all. I saw myself in this stuff. I was afraid. So, so fearful. Did she know what she was doing? Did she feel weighed down by her things? She said not. She said she loved her stuff. It was clearly agony for her to get rid of so much of it.

I did not want to be her. She wasn't who I thought she was.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Ok, but how did I get here?

Many people in western society are doomed to continue collecting things they don't need throughout their entire lives. I don't want to be one of those people. Anymore.

My life revolves around stuff. It always has. I'm not in retail, but I am trained as an archaeologist. Archaeology is all about STUFF. I love it! Not only that, but I've always been intrigued by detective work. Again, stuff is important in determining what went on when, where, why, and who was involved. You see how archaeology and detective work are so similar? Both require the close observation of objects, debris, remains, garbage. I like psychology, too, and am intrigued by how people place their things, how they use them, and why certain objects are more important than others. Why do people collect? Why do people write in journals? Why do we take photographs? Why do we still want to hold those photos in our hands?

Do my interests excuse my own collection of stuff? No, I don't think so.

Even before I knew those things about myself, I collected things. Rocks. Legos (I'd hoard them underneath my bed). Toys (I'd stash them in paper bags and carry them around the house). Stickers (Rarely used - I'd leave them pristine). Apparently I had a great fear that my younger sister would take my stuff and destroy it.

Later, I started collecting boxes. And bags. Absurd, isn't it? I started collecting things used to store stuff! I never threw anything out. I might need it later. Oh, sure, I'd throw out packaging and food remains. But, homework? No, never. Instructions? Nope. Old costume jewelry? I might need it. Can you imagine how many years of magazines I had stashed? No, I doubt you can.

Box o'memories... or something like that.
Stuff I collected, mostly from the summer of 1996 (my first archaeological dig)

Honestly, it never crossed my mind that I shouldn't keep everything. Never. I knew I was a pack rat. My sister teased me about it, but I was fine with who I was. For the most part.

So what changed in my head? I met someone.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Is it time to shed?

 Why do humans hang on to so much STUFF?

And I suppose I don't mean just ANY humans, but those of us in "western society." What is is about our culture that has caused us to collect?

Sedentism, which came about mainly through agriculture and cultivation of plants, is certainly part of the problem. Hunter-gatherers tended to be nomadic, leading to less collection of materials. If a large item were collected it had better be useful - and probably would be used up completely prior to any move. Storage was certainly an option, but there was no guarantee you would ever get back to the same location and retrieve the items (and, generally speaking, these items were usually food or food collection related, rather than junk that we collect today).

But then, how did we start placing so much value on things that have nothing to do with basic necessities - such as food, water, and shelter? We are entrenched in the culture of hierarchical, capitalist society. Our "necessities" have changed somewhat. Survival without money is difficult. Shelter must be purchased. In most cases, food must be purchased. Therefore, we must have jobs. Therefore, most of us must use technology. And on and on and on.

The question is, however, how much of this stuff do we really NEED? Can I be happy with less stuff? Would I be happier with fewer things? I'm going to go out on a limb and say ABSOLUTELY.

Do you know how often I dream of losing most of my things? Often. I think about it at least five times everyday. I'm sure I'm underestimating.

What about you? Can you live with less stuff? Will you? Check out The Shed Project over at and start shedding.

Sunday, September 5, 2010


Reflections at the Garden. SX-70 Model 2 camera, Impossible Project PX70 first flush film.

Amazingly, this PX70 photograph has been very popular on Flickr. Well, popular as far as my photostream goes! I am quite flattered that so many have enjoyed the beautiful reflections of these trees at the Chicago Botanic Garden. There is something so wonderful, so amazing about the reflections of light in water. It might be a minor obsession lately, trying to capture these reflections. I'm ok with that.

This is wonderful color for the PX70 film, although it has shifted a bit toward the green end of things. Also, I am painfully aware of the Newton's Rings all over the water surface of this photo. It's the first time I've noticed them, but now I can see them on other scans, too. Alas!