Mandan News

Brian L. Gray: Spring cleaning in the fall

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I was looking through my record collection, astounded at what I was looking at. Did I seriously claim this stuff as my own? I cherished my records, but I had no excuse for some of the albums that were in my collection.

In my hands were some of the most ridiculous records I’d ever seen. Records like an exercise album by Richard Simmons, called “Reach,” where he starts off the record by telling me that I’m fat and worthless, and I need to do something about it. Then he launches into several nonstop high energy songs about getting me to feel better about myself. This barrage continues on until the end of side B, where he suddenly changes tempo and closes the album out with a sentimental ballad about how special I am and how much I could accomplish in life, which could be sentimental if I wasn’t laughing so hard at it.

Then there was another record that teaches me how to do the Hustle, a popular disco dance, which contains a foldout step-by-step dance guide you place on the floor and follow the foot-sized diagrams on the sheet.

I had another record by televangelist Jerry Falwell, entitled “The End – Is It Near?” His album was recorded in the early ’70s – I think the answer he was looking for is “No.”

Then there was “Tom Jones, Live at Caesar’s Palace.” Inside the sleeve of this record was a souvenir booklet someone had purchased at an actual Vegas concert of Jones’, which contains roughly 80 pages of him at home, with family, backstage, smiling proudly with his band, his crew, his fans. The photos reveal the multiple myriads of his life. The only consistent thing about them is that he is shirtless in just about every one of them.

Chances are each one of these records, among way too many others, were purchased simply because of my need for novelty. But novelties wear off – why had these records remained in my collection for so long, I asked myself, as I tossed them into my pile of stuff to get rid of.

I was in the midst of throwing out a lot of my things. In the last year I’d been determining my emotional bond to the things I’d gathered over the years, and asking myself if I could move on in life without them.

Everything from books, towels, hats, candleholders, mugs, I was assessing all my possessions, and measuring their worth to me and my future. If I thought they weren’t important enough to me, I let them go.

In a way, this entire process is like saying goodbye to a close friend. Over time I’ve become attached to these inanimate objects, and after a while I think your possessions become an extension of yourself. It’s hard to detach from them, but all I have to realize is that in the end, the only thing that goes with me is my best suit and a box that I’ve never slept in before.

And after all, it’s only stuff, man.

There’s this Eastern philosophy that says, which I am quoting from a fortune cookie, when you’re born you begin life as an empty vessel, waiting to be filled. Eventually that vessel fills up and nothing more can go in, so in order to let something new in, you need to take something out. Maybe I was born with a tiny vessel, or maybe I’ve hit that point where it’s time to ask what I think is important in my life, in order to allow new stuff to enter. If that means letting go of inessential stuff of mine, so be it.

Doing this makes me feel nomadic, and there’s a certain je ne sais quoi about it all. Sure, I would like to keep my things around, and I’d also like to slow down and settle down, buy a house, stash my lesser used things into an attic or garage, nestle my way into a state of balance and comfort in life. Who wouldn’t? But that’s not where I am these days.

The positive side to throwing out extensions of yourself, I’ve realized, is that breaking your stuff down to a minimum frees you up in a way. It feels like a weight is lifted, and it opens you up to more vital things in life. And that’s exactly what makes throwing things away so wonderful – letting go of the inessential things in life gives me a larger capacity to better appreciate the things in my life that truly do matter.

And I think it’s healthy to let go of physical possessions. My sister, Steph, and I cleaned out our parents’ garage a few years ago, something they hadn’t done since moving there four years earlier. Their double garage was filled to the brim with boxes in many areas, and there was no semblance of order or effort. We threw out possessions that were no longer relevant to our parents’, or our, lives. After all, half the junk in the garage belonged to us kids.

Steph and I discovered a way to feel relief in throwing away things and still feel like we weren’t abandoning them at the same time – before we threw away some of the more memorable stuff, we took photos of them. That way we had a lasting impression of them, and also had more room in the garage at the same time. It worked great.

Sometimes, though, I don’t think you need photos. Years later, I haven’t had to look at those photos my sister and I took at all.

Even as I took my bags of stuff out to my car and drove to the thrift store, I knew these things would remain an extension of myself.

The moments I’ve had with them will continue to resonate and occasionally uplift me, whether they’re around or not. And I know this because I can still hear Richard Simmons singing into my ear that I’m a special person.