At first glance, moving might not seem that complicated. As Bill likes to say, “You put the stuff in a box, you put the box on a truck, you drive the truck to the new place, you take the box off the truck.” Not much to it.
So why, when the truck is loaded up and full of boxes do people often say, “Be careful — you’ve got our whole lives in there!” (“We’ve got all your possessions,” I sometimes tease, “but you wouldn’t let us pack your souls.”)
That confusion, though, between a lived life and the objects inherited, bought, gathered, and created over the course of that life, gets to the heart of our fascinating and sometimes troubled relationship to material objects — our clothes, pictures, books, furniture, tools, doo dads, decorations, and tchotchkes. Stuff is not a life, of course, but having a life almost always means having stuff. And having a life also means having a partly-conscious and partly unconscious attachment to the objects you call your own.
I’m currently quite attached to my new kitchen countertops. They’re wood butcherblock, much like the countertops in a farmhouse in Maine I sometimes rent for a week in September. I love them because they’re beautiful, but also because they remind me of the farmhouse, and, if I’m being perfectly honest, they remind me of the upper-middle-class, Crate-and-Barrel casual chic the farmhouse exudes. For both my little 700-square-foot house and my working class life, they are aspirational countertops. They scratch quite easily, though, so I’m a little neurotic about putting things down on them, and because the whole point of countertops is to provide a place to put things down, they’re a source of frequent low-grade anxiety — ah, the price of love.
I mention my countertops to make the point that our relationships to objects are almost always personal, emotional, multi-faceted. In other words, they’re complicated. And that’s one reason why moving peoples’ stuff is more complicated than it at first appears.
I haven’t read this book yet (it’s on my Christmas list!), but I came across this review and it got me thinking about the way in which the extremes can sometimes shed light on the ordinary. Most of us aren’t hoarders, but a lot of us have a tough time letting go of stuff we know we never use and probably don’t really need. Why is that? This book might hold some clues.