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Possessive Possessions


My friend Terry lives just a little bit farther away than a friend should. From my home here in the western outskirts of Tokyo, it takes just about two hours by train to reach his place down at the south end of Yokohama. That's a four hour round trip, making 'drop in' visits out of the question, and leaving only weekends for getting together. and as his company is very busy, with many of the employees working not only Saturdays but sometimes even on Sundays, we just don't manage to get together very often.

So we talk on the phone now and then, and we send each other packages, usually including things like magazines we have received from overseas, newspaper clippings or books we think each other might find worth reading, and sometimes even a CD or two of interesting new music we have discovered. And occasionally, but only occasionally, we manage to actually get together, usually on a weekend, when he steals a bit of time from his company and comes over to visit and see my two girls, who consider him 'Uncle Terry'. (It's just as well that these visits are relatively infrequent, as we inevitably stay up chatting until five in the morning or so. This doesn't bother me too much, because there's no time clock in my workshop for 'punching in', but it leaves him in no shape for returning to work on the Monday!)

I did get a chance to see him just last week though, and among the other things we talked about, he apologized for not remembering to return one of the CD's I had sent to him a while ago. As I knew he had enjoyed that music very much, I shrugged this off, saying that he should just keep it, and I would pick up another one for myself later. I was just happy that I had finally been able to recommend something that he had really liked. But what he said next surprised me a little. He added that he had learned the music quite well, and just didn't want to keep the actual disc itself around his house. Quite a pile of CD's and other things was starting to accumulate, and this was bothering him.

I knew what he meant. He was at a stage where he was starting to find that his possessions were getting the better of him, and weighing him down. I have had this feeling many times, and can understand his desire not to add even one more little CD to the growing heap of 'things' that surrounds him. Taken one by one, all these possessions of ours seem 'normal' and needed: that pair of trousers, those dishes, this umbrella, that bedding in the closet, this book we enjoyed, the refrigerator, that bicycle ... the list goes on ... and on ... and on. Each item a simple accessory for living, but taken all together ... what a monstrous pile they make!

It becomes especially apparent, and even painful, when we move house. Load after load goes out to the truck, filling it to the top, and still the endless stream keeps coming. However did we get that much stuff! Where does it all come from?

For many of us, those times when we move house are a wonderful opportunity to get rid of a great deal of the overload. Out it goes, and one steps into the new home with a feeling of starting afresh. For me especially, when I came to Japan eight years ago, this feeling was very strong. We arrived to start our new life with only two small backpacks (and one of those was half full of diapers!). Our apartment seemed huge ... great echoing empty spaces. It was truly wonderful. But now, what has happened? There's junk everywhere around us, and I feel like I can hardly move sometimes. Actually, I exaggerate a little. We do have a lot of stuff, but nothing like the collection most of our neighbours have accumulated. In some of their homes, you can literally not even see the walls. One couple living upstairs from us moved out recently, and they filled three good-sized moving vans, all from a tiny 3LDK just the same size as ours. And this was a young couple - not a family.

Because I am aware of how easily this 'pressure of possessions' builds up bit by bit so sneakily, I am always trying to fight it. Before I make any purchase for our home, I ask, "Is this an object that we really do need, and will make regular use of?" If I can't answer in the affirmative, then my wallet stays in my pocket, even though my daughters may mount vocal opposition. When buying food or other consumables of course, this is not a factor. These things come in, are used, and disappear quickly. Clothing is also not a problem for us. Himi and Fumi each have a strictly limited space for keeping clothes, and before we go shopping for new ones, they must first discard some older ones. Of course, as they are growing so rapidly, even slightly old clothes are useless, and are either thrown out, or passed on to friends, depending on the condition. Later on, when their growth rate slows down somewhat, and they wish to keep favorite clothes for a longer time span, I might have a bit of a problem on my hands ...

One area that is definitely a problem for us, is books. After reading a book I make an immediate decision - to keep it or to get rid of it, but unfortunately, the 'keep' pile always seems to include about 90% of the books. The 'discard' pile is always so small that I never seem to get around to carrying them down to the used bookshop. As a result of this, the books are starting to take over our apartment, little stacks of them springing up in odd corners here and there. But books are special, I tell myself. You can never have too many books. And the idea of throwing out all these old friends, who have brought so much pleasure ... No way! And as my daughters well know how I feel about books, it's next to impossible to even talk to them about cutting down on their bookshelf space ...

All in all though, I don't feel we are doing too badly. Yes, we have a lot of stuff in this apartment. But no, we don't really have a lot of unnecessary 'junk'. Just the normal complement of household goods, permitting a basic standard of living. We plan our purchases carefully, and try and use common sense.

I haven't been in Terry's apartment recently, so I don't really know if he actually has a problem or not, but if I were him, I wouldn't worry about it. After all, in a couple of years or so, he'll probably be getting married anyway, and his new wife is going to throw out all his old stuff!