Talking Shit

Let’s talk shit. And not in the sense of insult-tossing, genitalia-measuring, gay-panic testosterone monkeys.  No, shit as in stuff, possessions, trinkets, chotchkes, memorabilia, crap.

Like most Americans, I have way too much of it.  Some of it is stuff I use daily–the two bicycles for example–and some of it–numerous books, toys, cds, sentimental trinkets–I have not touched in years.  The idea that I was responsible for all this stuff gave me a sense of claustrophobia, that if I ever moved, I would somehow have to cart all these little, trivial items to another place, to again set them up in some forgotten corner to be occasionally dusted.

A bit early to be a museum curator of my own life.  And all those key chains, books, what-have-you, were symbolic; ways to touch off a memory than anything else.  They were less useful possessions than abstractions.

So I did what any semi-rational individual prone to over-reacting and being overly self-critical would do: I made my bicycle the limiting factor.  With two saddle bags and two backpacks, anything that I could be packed onto my bicycle, I could take with me.  Anything that did not fit on the bicycle, well, that stayed.

Essentially I moved to New York City with: enough clothes for two weeks, sheets, two bicycle locks, one paperback, one notebook, one laptop, a cellphone, two cameras (big and little), and some assorted toiletries.

In doing so, this:

Full-on packing mayhem

Became this:

Layla the Dog not included

Yes, yes. Those are all my NYC possessions.  To be fair and honest, I am not going the monk route.  I have no plans to join a cult, a monastery, or an Amish community.  I will not burn all of my money and take on a new name anytime soon.  This I will only do if I become famous and star in a tippling set of romantic comedies. I still have stuff at my house, thanks to my parents.  I am living in places with well-stocked kitchens, although I contend I could do most of my cooking with only a few items.  It is summer, so the need for winter coats, blankets, etc. is not necessary.

The basic point is this: I wanted a clean slate.  I wanted mobility.  I wanted to not be overwhelmed or feel overly responsible for what I owned.  I wanted each item I was responsible for to be something I needed on a relatively day-to-day basis.  Having less stuff, less books, no T.V., pushes me out of my house.  If I want to watch a soccer game, I have to go somewhere public.  If  I want to read a book, I have to go to the library.  I cannot just hang about and use what I own as insulation from other people and the rest of the world.

More than anything, I wanted my daily life to revolve around people, experiences, not stuff.  So I did the only (il)logical thing and packed up my bicycle.

It's got hips!


About Big Adam

A NYC doorman, a community organizer, wannabe ape, sometimes blogger, sometimes writer, always crossword puzzle incompleter, I will ride bicycles with your papa, dance Bhangra with your mama, take you on dates that cost nada.
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12 Responses to Talking Shit

  1. Well done, but how much are you loving the clean slate? I assume a shit(less) load, but I would like to hear it from you.

    Hope you are well.

    • big Adam says:

      So far it’s good. Not too hard, despite my hatred of laundry. In reality, I think it has the opposite effect in terms of stuff. Today I found a pair of pants for work. Not perfect. Used. Cheap. But I didn’t buy them because I didn’t want to add to what I had. Later, I was worried because I got a free booklet and key as part of this art project. So its had an almost repressive effect on my accumulation of stuff, sort of a declining marginal productivity curve. Each item matters more, so it makes me more wary of having to deal with it.

  2. Esther says:

    Loved the picture with the dog :O) Inspiring, Adam! I am embarking on a house shift soon and am slowly weeding out unwanted things to be able to do the same. I’m curious, did you bike there with the two loads?

  3. Zach says:

    Interestingly I find myself in a similar position. I had brought a bookbag and and a luggage bag with me to Rome, and now I’m living in a really small town about 2 hours south of Rome with a doctor and his girlfriend. The thing I’ve noticed most is that it really makes you rely on other people. Obviously this is also because of the language issues, but still I know exactly what you mean about being forced to interact with other people.

  4. Pingback: Why I sleep on the floor. | Big Adam's Blog

  5. Similar in process, but of a different, yet interesting vein, is Michael Landy’s (Brit artist) “Breakdown.” He decided to explore the unshakable liberation that comes with taking inventory of all his possessions. He put them on a circular conveyor belt for 2 weeks in an empty, old department store window in Central London. And at the end of the 2 weeks sent them all into an industrialized shredder – passport, bank cards and all – just to experience what it’s like to have nothing but the shirt on his back (and well, the rest of that day’s outfit of course!)…

    • big Adam says:

      that sounds like an interesting project! will have to see if there are any conveyor belts in my area…do you have any idea where I can find it online?

      • Hey – Sorry, I didn’t realize you responded. There are not a lot of videos of Michael Landy online, but here is one from back in 2001 when he did Break Down:

        Whenever he does something, he always draws a large crowd. Enjoy!

      • big Adam says:

        Very cool….Thanks! Will keep an eye out for more of his projects.

  6. Donna says:

    Adam- this is great. I just commented on the sleep post and then clicked here. I have a storage shed because I wanted to start with a “cleaner” slate when I moved from a house into where I live now. Now that I am moving again and this time, in with someone, I have decided to put a lot of things in storage so the new place isn’t cluttered, as well as let US get things together. After reading your post and seeing how you are able to manage, I think I just may put more in the storage pile and take less with me. It may feel very nice not to have to worry about stuff falling on my head when I open a closet. My storage shed is filled with stuff. Not furniture. Not housewares (well, some). It’s all mostly memory stuff. All my books are with me now, but maybe I will the bulk in storage until I get a house with a dream library. I may feel so much better with less stuff and will be able to make new memories. Wow. You’ve inspired me, along with the NYT story I read a little while ago. The universe must be trying to tell me I have too much stuff to read that article and then for you to randomly find my blog today.

    • big Adam says:

      I figured I’d respond separately as well…glad you’re thinking about this possession stuff as well…I got really tuned in to it moving in and out of my college residence hall, as well as when I traveled extensively. It really is quite liberating, surprisingly so once you take that wee jump. (Keep the books, though). Had to help my cousin move into here 6 story walk up the other day, and it was a great reminder about how much I enjoy that simplicity.

      Anyway, keep me updated on how your paring down of possessions is going…being aware of it is the key step!

      Good luck with the move!

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