It’s not clutter, it’s “archiving.” Ha.
I just wanted to give credit for “Liquidity is the new luxury” to Tim Shey, a much more articulate person than me! He mentioned it at dinner last week when I described how much better it feels to spend money on food or travel than on things that clutter and distract from the wonderful people in my life.
I suppose I should comment on this. If you’ve ever been to my house, you know I have a lot of stuff:
Now, I don’t come from wealth, so maybe I’m just used to this supposed calm that not having much stuff brings, but I honestly can say that I don’t feel particularly cluttered in the head or in my relationships because of my stuff.
I should also say, though, that I believe there are three sorts of things being talked about when we talk about “materialism” and “stuff” and “junk.”
First, there is raw, unadulterated consumerism. Just buying more shit you think you need but you don’t, because, well, society tells you that you need it.
Next, there is what economists would call the “marginal utlity” approach to having more stuff. For example, if you have a vacuum cleaner that’s pretty good, but having a second, specialized vacuum cleaner for hard wood or nooks and crannies or keyboards might make things SLIGHTLY easier, then, well, you need it. I’m not terrible about this, but I definitely fall prey to it from time to time (as I noticed last night, when I found myself musing about how awesome it would be when the iPhone comes to Verizon so I can have two). This is how Imelda Marcos ended up with all those shoes, or why giant knife blocks exist.
Then there is the third path to having “too much stuff,” which I actually find sort of noble, and is the source of the vast majority of my stuff: historical archiving. Saving things for posterity. If you’ve ever crawled through your grandparent’s attic and found some treasure, you know why this can be worthwhile. We don’t know the things the future will find useful, though it’s fun to guess. And in this very specific, one-time period where the world moves from Analog to Digital, there is a lot of risk of source documents being lost (I have been writing extensively on the digital side of this for over five years, but I’ll leave that aside for now).
So, yes. I keep a lot of stuff. Do I need it? No. Does it take up a lot of my life to save all those weird buttons and tchotchkes and 8-tracks and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Bobbleheads and rare books and hotel room plastic keys and Moo cards and matchbooks and antique vibrating massagers and LP records and CDs and Care Bears and photos? Not really any more than any other hobby. Does it take up a lot of space? Yeah, I suppose, though I’m still fitting it all in a (adittedly large) NY apartment. I don’t need a barn or anything. Do I actually believe that some day someone will care about this stuff? Well, not all of it, no, but you never can predict which items will be interesting to someone else in the future. Recently I snapped a photo of a mildly interesting 8-track tape I own, and it blew up in the synthesizer blog community. My old roomate Jussi and I used to collect the Care Bears on a lark while we went thrift shopping, and bought them for a buck or two each because we remembered them from our childhood. Now they’re inexplicably worth hundreds. I don’t do it for the actual value, since I never sell the stuff, but clearly someone is hoping these things be preserved.
ANYWAY, I always feel mildly uncomfortable during these conversations, because I don’t consider myself particularly materialistic or in need of things to elevate my self worth, but i do very much think there is something - dare I say it - noble in saving the things that mainstream society does not YET think it cares about. There will come a day when someone cares about the original scan with the original metadata of that first lolcat, or the original NIB release of the Apple // version of Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, complete with “Don’t Panic” button. Okay, maybe not those two, but SOMETHING. The more you save, the better your chance of playing some part in preserving some mall, ridiculous slice of history and humanity.