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  • Jan Flynn

Stuff and Nonsense


I read recently about a Japanese man named Fumio Sasaki who, in the interests of mental clarity, has resolved to possess no more than 150 objects at any one time, Four of those objects are socks.


He is quoted thus: “It’s not as though you feel satisfied after collecting a certain amount of stuff. Instead, you keep thinking about what you’re missing. Now I feel content with what I have.”


I’m thinking about Mr. Sasaki because I’ve spent a lot of time recently helping some loved ones weed out their stuff as they contend with moving out of long-held family homes. It’s more than downsizing: it’s reimagining one’s entire life. These are people who are facing the kinds of transitions life dishes out quite without one’s approval or consent: a spouse dies or ups and leaves; one’s health takes a turn for the worse. And the old way of living no longer serves.


This degree of life change demands arduous interior re-engineering. It would be great if whoever is in charge of human experience would recognize this and arrange things so that people in this situation could be granted the time, energy, and thoughtful support that could help them reinvent.

But what ends up demanding all the attention? Stuff. Banker boxes and plastic tubs and trash bags full of stuff. Items that were once sought after, achieved, displayed or used until they’ve outlived their usefulness but still take up space — physically, mentally, emotionally, energetically.


It’s astounding, really, how the most quotidian of objects can be freighted with psychic weight: the platter that Mom used to serve the turkey every Christmas, except that it’s chipped and enormous and nobody’s actually used it for fifteen years. The guitar you were going to learn to play, and still haven’t. Anything your kids gave you, even if they forgot about it twenty years ago. Not to mention the whatever-it-is — could be a chair, a necklace, or a car — you’ve been keeping all this time, meaning to get it fixed because it’s still perfectly good, or it could be if you’d only just do the thing you haven’t found time to do. Our stuff keeps us adrift in the amorphous gap between our imagined lives and our actual ones.


There’s so much more to say on this topic, but I just got back into town and I have to unpack my stuff. My weekend suitcase holds well over 150 items. I’m pretty sure all of them are important. Right now I can’t remember what they are.


Your comments, unlike so much stuff, are highly sought after and deeply appreciated!

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