Wednesday, August 15, 2012

What Owns Me?

I moved again last month—the fifth time in two years—and it got me thinking about ownership and what it means to own things and the way ownership confers both status and responsibility.

With all that moving around, I don’t own very much right now. About a year ago, as I planned for this most recent relocation, I sold off all the furniture I had taken years to accumulate and packed the rest of my belongings into storage. I felt as if I’d been cut loose from something that anchored me in place. Since then I’ve lived in furnished accommodations—hotels, sublets, shares. The few personal items I wanted to use—toiletries, clothing, utensils—moved with me in several medium-sized plastic containers that I could manage myself.
The fact that I have a storage unit baffles me. What, I frequently ask myself, is in there? And why do I need to hang on to it? I know a part of the answer: a lot of papers—I’m a writer and I like to keep what I’ve written. It’s not replaceable. And books and records and souvenirs—even a box of rocks and shells and geodes—that I’ve accumulated. The reality is that I could probably leave it all behind and my life would not be significantly different.

So then, why do I own these things—the ones I keep and the ones I store—and what does it mean to own them?