Useless Stuff

Work on the bus progresses. The cab area (helm? cockpit?) has walls now, which means there’s no more steel ribs, fiberglass or bare wires showing.

 photographed by luxagraf
Look Ma, no bare walls.

In fact, the only thing left to do is hook up the systems (water, propane), rebuild the bathroom door and lay the floor. Well, and recover the seats, but I won’t be doing that so it doesn’t really count from my point of view.

None photographed by luxagraf
Ready to go.

Parallel to restoring the bus we’ve also been clearing out our house and getting it ready to sell. Thankfully we’ve taken good care of the house itself, all it really needed was some touch up paint and yard work. Clearing out our stuff though, that’s been very, very challenging.

Normally when you move you just shove all that stuff you don’t really acknowledge that you’ve been dragging around for years without using into a box and truck it on to the next place you’ll live where you can happily shove it in the back of a new closet.

When you’re moving into a 1969 Dodge Travco with four other people and less than 100 square feet of usable space that’s not an option.

 photographed by luxagraf
Still need to recover the seats, but it’s coming together.

In that case you have to actually dig in and deal with all that stuff that’s always been easier not to deal with. You have to do something with it. You have to take a good hard look at it and you have to face the facts on the ground of your life so to speak, rather than the life you wish you had, which, for me anyway, is the source of most of my stuff.

“Well, I might learn to play the banjo one day.”

“You’ve had eight years and you haven’t yet.”

“I did learn how to tune it though. Plus I’ll have more time soon.”

“Probably not. Plus, you don’t even really like banjo music.”

“That’s not true. There’s that Grant Lee Buffalo song with the banjo intro. And Don Chambers, he plays banjo a lot. Plus I loved waking up to Adam Musick playing the banjo downstairs back when we lived above Southern Bitch.”

“So… you have not one, but two banjos and a broken mandolin because they remind you of a few notes of music you like and some experiences you enjoyed seventeen years ago?”

“Hmm. When you put it like that…”

“Probably you can hang on to your love of the music and the experiences even without the banjos. You could even write it all down somewhere so that you have a copy of your memories. That way you can keep what you love, get the cruft out of your life and make room for something new.”

And so it goes for hundreds of objects, almost none of which actually turned out have any real value to me.

As George Carlin used to say in a bit about stuff, “have you ever noticed that other people’s stuff is shit; and your shit is stuff?” When you strip away the “well I might need/use it someday” logic of accumulating useless stuff, you realize that your life is filled up with shit.

Don’t get me wrong. We do have a storage unit, but we deliberately got the smallest unit available. We have a few family heirlooms to store, some books that might be useful one day and a handful of other stuff (I may not have learned the banjo, but you’ll have a hell of a time prying my guitars from my cold dead fingers), but for the most part the stuff has been shed.

We have resold and donated 20 years worth of accumulated stuff over the last year or so. We’ve donated so much stuff that I know everyone at the local thrift shop by name, including the former mayor of Athens who started volunteering there the first day I made a major stuff drop off. Even now, months later she gets excited every time I show up with more stuff, which, now that we’re getting near the end, happens at least once a week. Sometimes two or three times a day.

It’s not like we were hoarders or anything. Neither Corrinne nor I had ever, prior to buying our house, lived in any one location for much more than a year. That kind of constant movement tends to make you stay relatively light on stuff. We did spend seven years at this address though, and we do have three kids, but believe it or not, the kids’ stuff isn’t the bulk of what we’ve gotten rid of. It’s our stuff. And for the life of me I can’t figure out how it all got in my life.

What I do know is that it has started to feel really good not to have it. Things are really clean. I almost never have to look for anything anymore because there’s a) much less to lose b) much less stuff to hide the thing I’m looking for.

I know there are whole books written about this subject, one in particular that’s very popular right now, but until you actually start doing it, you really have no idea how transformative it can really be to free yourself of stuff. It can change the entire way you look at the world, but that’s a topic for another day.

One thing I dislike about all these books and websites about shedding stuff though is that that they treat the process as if you’ll achieve some state of zen when you’re done, which, uh, yeah, not so much. It’s not that dramatic. I guess the zen angle is the best alternative is to admitting you made some mistakes since that’s not a popular idea these days. Saying “no regrets” is so common it’s a cliche. Our culture seems to think history, both personal and cultural, is a process of endless progress — from cave to stuffless zen present — which means regrets and mistakes need to swept under the proverbial rug.

But looking at your past and saying you have no regrets is crazy. It means you’re either, a) perfect or b) incapable of recognizing (and therefore learning) from your mistakes. Neither of which are good things.

Admitting mistakes is admitting that not all forward movement in time is in fact progress, some of it might consist of dead ends and blind alleys full of unused banjos and broken mandolins. Some of it might even be regress. Some of our stuff might be shit. Still, getting rid of stuff is nothing so much as not just admitting, but directly confronting, your mistakes. And then dumping it all at the thrift store.

Which is of course bullshit. All of it, the progress, the lack of mistakes, the stuff. The shit. All of it, bullshit.

I got regrets; lordy do I have some regrets. Particularly when it comes to stuff I have purchased. I didn’t buy the aforementioned banjos, but I did buy some dumb shit over the years. Books I could have checked out for free, electronic gadgets I never needed and barely used, kitchen crap no one needs. I really should have known better. I do know better. And still I succumbed.

I make mistakes. I got regrets. I got too much stuff that turned out to be shit. But now it’s all gone. Now I have catharsis and perhaps even a tad of personal insight, though that could just be more bullshit, hard to say for sure.

At first it didn’t bother me that much to get rid of my mistakes because hey, we have eBay and you can make some decent cash for the strangest stuff. Like old 8 track players. Or sleeping bags you never used. But at some point I stopped being amazed by how much money I was able to get on eBay and started thinking more about how much I had spent on shit in the first place. How much money I had spent on stuff which at the time seemed like a good idea, but turned out to mean next to nothing to me and was probably (deep down) motivated by some weird subconscious set of culturally handed down ideals I’m not about to try and parse out.

What I do know if that all of it was a waste. It was all a bunch of shit. And I regret it. Not because I want the money back, but because I can never get the life energy that went into getting the money back. I’d like to have that back, or to have at least channeled it into something that would have paid more dividends in the future, which is to say now.

Which is not to say that I’m not grateful that I can at least get something for it. Thanks eBay. Plenty of stuff though — typically the most expensive, most digital stuff — is pretty much worthless. The $1200 TV from 2009? Sold for $40. IPod I bought for almost $400 just before I went traveling in 2006? Selling for less than the price of shipping it it to the buyer. So yeah, I have regrets. I also have a new appreciation for buying last year’s model used.

I ended up keeping the iPod. It’s my new talisman to protect me from myself. It also does a fine job of playing music. Oddly enough for an Apple product, it still works after all these years. Even the battery is still good, though I put an extra 12V plug in the cab area of the bus just in case.

It seems fitting to launch a new trip, just over ten years after the last one, with an artifact or two shared between them. And it sounds just as good as it ever did. Better even since I have some nicer headphones now. And yeah, I’ve played that Grant Lee Buffalo song with the banjo intro a time or two to reminisce. Every time I catch myself thinking, I should really learn to play the banjo….


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