Catharsis: The prequel

There's a Buddhist thread to the book/movie Fight Club, this idea that if a person wants to truly break with his past, then he needs to leave behind everything that was part of that life.  While I certainly enjoyed the movie, I didn't plan to emulate it in any way, but that's what ended up happening.

Years before all the events of the "too much" series I posted earlier, I went though a time where I got rid of a lot of my material possessions, and surprisingly (to me), a lot of the baggage I didn't even know I was carrying.  See, my soon-to-be ex-wife and I split up.  I had a house to sell and, being in grad school at the time, I didn't expect to have a lot of money when it was all over.  I decided to pare down even more of my stuff.

I was planning to move into a smaller place, it made sense to start trying to get rid of things.  Everyone does this from time to time... especially when confronted with the prospect of having to physically carry their stuff and to find new ways of storing it.  The usual process is you pick up each possession and ask yourself, "Do I want this?"  That's the wrong way to go about things.  You want to know the better question to ask?  "Do I need this?"

Many of my childhood memories feature Star Wars toys.  Those weren't just a fixture of xmas mornings or birthday parties; they're an integral part of who I am.  I wouldn't be the person I am toy if I hadn't grown up in the wake of the "Saga."  Those chunks of plastic not only left in impression in my being, they also were treated like objects on loan from the Smithsonian when I was an adolescent onward.

See, my mom is undeniably OCD (Unless you are her; then you'll deny it).  She was careful to preserve those toys from the time I put them aside in the waning years of my childhood, and they stayed boxed up for many years afterward.  When I first bought a house with my ex, my parents said, "Hey, now that you have your own place, how about taking all your junk with you?"  Not only did I have almost the entire collection of Star Wars merchandise, but also a significant portion of the classic GI Joe series and huge chunks of other toy lines from the mid '70s to mid '80s.  And I now had to move them.

The realization I was carting around cardboard boxes started to gnaw at me.  You only move boxes to unpack them.  You don't move boxes to store them, and yet that's all I ever planned to do with these things for the foreseeable future.  Did I really need any of these toys?  I needed what they represented.  They were a piece of me.  And that was the trick to dealing with them.  I had internalized them such that their usefulness was effectively over.  Whatever I had gotten out of them was now removed from their physicality.  They held value as nostalgia pieces... and the going rate for nostalgia was pretty good on eBay.

Made of 100% Post-consumer Recycling

There's a funny thing that happens in our culture; kids grow up and are imprinted by the icons of their childhood and teen years.  It takes about twenty years for the psychic effects of this to manifest, but then is does in a big, big way.  Hollywood coasts on the crest of this ripple in time.

In the '70s, we were treated to the '50s all over again.  Granted, when you're a kid, you don't realize that you're watching Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley because some old fart at the tv studio has a bunch of writers telling him this show or that would be cool.  You end up listening to four-part harmonies with Electric Light Orchestra, and going to see Grease, American Graffiti, and Porky's at the movies.  It doesn't even dawn on you that all these properties are set approximately twenty years earlier, give or take.

Then by the time you're in high school in the late '80s, you're wearing tie-dye and listening to Hendrix.  Your friends have "discovered" LSD and black light posters.  Then it's the '90s and you're out of college, but they're jamming "That '70s show" down your throat and you have to listen to a disco revival and all things '70s all over again until the end of the decade when break dancing is supposed to be cool now.  Was it ever?

The Perfect Storm

If you want to know how much your childhood is worth, don't ask a psychologist; check on eBay.  I hadn't expected much for mine, but then I started selling my Transformers and Robotech toys.  They were the first to go on the auction block back before I even began the catharsis experiment I would later undertake.  I never really played with them very much as a kid and so compared to your average garage sale/thrift shop finds, they were in terrific condition.

The result?  I made a killing.  I wish I remember how much I sold everything for that I put up for auction, but I remember selling Optimus Prime for $150 and the SDF-1 for $125.  What is that?  An 800% profit?  Both of these went to the same guy.  Now, I have sold a lot of things on eBay as of this writing, but this one was unique in expressing the psychology of the transaction.  What would make someone pay that much for a couple hunks of plastic?  With the check (yes, I accepted checks back then; this was before the days of PayPal) was a note from the buyer thanking me for auctioning these toys.  He said he missed his from his childhood and had always wanted to have them back.

