It sometimes feels like my possessions own me . . .
―J. Matthew Nespoli
It is foolish to hold tightly to material possessions. We do not own them, but they can own us. ―Dillon Burroughs
Minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of anything that distracts us from it. ―Joshua Becker
1 the quality of fitting in a place, group, or environment: I feel a sense of belonging.
2 one’s movable possessions: Please take your belongings with you.
I have a fat black volume of Shakespeare’s complete collected works, a formidable sight with small print and onion-like pages. I bought it years ago for a class I thought I’d take. I kept the book when plans changed, thinking I should be able to enjoy literature without a syllabus.
Playing hopscotch with classes and colleges, I moved more than ten times before graduation. Uprooting yourself and your belongings is a drama (or comedy of errors) of its own. And Shakespeare was prolific. I mean, this book is big. It’s impressive on a shelf. And heavy in your hands. And it takes up a lot of packing space. Yet I dutifully moved it from place to place in box after box.
I think it used to have a dust jacket, which would have been useful because Shakespeare is covered in dust.
Don’t misunderstand—I studied his plays in school, sonnets in voice classes, and house managed the Virginia Shakespeare Festival. I love Hamlet’s entire iconic soliloquy. But the few times I’ve cracked this book open I couldn’t concentrate long. Believe it or not, Shakespeare’s wrote work to be performed for largely uneducated audiences. The bawdy innuendo and physical exaggeration falls flat on a silent page.
Today, more than twenty moves later, Shakespeare’s heavy work gazes sleepily at me from a bookshelf. It doesn’t belong. Thousands of students could have discovered the bard with this copy by now. If nothing else, small people need booster seats and wobbly tables need wedges.
Why is parting such sweet sorrow?
Things become familiar landscapes, which create an illusion of continuity. Daily life is so fragmented that parting with any sense of stability is hard. It’s why children take a favorite toy with them to unfamiliar places. I’ve grown attached to my books; I’d feel bereft without colorful walls of words, unanchored without any evidence of me in sight.
Aye, there’s the rub—possessions also reflect our tastes and characters. My colorful shelves display a personal composite of fond memories, old passions, and dormant aspirations. Relinquishing them means losing evidence of people I once was or might have been or wished I were.
Yet you acquire new stuff when it suits your needs and amass more as your needs change. There are tools, mementos, novelties, clothing, decoration, and information. The number of people you once were or might have been multiplies. Finite time and energy mean something’s gotta give.
After ages of struggling to accumulate material goods—first for survival and then for comfort—we’re slowly discovering the relief of letting things go. When our hands are full, we can’t hold more until we empty them. Laws of diminishing returns mean more is not always better. Sometimes one—or once upon a time—is enough.
Farewell, Bard! Thou art too dear for my possessing.