My wife is getting ready for the annual townwide yard sale, which means mooching around in a hot attic where we collect all the things that we dont have room for in the rest of the house.
They are possessions with some usefulness left in them but not quite enough to keep around and too much to just throw away. But I think if we could build a bonfire in the attic, she would be happy to throw all of our clutter into it.
Simplify, simplify, Thoreau advised us, and, It is preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else, that prevents us from living freely and nobly.
When I was in my twenties, I thought nothing of loading all of my possessions into the back of my second-hand Mercury Montego and setting off into the West. I had some books and a duffel bag of clothes, and if I was not living nobly, at least I was living freely.
Somewhere out on the plains of Texas on a long highway under the moon, I drifted into a reverie imagining my life as I should live it. I dreamed I would live in a little cabin near the water where I could sail a small skiff every morning on the flat Gulf of Mexico before going off to some job that paid enough to get by on. Or I would go back to the home where I had grown up in south Florida and plant orange trees like my grandfather had done when I was a young boy.
In those days I wanted to simplify my life and complicate my mind. The two things seemed to go together. A rich interior life was the complement of a monastic stripping away of nonessentials, and especially of all the nonessential possessions. Like the young Burmese dissident, who released from 10 years in a prison cell into the workaday world felt nostalgic for his life of reading and contemplation, the more I had the less free I felt.
It must be 20 years now since we moved into this old house and began to slowly fill the attic with our debris. Old picture frames and baby clothes, the childs gate and the bookcase with a wobbly base. Old computers and the manuals we once needed to make them operate. Books, some of them rain damaged, in boxes against the wall. Once it has gone to the attic, there is little chance it will ever come down again.
Oh, my wife found a few things with a useful second life for someone, and we carried them down to the church for their sale. Someone is always coming along who could use a childs gate to keep their toddler from tumbling down the stairs. And there is always someone handier than I, who can take the wobble out of a bookcase and put it to good use. But if a tornado were to come along and suck the rest of the stuff out into oblivion, we would be none the sadder.
Those are probably not the kinds of possessions Thoreau was going on about. Since his days, the amount of distracting stuff we all own has grown by exponential leaps and bounds.
We are tethered by electronic chains to our distractions, including the one on which Im typing these words.
Simply, simplify, he cried, and took off to the woods and the pond. How rich we would be if we could follow him there.
Walt Mills can be reached at email@example.com or at P.O. Box 174, Spring Mills, PA 16875.