He didn't spell out the journey from then to now, but I think I can fill in the blanks.  Flashback to 1085: After he grew up watching Optimus battle Megatron and Rick Hunter dogfight Zentradi battle pods every afternoon when he got home from school, this little fella grew up and put away his toys.

Years went by after these one-time icons were boxed up.  Then he went to college, mom got a divorce, and moved in with the boyfriend.  She had a big garage sale followed by the inevitable white-flag trip to Goodwill with the left-overs.

Fast-forward a few more years.  He graduates, gets his first real job.  No kids (yet).  Disposable income!  His girlfriend will think it's childish of him, but he's earned the right to a little regression, right?  He gets on eBay, and it's a perfect storm.  It's also a feeding frenzy.  He's not the only one in the world with this combination of nostalgia and cash.  This hungry swarm of Gen X nerds start bidding against one another between rounds of playing Quake against their buds on the net, and ironically enough, eBay is the networked multi-player game where I make a killing.

Exodus, Books Too

With a target audience at this critical period in their lives, it was time for me to unload Obi-Wan, Cobra Commander, Q-Bert, and all my old friends.  Everything must go.  That meant all the comic books too.  Yes, a little over 3,000 of them I had amassed in bursts of collecting during junior high through college.  That started the ball rolling on the rest of my books as well.

If you think about it, books are just about the last thing you're going to hold onto.  If you've read it, you're done with it.  Get rid of it.  If you haven't read it by now, you aren't going to.  Get rid of it.  I have friends who re-read their books over and over, but I'm not that type.  I realized I was hanging onto this veritable fire-trap anyway.  What for?  As trophies?  Like the toys, I already internalized everything from them I was going to use.  I couldn't see lugging them around anymore.  I bundled them together by author, and sold the best stuff on-line, then took the rest around to the used bookstores that paid cash.

Other media was quick to follow this line of thinking.  I had already ripped or downloaded most of the good tracks from my cd collection.  At that point I had several hundred discs, but I had probably just as many hours of music (though from considerably more sources) on my hard drive thanks to Napster, and mp3s certainly took up a lot less space.  I figured, why not sell off the discs I never listened to anymore?  About half my collection went up for auction.  Maybe a year later I looked at the remaining half and realized I hadn't touched any of them in the preceding twelve months (and probably another twelve months before that in most cases!), so they were sold as well.

I couldn't bear to part with most of my guitars, but I had plenty of parts lying around from past upgrades, so all those junk pickups and pots and pickguards went on-line as well.  Then there were the stacks of sheet music books and guitar magazines (i.e., more sheet music).  Those went the way of the rest of the books I covered earlier.  Before long I didn't need nearly so many bookshelves.

Out of the closet

There's so much stuff you buy and never use.  It never even sees the light of day.  Go through your closet, and you'll see what I mean.  Well, certainly you're not going to go out in your fetish gear, but I'm talking about the other things.  You know, the band t-shirts that you would never wear again, like from U2's "experimental" era.  Not cool.  Not for another five to ten years anyway.  Of course, you wouldn't be cool wearing it.  Leave that to the kids who weren't even born yet when the tour was over.  A few of the "nostalgia" items (e.g, the band shirts) went on eBay along with the rest.  Goodwill got whatever was left over.

The most remarkable thing is that anything you try to sell on eBay, there's someone out there who will buy it.  For example, I'm a bit of a packrat, so I can't bring myself to throw things away, no matter what condition they're in or how useless they've become.  I had a bunch of AC adapters from old cordless telephones, answering machines, and other appliances I honestly don't even remember owning all jammed into boxes in the bottom of the closet.  I sold those.  I don't even know how or why, but someone wanted them.  Given enough time or luck, you can sell just about anything on eBay.

