Photo: Production Perig/Shutterstock

On Getting Rid of Possessions and Taking Stock

by Jed Purses Feb 10, 2011
Jed Purses talks about the struggle and eventual acceptance of selling his identity.

“HOW ABOUT $2600?”

“It’s all yours, man,” I say without hesitation.

As we walk inside, I am surprised by how easy the last words came out of my mouth. I feared I would not be able to pull the trigger when the time came. We sit down to sign the paperwork. I want to make sure I am giving away a piece of my life to a decent guy, so I make small talk with him. He tells me that between two jobs, school, and the impending rainy season, having a car will make life easier. His answer satisfies me and, without him asking, I let him know that I am selling the car because I will be traveling soon.

The mention of travel gets his attention. “Actually, I’m getting rid of almost everything I own before I leave. Do you need anything else?” I sound like a salesman, I think to myself.

Travel is not the only reason I’ve decided to get rid of my things. I have other reasons: freedoms from the space, time, money, and energy these possessions occupy in my life. I want to limit myself of the comforts and easy solutions that they offer, forcing myself to be resourceful with what’s in front of me, finding comfort from within, not externally. Lastly, by trimming down, I hope to see what is truly necessary in my life.

“No, I think this is all I can afford right now,” he tells me.

I take the key off my already sparse ring and recall a quote I once heard. Something about measuring the importance of a man by the amount of keys he has. I usher him out the front door and watch him drive away. I have mixed feelings. On one hand, selling the car puts money in my pocket and frees time for other things. On the other, not having a car makes errand-running slower. There are quite a few things I could use it for.

Tougher to let go are the memories I’ve had in that car. Nights out and laughter with the ex-girlfriend, road trips and long conversations with close friends, rides with the dog, singing at the top of my lungs to my favorite songs. It is excruciating to admit, but I also feel a bit emasculated without a car. What kind of girl wants to date a guy without a car? Knowing the judgment that this thought levels on women and myself does not allow me to release it from my mind.

Getting it Done

This process of getting rid of things has been increasingly tough because I’ve always thought that what I have is important. It all started with donations to goodwill and friends in need of clothes. Then came the time to sell the more “important” items: the office chair which I love (it’s so comfortable), kitchens items (I love cooking), my motorcycle and surfing gear (again, emasculating).

Handing these items over to complete strangers was hard. As time passed, I realized that I will always have the memories of experiences shared in the car. The memory and the material are separate. There will be more comfortable office chairs in my life if I want. My love of cooking is not dying, it’s just not going to be indulged for a bit. I’m still a man, just without the toys to prove it (do I need the toys to be a man?).

This last thought makes me ponder in what ways my identity is tied to what I’ve brought into my life. Who do I think I am based on my possessions? What persona am I trying to give off? Furthermore, am I genuinely interested in the hobbies and possessions I’ve had, or were they just ways for me to express my masculinity to the world because I felt lacking in that category without them?

I’ll be the first to admit that I was probably filling some holes. But what’s always appealed to me in the hobbies I’ve decided to take up is the element of risk, which for me is more about feeling alive than portraying something to the world. Maybe my continual need for risk is now driving me to get rid of everything I own?

The next project I take on is the filing cabinet I bought after college. My thinking when I bought the cabinet was that responsible grownups organize and keep important documents. Going through the cabinet now, the accumulation of paper helps me reflect on what’s been important to me over the past couple of years: investments and retirement planning documents, insurance records for a car, a motorcycle, notes on interviews and interview questions I’ve encountered, hundreds of business cards, daily planners from year gone by.

Then, a small and suppressed section in the back — a fraction of my life’s pie chart — with articles about farming, yoga, travel, and nature. These days this last category speaks to me more. Rediscovering nature brings comfort. It confirms my current passions were always there, and that I am not actually doing a 180 with my life.

As I shred the entire accumulation from my filing cabinet I see the importance in everything that is represented here, but am puzzled about how large of a role each component should play in my life. Furthermore, I wonder what story I was telling myself when accumulating these documents were more important to me? What story now allows me to discard these things?

I confront my book collection last. There’s been resistance here because so much of what I’ve read has shaped me. Am I not the same person without these books?

After dinner one evening I feel capable of making the decision of what two books to keep. As my roommates gather round to claim what interests them, I feel light about the whole process. Giving books that have helped shape me to people I care about makes me feel like I am allowing others to see me more clearly. I like that feeling.

The next day I take my leftover books using my bicycle to the local used book store. They sell for enough store credit to get one new book. I find something by John Muir to join BKS Iyengar and Sam Keen. Hopping back on my bike to run another errand without the load of books, I am physically lighter. Yet something else has changed too. Something feels new, less confined, more mobile. The lightness fuels me as I take on the hill ahead. I reach the top pedaling and breathing hard. Laughter ensues and I don’t know why.

Later in the week, I still feel like I’ve got this whole “stuff” thing figured out, until a quote by Rumi confronts me. It goes, “Peaceful is the one who is not concerned with having more or less.”

Community Connection

I also recall when I got rid of my possessions and the feelings it conjured up. How about you? Did getting rid of your things when you went traveling cause as much introspeciton?

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