Some years back, I played in band. All of us except the crazy drummer lived together. Our saxophonist was Ron Martina, a picturesque fellow who at five feet tall had shoulders and chest fit for a six-footer. His black hair and beard approached waist length. He and our flutist lived in a converted milk truck they parked under the pepper tree.
I think of Ron as a minimalist. While he passed through the living room, or brought in the mail, or attempted to find a certain wrench in the garage, his favorite mantra was, “Tons and tons of junk.”
I still frequently use that line, even though I keep acquiring more and more. But these past few months, an impulse to give stuff away has possessed me. Maybe it’s prompted by the fact that Zoe, almost certainly the last child I will raise, is only a few years away from college, at which point I may very well need to sell everything and move into a tent or cave to afford her tuition.
But I suspect there’s more to my divestiture impulse than concerns about the future. Giving stuff away simply feels good. Once I was assigned to write a magazine article on Mother Teresa’s people in Tijuana. I was helping them with a food distribution when I caught myself feeling deeply blessed, even though it wasn’t my food that I gave and the magazine would pay me well.
Twist Phelan, a fine writer, recently got married, and when she and her husband pooled their possessions, they gave away about half of the stuff, including a valuable car. I’ll bet that felt good.
But most every time I release a possession I wonder what my mom was thinking when she ridded her home of my baseball card collection and the caricature Bob Clampett, a neighbor of my aunt Florence, drew of little me with his creations Beanie and Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent. The moral: only give away your own stuff.
Still, my fervent hope is that the fewer items I’m surrounded by and to some degree responsible for, the more freely my mind will wander in fruitful directions. Who knows, maybe my very best stories are awaiting my descent into the cave.