Shoe flies

Seriously, no matter how strange an auction I threw together, I managed to sell things.  For example, I had several pairs of Converse Chuck Taylors that were literally falling apart.  My mom would have killed me if she saw me in them on the street.  Dani was ready to choke me over them.  Throw them out, she said.  But I'm a cheapskate, so I figured, hey, if anyone buys these for $5, then I've made a little money off of them.  When you're selling loads of junk on eBay, you're already going to make several trips to the PO, so what's another box?

I listed three pairs of these wretched shoes in the same auction, and was sure to say that they were a few laps around the track shy of completely destroyed.  I didn't want someone thinking they were even remotely wearable.  I explained that the soles were coming off the bottoms and they were full of holes.  In fact, there was little else to them but laces and stitches in the patches of canvas that remained.  Most of the rivets had even fallen out.  But any money is better than none, so I started the bidding at $5.

The auction closed at just under $90 for the three pairs.  I don't think I paid much more than that for the lot of them brand new.  That meant there was someone out there willing to pay $89 dollars who was bidding against the other guy.  Dani said, hey, as long as I had no problem with whatever this foot freak did with my old shoes, then why should she care.  We took the money and ran.

Picture this

By the end of the eBay phase, the only thing left were the hundreds of photos of items I posted for auction.  That's kind of all you need, isn't it?  If you can remember it, that's just about as useful as most of these things will ever be.  If I get nostalgic, I can just look at a picture rather than digging in the attic or through stacks of boxes in my garage.  As with the mp3s, I like collections that don't take up any space.

Burning calories and more

Of course, I didn't try to sell absolutely everything on eBay.  Some things just aren't worth the time and trouble.  I guess if I would have used my (for decoration only) fireplace, I could have burned a lot of the leftovers, but I didn't.  However, my now-absent former spouse hadn't taken with her any of the dozens of candles she had bought over the years.  When winter came along, I suddenly turned into a micro-pyromaniac.  I had candles burning constantly.  It looked like the set of "Phantom of the Opera" or a Zalman King movie.  I was responsible for more CO2 emissions than Mexico, but I got two things out of it: 1) I didn't have to run my heater as much and 2) I didn't have any candles left when I moved.

Yeah, speaking of burning things, the kitchen was another problem area.  Here's something I'll bet you do: You go to the grocery store on an empty stomach, you look around and say, "You know, I've never had that before.  I bet it would be fun to make."  And then it just sits in your freezer/cupboard/pantry until you die and they finally clean out your house.  Well, I'm guilty of that too.  I had loads of boxes of Hamburger Helper-type things.  I don't even know what all they were.  You had to add meat and a pack of seasoning to whatever it was and (worse yet) read directions.  Sure, I had no idea how long most of that stuff sat around, but I was determined to be rid of it, so I was going to eat it.  Oh, and everything in the fridge and the freezer too.

It wouldn't seem like this would be a great diet plan if you were to say, "I'm going to eat every last thing in my house," but just wait until you get past that surface layer of the foods you really like.  Surface layer?  Yeah, those few items you buy every time you run out of them.  They always go right to the front of the cabinet.  When you're out of them, you go to the grocery and get some more.  I mean, you aren't going to eat that Cream of Broccoli or those cans of beets in the back, are you?  Ugh.

By the time you're down to those, you aren't going to eat anything.  Nothing to eat would be better than those.  I don't know how much weight I lost doing this, but I probably went for two months without buying anything except bread and milk.  And when it was over, the cabinets were empty, there was nothing in the fridge except condiments, and I had enough room in my freezer for a body, so I didn't have to buy a second one like your typical serial killer does.


A lot of our identities are tied up in our belongings.  Like Tyler says in Fight Club: "The things you own, own you."  Possessions limit not just our physical mobility, but that of our psyche as well.  I am still growing and getting rid of things both material and mental, and those things are tied together somewhat, but nothing compares to that time in my life where I got rid of so much junk.  Odds are, you have a load of psychic ballast in your life as well, so I'm going to turn the cliche on its head and say that you won't know what you're missing until it's gone.

Copyright 2007 Alexplorer.
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