They say it is too much stuff but all my stuff is different so what exactly is there is too much of? If someone told me I had too many bowties, or magazines, or doorknobs, I think I’d be willing to sit down with my doorknobs and assess the doorknob situation. But nobody ever looks at my things up close. All they see is volume and all they say is Too Much.
I have some very useful items. Look here: this old tweed sport coat belonged to my uncle and has very little wear and tear. It’s a handsome garment. The breast pocket has come detached but to fix it would be a small matter. My uncle went mad and then to an asylum. This was when my mother gave me his sport coat. It was too large for me at the time but now it fits quite snugly.
I also have rare items, for instance, my collection of historical tobaccos. The packaging alone is a valuable record of the industry, but I prefer to open the pouches and sniff each one, picking out notes in the aromas such as aged saddle and malt and bourbon vanilla. I purchased most of these tobaccos from a man named Kermit who had no further use for them. He said wet tobacco could cure a bee sting.
I used to actively acquire rare and useful things and I was well known at the estate sales and auctions. But these days my presence is required at home. I spend a great deal of time relaxing. I typically relax in one of my three La-Z-Boy recliners, which are of varying firmness. Next to them is a pink-swaddled baby palm tree that I water regularly, though the fronds are rather brown. Light, my ex-girlfriend Liz said, the last time I saw her. Nothing can live without light. She was the one who gave me the palm tree. She was the one who did the swaddling. Liz suggested I remove my Reader’s Digest archives from the window-wells as they were blocking out the sun, but Liz had her own problems and I never bothered her about them so I told her to leave me alone.
And then she did. I worry over the condition of those Reader’s Digests. If Liz comes back someday I will have her look at them from the outside and tell me if she can read their spines through the window or if they have faded in the sun.
Sometimes I save things I have not meant to save. In a tinfoil packet I have an egg and cheese sandwich on a roll which my parents brought me the last time they visited. I desperately wanted to eat it, I remember, but sensed my parents were not going to come back again and I thought, what if this is the last thing my parents have ever given me? How could I eat their last thing? And I was right, they have not come back, so I am glad for my restraint. I open the tinfoil. The sandwich is round and green-furred and I feel a great tenderness for it. I pinch the tinfoil closed and set it on a heap of culturally significant magazines.
My landlord says the other renters have been complaining of the smell. But what is this but the smell of HISTORY?
I have here a polished, black stone. I held, for a time, a job at a famous museum that had far more stuff than I have in my home (no one tells a curator that he is breaking his mother’s heart.) The stone is from the Mesopotamian wing and was the property of the museum but it called out to me so strongly I knew it was really mine. It has been several months since I stopped going to my job at the famous museum and to the best of my knowledge no one has ever noticed that the stone is gone. In place of the stone I left a card saying that the stone was currently on loan to another famous museum.
(I wish I could have that card back. It is one of my things, after all.)
No one has come to see me in some time, except the landlord to complain and I don’t let him inside. Sometimes I think of all the things my parents and Liz like to say to me so it’s almost like they’re here. The thing they say most of all is that they would like to bring a large dumpster to my house and take away all of my stuff. I am always very polite in declining their generous offers and when I am alone and missing them I practice declining politely: No thank you, I will not take you up on this offer but please rest assured that your magnanimity has been noted.
I think the palm tree may be dead.
I grow morose. When this happens I usually uncork one of my bottles of limited issue Woodbright, a potent liquor with properties that cheer me. Tonight, though, it only makes me moroser. I had a friend named Myerson who loved to convene over cups of Woodbright but now he has decided he no longer likes to do this. At least, not at my home.
I hunch myself into a ball in my La-Z-Boy, sip my Woodbright, and listen. My stuff is silent, even the stone. Instead it is the sound of micefeet that comes as gentle and regular as raindrops. Liz set out glue traps once, but the mice were too smart and she caught not a one. I am glad. When I am feeling lonely and I see a furry body ambling over the stacks it seems almost like a miracle. I look at my clocks (I am a great collector of clocks) and all but one tells me that it is 3:45 am. A digital alarm clock with wood-paneling and red glowing numbers flashes 3:46. I wonder which clock is true.
Yes, if my parents or Liz or Myerson were here they would say, We have seen many television specials that say the thing to do is for us to bring a dumpster and take away your stuff.
But my stuff is me! I’d say to them. If you take it away you are taking me away.
They tell me this is not true. That if they haul my stuff away I will still be here, my heart thumping, a little slow from Woodbright perhaps, but thumping all the same.
I don’t think they mean to lie to me, but I do know they are wrong. With more stuff there is more of me and if they took it away I would be less and less until there was nothing left of me at all.
Because what would I tell you about if not my stuff!?
Think about it. Think of everything you know about me.
Now take my stuff away.
Would you know me without it?
If you took away my stuff you would take away my stories. About Liz. Myerson. My parents. My uncle. Me.
Without my stuff there’d be an empty room and a silent voice within it just waiting for a noun to verb. With my stuff I am larger than even myself. I am more, multiplied a hundredfold, once for each of my objects, each of my stories.
You should not cart away a man’s stories in a dumpster. You should not toss his bowties and doorknobs and magazines and make him small. Because you never know when you might find yourself in a very small room. You might find the room dark, and growing smaller—its walls creeping in. You might be in need of just the right doorknob.