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Goodbye to All Those Things
January 8, 2014 - 9:00pm

A partial list of things that I once owned but no longer possess:

  • A bookshelf full of books. (E-books and audiobooks have replaced paper, paper books have almost all been donated).
  • Cartons full of CDs (and before that tapes, preceded by albums).
  • A desktop computer, a monitor, a keyboard, a mouse. (Typing on a MacBook Air).

A partial list of things that I still own but wish I was renting:

  • A house. (And everything that comes in it)
  • A car. (Zip Car and Uber would be a wonderful substitute).

A partial list of things that I still own but wish that I didn’t have at all:

  • A TV. (Currently hooked only up to the Roku and largely unwatched).
  • A Wii. (Nobody plays it).
  • A stereo and speakers. (We can play music through the computer)
  • A printer. (There is a printer at work).

I remember the time when I wanted to have stuff.  

When things had meaning.  

When I got great pleasure from seeing my books lined up on my bookshelf.  

When my record / tape / CD collection helped define my place in the world.   

When owning a car seemed like the greatest freedom, and when home ownership signified adulthood and stability.

No more.

The digital world has rewired my desires.

I long to have all my books and music in the cloud, accessible by whatever (lightweight, mobile) device I happen to have at hand.

A car is only for transportation, and maybe there are more efficient ways to purchase transport only when needed.

A house is only shelter, and it is no longer clear to me why it makes sense to fix oneself so solidly at one set of coordinates (and carry such a large non-liquid asset that might or might not depreciate).

Maybe our students are already traveling light.  

Those lucky enough to enjoy a residential experience already live in small spaces and possess minimal objects.   (Many electronics, but few durable goods).

After all, you can’t fit too much in a dorm room - and nobody pays a mortgage on a double.

Perhaps my desire to pair down is really a desire to get back to those freer undergraduate days.  When my job was to learn, and cars were not even allowed on campus.  

When eating meant going to the dining hall (or ordering late night pizza), and someone was also always awake working on a paper or a problem set.

As a freshman in 1987, traveling with my Dad from Boston to St. Louis to be dropped off at college, everything that I owned fit easily in the back of our station wagon.  

My material world contained in half a dorm room.   

Is it natural (and healthy) to reach a point in one’s life where the objects accumulated a lifetime after that freshman year no longer hold any appeal?

Can we ever return to the material simplicity of that first year of leaving home and moving to campus?

 

 

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