Done With Stuff

Right now I have an REI cart that holds a bike seat for my kid. I haven’t actually bought it yet, but as I was adding it to the cart this morning, I thought “okay, I just have to spend this $229 and then I will be done buying stuff. I will, finally, have everything I need.”

Admittedly, I had the same thought last week when I ordered the backpack I’ve had my eye on since the summer. The ten-year-old navy bag from MEC that I’d been using as my primary backpack for years had been fine, until it wasn’t (it didn’t fall apart, I just got so sick of it while using it as the diaper bag all year, and I decided that my return to work after a year of childcare leave merited a bag upgrade). The new backpack is rust colored, is made in the USA, and has two water bottle pockets. It’s everything I want. As I placed the order I said to myself “once this arrives, I won’t ever need anything else.” But really, with this bike seat, I will actually be done.

Or so I like to think.

With the obvious exceptions of groceries and toilet paper and cat litter and shampoo, I think about acquiring things like packing for a trip: there are a discrete number of things you need, and once you assemble them all and then pack them in your suitcase, or your apartment, you’re done. Sure, maybe there’s a thing or two you forgot, but you can buy that when you get there and then have everything you need. You might get a run in your tights and buy a new pair, just as in your home you might break your glass measuring cup and then replace it, but if you started your trip with everything you need, you’re replacing, not adding to your total number of possessions. It’s even possible that when you get to your destination you’ll realize you need a sun hat, or that when you invite a friend to stay in your living room you find that you need an extra pillow for guests — sometimes you need just one more item to have all the things you need.

Life should be like this too. There should be a cap on the number of things you need, and once you hit that cap you shouldn’t need anything more.

I like shopping, sometimes. I like choosing the things I’ve decided to add to my life, like the black Blundstone boots I got in December. I like going to SoHo with my mom when she visits and letting her buy me a new sweater from Everlane (thanks, Mom!). I like buying yarn for a specific project. I like buying presents when I’m excited about giving them to their recipient. The rest of the time, shopping as a leisure activity stresses me out. I don’t want to add things to my life when I’m full up on stuff, and like I said, with every purchase I think that I’m done. That my collection is complete.

The problem is that it’s never true. There always seems to be something else to buy: a humidifier, a pair of rain boots (why didn’t I have these?), a small lamp for the computer desk, a laundry basket for the things that must be hand-washed. A front rack for my husband’s bike. A tarp to cover the patio chairs over the winter. An insulated mug to keep at work.

I can accept this with baby stuff: she grows and needs new pants (most recently a used pair of Carhartt overalls from eBay), gets older and needs some more appropriate toys, the bike seat, more books so I don’t burn out reading Little Blue Truck at too many consecutive bedtimes. But why do I always need more things? I am a 36-year-old married human with enough clothes probably for the rest of my life, a wedding registry’s worth of beautiful dishes and cookware, an apartment full of furniture that is already upgraded from Ikea trash left behind by old roommates (I just need a dark grey cardigan and maybe another baking sheet — Samin says you should roast each vegetable separately). I have four pairs of nail clippers, scissors for cutting my bangs, electric clippers for my husband’s head and face (but I am thinking about getting a blow dryer, so no one has to go out into the cold with wet hair). I have a sewing machine and a serger, a self-healing cutting mat and two quilting rulers, an ironing board and a very nice iron (I just need a tailor’s ham).

As soon as I get these few more things, I really will have everything I need. It’s 2019 and I’m finally ready to embrace being done with things, once and for all. No gifts, please. No runs to Ikea. I’ve finished packing for this life, just as soon as I buy this bike seat.

Dory Thrasher has a PhD in Urban Planning and works as a researcher for the New York City Department of Social Services (everything she writes here is her own experience and opinion and in no way represents DSS). She makes quiltsreads books, yells about inequality, and runs marathons. She lives in Brooklyn with a handsome bureaucrat and a small baby.

Photo credit: emiliano meloni, CC BY 2.0.