I have no desire to go inside. I can sense the smell, a mixture of funeral parlor and the powdery perfume of an old lady. Antique Malls have a way of selling decay. These items are what generally remains of people’s lives, long dead. Estates cleared out. Yet the musty residue lingers, and I can picture the dust billowing up around me if I were to sit on the furniture with any enthusiasm. How many sets of shoes have already walked across these faded, disintegrating rugs with frayed fringe?
I have not made it through adulthood immune ‘to antiquing,’ though. To strip and sand furniture, to repurpose or refurbish some old thing to shiny and new again is a meditative task; and bringing any inanimate object back to life has its reward. Some art, for instance, has spoken to me -screamed down from the top of a staircase at an estate sell. And I purchased it without hesitation. I am not a proponent of such drastic minimalism that we must live on a blank canvas, nor do I advocate the monk life of few possessions. But too much stuff feels suffocating and chaotic. I’m an orderly sort. There’s a practicality to it as well. Fewer items mean less to clean, and dust off, or sort out and arrange. Not having children makes this easier, as kids and the rearing of them seems to accumulate the most goods within a household over time. To be living is to be accumulating, though.
I grew up around a mother who acquired willy-nilly, a grandmother who enjoyed auctions and estate sells, an aunt who has traveled the world and gathered-on-the-go. I remember sitting in the passenger seat of my grandmother’s car when I was eight years old, driving around on the weekends to garage sale and scour. I also matter-of-factly recall stating how I was the one who was ‘going to have to deal with all of this stuff one day!’ I sensed the encroaching burden. ‘You’ll love these items when you’re an adult,’ both my mother and grandmother would reply. ‘I will put this out to the curb,’ I’d hear myself think. Whether or not this junk was a steal or valuable, I already knew I didn’t want it.
I consider all this in the context of what we leave behind. What of our belongings will be gone through, saved, sold, passed on, or discarded? I also consider how we use these things to tell a story about ourselves. All are inanimate, yet there is a hierarchy of value, and this value is entirely based on the story we’ve told ourselves about them. A family heirloom garners more reverence than a travel trinket, but the bulk of all we own is used to express our personality, show our sentiments and tell a story; how we signal through decoration, styling, and projecting status with our purchases.
This current NFT thing is a trip, because it’s entirely based on story. A group has collectively agreed to value an (often times) intangible thing. It all sounds like child’s play still, but the path has been cleared, so there’s an inevitability. This is not terribly unlike the stock market. In order for an ever-growing, multi-billions population to keep accumulating, the transfer of our goods and items into the cloud seems right. Physical space is freed up. Lord knows, I’d have twenty fewer boxes to move if my books were all on kindle or audible. There’s a practicality to the unhindered approach to living. I don’t see the younger generations too keen on the consumption society, too. All of the weathered wooden furniture will be part of a bygone era. Recyclable goods that are easily mass-assembled or deconstructed make for ease of transition and growth. The world is going vertical. How much longer will the stuff of antique malls be desired? After so many reiterations, it becomes junk. I love luxury goods, collectors items, and valuable art. Many things are worth passing on. I simply think it’s worth taking inventory of our belongings once in a while in the context of how much we truly value them.
In some ways I am as unsentimental as my mother claimed me to be. Now that I’ve moved a few times and feel the physical weight of stuff each time, I like liquidating. Out of exasperation, I’ve seen myself donate with a vengeance. I know emotionally, some of the things we keep hold of begin to hold us back. It’s the memory and the story attached to it. What of the past is worth carrying into the future? When my mother was ever in a mode of giving away, she would say, ‘It’s time to let someone else love this.’ And other people do, and will. Yet certain things can only be recycled and called vintage so many times before it ends up in a trash heap. There’s not enough space for all the trash heaps. The cloud is certainly the future for some of our treasures.