Every thing we own has a story

Why it’s so hard to get rid of things…

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#572: license plate

The biggest reason that it’s so hard to get rid of things is because every thing we own has a story to tell.  These stories vary wildly, and some are much more compelling than others, but each story forms the basis for an attachment to that thing.

Some of these stories that keep us attached to our things have to do with past uses of the objects themselves, others more to do with the memories they evoke.  Indeed, many of the things we own have such compelling stories that the stories themselves take on lives of their own.  Case in point: my old license plates (#570-579; also see pic above), which I recycled very reluctantly at first, because putting them in the metal recycling bin transported me on a flood of memories with each one — memories of the car the plate was on, memories of living in that place at that time, memories of love and marriage and fun weekend excursions and of lives past, my own and others.  In fact, the only way I could get rid of the license plates was to take pictures of them and to tell myself that the pictures would evoke the memories just as powerfully as the actual metal objects did.  (This technique served me well on many occasions, as will also be described in future stories.)

I also balked briefly about getting rid of the plates thanks to the idea that they could be put to some creative use; I imagined my license plates on a bar wall or maybe a mailbox (one of the LittleFreeLibrary structures in my town is decorated with license plates) or something like that. Then the cliche moment passed, and I realized that the pictures were good enough; my license plates did not require a physical future in their present form.

The power of each thing’s story also depends on our degree of mindfulness about it. It might not be much of a story if I throw away a battery, for example — unless I start caring about the possible effect of that battery on our environment. The county government says it’s OK to throw out old batteries in the trash, but other groups disagree.  How much should I care? What should I do? Whatever the decision, my experience was that being mindful about things almost inevitably led to discovering, or creating, a story about that thing, even if it was a small story. For instance:

– Alkaline batteries got saved for years — lots of them — until I found a place to recycle them: in this case, Mom’s Organic Market in College Park, which is not near my house but is conveniently located near REI, so I dropped the bag off (#1047*) during a visit to REI to buy a bicycle rack to replace the one which was recently stolen off my front porch. In the process, I discovered a new grocery store to shop in whenever I’m in the area; I bought a few interesting food items like Gardenburgers, which I haven’t had in years (pretty good actually, a lot better than expected); I felt a bit virtuous and glad to have found a place to take care of those batteries responsibly. (Longer story.)
– I uncovered a single stray battery somewhere soon after that; I wasn’t ready to start a new collection of old batteries, and I just didn’t want to deal with it at that moment.  My county government says it’s OK to throw out old batteries in the trash, so I tossed it (#1093*). A bit more thoughtless, but everyone has their limits. (Short story.)

Not all of the stories are particularly interesting either, but interest isn’t the only form of attachment.  For instance, the story of a battery charger (#860) that I recycled at the county dump wasn’t that interesting a story — I bought a battery charger a long time ago (maybe 10 years? 12 years?), and I used it for awhile during a period when I tried to be environmentally responsible by using only rechargeable batteries. It worked for awhile until I was overwhelmed by the voracious appetite for batteries in our household during the Game Boy-driven, digital camera and other electronic device-crazed early teen years. Eventually, I decided that battery use was going to have to fall in my environmental deficit column for awhile, even after the deluge of battery demand subsided in my son’s later teen years. Still, I held onto to the battery charger for years of non-use because I thought I might use it again Some Day. Eventually, I decided that maybe someone else would be more likely to use it and that it was time to get rid of that attachment. I can always buy another one if I decide to get serious about using only rechargeable batteries again. Hmmm — maybe there’s more of a story there than I realized.

Many of the things in the 1000 things project have far more interesting stories to tell, of course, and I’ll be telling many of them in future posts…

*Technically, the batteries belong in the “2nd 1000 things” project (currently underway), but they fit the narrative, so I’m gonna go ahead and confuse things a little for now.


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