First Person: I Got Rid Of Nearly Everything I Owned
I narrowed everything down to two suitcases.
BY ZOE WILDER | May 26, 2016 | Culture
My mother is a hoarder. She loves to shop.You should have seen our Christmas tree—a zillion beautifully wrapped gifts with handwritten notes from Santa strewn across the floor, stockings stuffed so high they refused to hang from the mantel, piles upon piles of yuletide goodies. It was a dream come true.
Every trip, I knew to expect a prize or two or three or four. Back-to-school shopping became a game of One for you, One for me. Name your occasion, my sister and I received a gift–Valentine's treats, Easter baskets, Halloween costumes. Trips to thrift shops yielded garbage bags full of vintage and secondhand scores. We didn't go without.
Showering us with possessions, our mother's compulsion became an extension of her many emotions. And, her feelings were, and still are, abundant…and everywhere. Evidence of an intricate life covers every square inch of her messy domain.
Every nook and cranny houses a sliver of history. My baby booties live next to the toaster oven. A photo of third grade me smiles sweetly in the cabinet next to a pair of stilettos, my aunt Paula's fine china and myriad 8-track tapes. Elementary school report cards are filed away in the broken bread machine alongside cat toys and old Wonder Woman underoos.
Showering us with possessions, our mother's compulsion became an extension of her many emotions.
It's been twenty years since high school graduation, and my honour roll certificates are still proudly displayed on the fridge, slightly tattered and stained. I can't help but smile. This is love. This is someone who doesn't want to let go of anything that's ever meant something special. This is someone who loves her piles of stuff so much she can't help but grow them. She's always had a green thumb. You should see her garden. It's lovely.
Because I am my mother's daughter, I used to feel comfortable with clutter. It felt normal. Cramped urban living reinforced this feeling. The tiny studio apartment my boyfriend and I shared in Bushwick was crammed full of stuff. Walls lined with hooks and hangers were draped with every piece of clothing a person could ever want. Shoe boxes like skyscrapers towered overhead. Jewellery spilled out of chests and into vinyl record crates. Music equipment, wigs, every single essay I'd ever written since high school stacked in piles. Art everywhere.
So when I fell out of love with New York City after 13 adventurous years, I knew I had to get rid of the stuff. All of it. Talks of moving far away, travelling the world and starting anew inspired me. Collecting experiences became more intriguing than collecting tangible objects. I quit my job and started selling. I dragged bags of clothes to local buy-sell-trade shops every other day for three weeks, posted ads on Craigslist, emailed my network, and threw a virtual yard sale on Instagram and Facebook. I sold my old garbage can for 10 bucks, my entire CD collection for USD500, my sparkly hoodies for USD25 each, old ticket stubs for $30 and a box of empty wine bottles for USD12. My trash was clearly someone else's treasure.
I felt a little guilty for giving away little trinkets my grandma gave me as a child, but I'm sure she'd want me to live lighter. The occasional shot of tequila helped take the edge off of the emotional dust that got kicked around during the excavation.
The items I couldn't sell, I gave away to friends, neighbours and my favourite local charity. I kept at it until the only thing left was two suitcases and a bed. The bed ended up on the street corner. Everything we owned now fit in a Kia Amanti. We made USD7,000 selling off our possessions.
Because I am my mother's daughter, I used to feel comfortable with clutter. It felt normal.
Liberated, we were free to travel around Central America for seven months where I realised having too much stuff was panic-inducing, but riding my bicycle along the beach while looking for Howler monkeys was fascinating and watching the red full moon set into the ocean at midnight was magical. Did you know that when the sun rises, the jungle sings? I'd never heard anything like it before in my life.
Every now and again, I'd miss a few random pieces like that super comfy long-sleeved green tee I got in a clothing swap that belonged to Gavin Rossdale, and not because it belonged to him. But because, it was perfectly worn in and sometimes the ocean breezes were chilly at night. Sure, I had a kimono to keep me warm, but there was something about the familiarity of that old shirt and the comfort it could offer me, so far from home.
Otherwise, I didn't miss a thing. In fact, I wanted to get rid of more. My suitcase was overflowing with bikinis (some old habits die hard). I had to sit on it to zip it shut. Besides, we had everything we needed–each other, fresh fruit and veggies, a roof over our head, gratitude. Tempted to stay forever, we prepared ourselves for the possibility. We were seduced by every new scent and site, and wanted to explore more.
When I fell out of love with New York City after 13 adventurous years, I knew I had to get rid of the stuff. All of it.
However, safety became a concern (the government's plan to build a 173-mile canal through Lake Nicaragua caused quite an upset with the locals) and after seven months, we returned to our homeland to figure out next steps. I was happy to not have stuff waiting for us. In fact, it made the next three months of travelling around the United States easier. We found a furnished condo in Siesta Key, Florida, and revelled in the luxuries of first world excess until it was time to continue our journey to Portland, Oregon, where we decided to stay a while.
Owning very little felt good. So when it was time to settle down again, the idea of buying things was overwhelming. We needed a place to sit and sleep and eat, so despite the shopping-induced anxiety we powered through and purchased new pots, pans, dishes, a couch, a bed, a table. And since my beach wardrobe was no match for the Pacific Northwest's weather, I bought some boots, a few pairs of jeans and sweaters to keep me warm.
It's been almost a year in the new apartment, and we still don't have any art on the walls, and we like it like that. I'm vigilant about reducing clutter and purposeful with my purchases in a way I never was before we left New York City. Minimalism suits me well. I've found balance. I own things. They no longer own me.
I'd do it all over again. In fact, the next time I want to jump ship and explore a different continent, I'll know exactly how to do it swiftly. Happily, I'll trade in things for new adventures. Meanwhile, my mother sits home, surrounded by stuff, wondering why she doesn't see the world. Things can keep people bound like an anchor, but you can choose to be the bird.