Al Batt: I can’t separate myself from my emotional support clutter
Posted 8:45 p.m. on Tuesday, September 20, 2022
Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt
I finished it.
I can sum up the book in one sentence. Get rid of things that no longer have purpose or spark joy and only keep things that have purpose or meaning.
I don’t know why I read a book about decluttering a house. The book was not in my wheelhouse, but I had just donated many expensive books to a library and was looking to confirm that I had done the right thing. The author said that the objects I throw away should be launched on a new journey with a farewell ceremony and that I should maintain a dialogue with my house while tidying up.
I asked my house what I should be silent about. I thought about throwing away my bills, but I had had a neighbor, a single farmer, who loved money more than anything he could buy. “If you want to be rich like me, Batt,” he said, “you have to get rid of all your monthly bills.”
I thought about his advice. He had no electricity. He depended on kerosene lamps for light and another neighbor’s television for entertainment. I flipped a switch that lit up my world and allowed me to read without eye strain or headache. I liked electricity. I liked his monthly bill a little less, but it still brought me joy.
Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, her friends called her Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, said, “We are so vain that we even care about the opinion of those we don’t care about.” It doesn’t have much to do with what I write, but typing “Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach” gives me joy.
My parents differed on the definition of wholeness. My father saved everything because “you never know”. He believed that a guy couldn’t have too much bric-a-brac. Everything had meaning and was worth keeping because it could be used to fix something. My mother thought that too many people had too much and too many people had nothing at all, and wanted to give things a good house. She kept treasured heirlooms in a steamer trunk and photos (most unlabeled) in their own scrapbooks, but everything else walked a fine line between keeping and discarding.
Mom carried things to the dump. Father picked them up and, grinning like a vulture with the first option on a dead raccoon, grabbed and brought home a lot of the stuff that others had dropped.
In general, I like experiences more than possessions. Once upon a time there was a popular expression, “I saw the elephant”, which meant overcoming adversities and difficulties in life. The story goes that a farmer heard that the circus was coming to town. He had never seen an elephant and was heading for town with a cart full of produce to sell. On the road, he met the elephant. The farmer’s horse had never seen an elephant either. The horse took fright, overturned the cart, destroyed the farmer’s produce and galloped off. It was an experience and a test. The farmer considered his loss and said, “I don’t care, because I saw the elephant.”
Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach did not write this story.
A friend wants to build a pole shed and fill it with things he doesn’t need. This way, when selling his estate, his family will sell their prized possessions like the broken lawn mower that cost them $500 for just $5. It’s not just a pole shed, it’s poor estate planning.
I often carry a possible bag. My wife calls it a men’s handbag and others call it a messenger bag. In the old days of the mountain man, a bag of possibilities carried everything he needed for the day: black powder, powder dispenser, flint, steel, lead balls, patch, patch knife, skinning knife and Ax body spray. The bare necessities. My bag contains a pen, a notebook and a camera. “Take a coat,” my mother used to say even on the hottest days. I crumpled up a windbreaker and stuffed it into my bag of possibilities in his memory.
Many claim to want to simplify their lives, but few actually do. I have reduced mine to the essentials.
After careful consideration, I ruled out two things. I cleared my house of a packet of rice cakes and this book on how to declutter my house.
It brought me joy.
Al Batt’s chronicles appear in the Tribune every Wednesday.