481. Clutter

I spent hours yesterday sifting through clutter in my apartment: books, blowgun darts, office supplies, ocelot pelts, papers, outdated foreign currency, clothes, and centuries-old trinkets of carved stone and bone.

It occurs to me that my life is kind of strange.

My parents, who are missionaries, have used my apartment as their home base during their slow transition from working in Uruguay to working in Spain. Since they plan to depart for Galicia in a few weeks, we began sorting through their stuff yesterday in preparation for packing. It was an… interesting process.

My dad grew up in the jungles of Ecuador, and my mum loves antiques. Between the two of them, my family has accumulated a ton of awesome junk, much of it very old. I found a toucan beak, a stone axe head of incalculable age, an armadillo shell, and an ancient Incan figurine, among other things. I felt like I was reorganizing the office of Indiana Jones; I could almost hear him say, “This belongs in a museum!” (In case you were wondering, my parents are nothing like Indiana Jones; sorry to disappoint.)

My parents have spent time in the state of Indiana. Does that count?

Of course, these exciting souvenirs were merely sprinkled over heaps of modern, ordinary items such as clothes, books, and kitchenware. My apartment currently contains my stuff, my younger brother’s stuff, my parents’ stuff, and even a little bit of my older brother’s stuff.

My apartment is, um, a tiny bit cluttered at the moment.

Gathering my parents’ possessions uprooted some of my own, like unto the parable of the wheat and the weeds. This is actually a good thing. In a month, when my parents are bound safely for the rainy shores of Spain, I intend to take inventory of my worldly goods, and then to get rid of some.

Since my parents are missionaries, we moved around a lot. We never got a chance to accumulate much clutter. Every move to a new place stripped away all the stuff we couldn’t take with us. I learned to live light.

At any rate, that’s what I thought.

O’Hare International Airport proved me wrong. When I traveled from Ecuador to the US for college, I carried all of my worldly goods with me in a backpack, a carry-on, a computer bag, and two duffel bags the approximate size of adult male hippos.

Artist interpretation of Adam’s duffel bags.

On that day the air traffic controllers of O’Hare decided, in their infinite wisdom, to make my plane unload its luggage at one end of the airport, and its passengers on the other. This required me to walk approximately two hundred sixty extra miles along dingy airport hallways, and I had a bus to catch. Of course I did.

So I ran—well, I shuffled—dragging my carry-on, with my pack and computer bag slung across my back, and a duffel bag dangling from each shoulder. As I stepped, my duffel bags swung with the ponderous force of battering rams. Straps cut into my back and shoulders. I kept stepping—well, shuffling—wishing for a luggage cart, or a team of porters, or the sweet release of death.

That experience shaped my guiding philosophy for owning stuff: If it isn’t worth moving, it isn’t worth having. I want to live without clutter or extra weight. When I move somewhere new, which I’m sure I will sooner or later, I want moving to be as easy as possible. If I wouldn’t move something to a new home, I probably don’t need it right now, and should probably get rid of it.

For the most part, my clutter-free philosophy has worked well. (At any rate, it has left enough empty space in my apartment for my parents’ worldly goods.) A minimalist approach makes it easier for me to keep things organized, and helps me to appreciate my individual possessions. I feel lighter, freer, and calmer without so much stuff.

My friend JK wrote a blog post about tidy living. Henry David Thoreau wrote, “Simplify, simplify.” Even Jesus Christ said, “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

It will be cathartic to take inventory of my possessions later this year, and to give away the stuff I don’t really want. I hope the nearest donation center doesn’t mind books.

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