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
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!