The Stuff of Life

As I was cleaning out my closets this week I came across a plastic Nalgene flask. It’s roughly 10 years old so it’s more than possible the plastic it’s made out of is the kind that will slowly poison us. Probably not as much as the liquor it’s made to hold, but whatever.
The flask is clear plastic with a thick, blue, plastic sheath and cap to match. I picked it up, slid it in and out of the sheath mindlessly, sat it down, and kept digging through my closet. I found clothes that didn’t fit or that I didn’t like anymore, old shoes I should have parted ways with years ago, and bracelets that I had bought seven of when one would have sufficed.
“So much stuff,” I kept thinking, “When did I get so much stuff?” The answer is simple: over time, as I was living my life. I recently bought The Year of Less, by Cait Flanders but I haven’t read it yet. It’s on my list and judging by the state of my closet, it shouldn’t just be on my list, it should be at the top of my list. (And no, the irony of having bought a book about how to buy less is not lost on me.)
I placed my old shoes in the garbage bag designated for trash and the clothes and jewelry in a bag to donate. I wasn’t ready to part with the flask so I carried it to the basement. I placed it on a shelf, next to my tent and sleeping bag, so it would be ready for my next camping trip.
Staring at the shelf with my camping gear forced me to think realistically. Would I ever go camping again? Did I want to go camping again? Or was I holding on to the flask and the rest of my gear simply because of nostalgia? I never loved camping. I liked it. I tolerated it so I could spend a weekend in nature with my friends, even though that meant a weekend of poor sleep and peeing in the woods.
I picked up the flask again and fiddled with the plastic sheath. I purchased the flask from a friend who worked in a second hand outdoor goods shop. When I was bored I would stop by the store, chat him up, and buy something small. The memories of our friendship and the experiences we shared all flooded back to me.
I don’t actually care about the flask. In fact, truth be told, I haven’t even ever used it. However, it represents a time in my life that is over, gone, done and I’m not ready to part with it yet. So, the flask will remain in my basement for a little longer, until I’m ready to move on.
When I moved into my house recently I made sure to pack the few things I really cared about into a box that would fit in the passenger seat of my car. In the box was a small, marble statue I took from my grandparent’s collection after their passing, a painting of my mother when she was five, and a mug I was particularly attached to for no other reason that I just really liked it.
At the end of the day there isn’t much actual, tangible, stuff I care about. There are a lot of things I enjoy in my life, pillows and blankets and candles, for three. But there aren’t many things I would be sad to lose. For me, it’s not about the stuff or the things. It’s about what they remind me of and the places they take me back to, if only for a moment.
Letting go of the person I was and the life I had can be hard. Not because there is anything wrong with who I am or my life now, but because there is, without debate, no going back. So, while the flask is just a piece of questionable plastic designed to hold a beverage that could lead to questionable things, it also holds a piece of me.


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