Friday, July 27, 2007


Over the last few days, I've been down with a severe bout of Paraphernalegia [1]. Paraphernalegia, for those of you who don't regularly read the BMJ, is the scientific name for the feeling of total paralysis you get when you have to shift to a new house and realize just how much junk you've managed to accumulate.

It's an affliction that hits me particularly hard, because I've always fancied myself something of a closet Thoreau. "Who needs possessions? They just end up possessing you!", I say in my sternest, most puritan voice every time I come across something that I like but can't afford (which, given my stipend, is anything that costs over a nickel). On my more suffocated days I'll picture myself packing everything I own into a large backpack and heading out to the horizon.

So it's a particularly nasty shock to discover that despite my disdain for material property I now own enough 'stuff' to fill a roomful of cartons and require five round trips by two strong men (well, one strong man and one anemic weakling - me) to move. Anytime I decide to ride away into the sunset, it's going to have to be in a jumbo-sized U-haul truck.

The main culprit, of course, is my book collection. It's insane how those occasional Amazon orders, those one or two extra books you buy so you can get the total over $ 25 and get free shipping, add up to something that looks like the contents of the fabled library at Alexandria. Add to that the two suitcases full of CDs [2], and you've already covered about 60% of all the stuff I own.

What's amazing though, is the junk that makes up the other 40%. I have, it turns out, eight empty storage containers just waiting for the day when I'll have 'something' to put in them; I have six towels which, given that there's exactly one of me, means I have five too many, unless I join the swim team, become a male stripper with a routine heavy on bath linen (the dance of the six towels, or something like that) or magically turn into Lisa Ray; I have, or had, a carton of sugar that hadn't been opened since 2004 since I never take sugar in anything; I have an iron that I haven't used in two years; I have a cheese-grater; I have three different kinds of laundry bleach, four varieties of shrink wrap and coffee filters in every available size; I even have (god alone knows why) a fillet knife! How did this happen?

My personal theory is that all this accumulation of odds and ends is the way empires and wars get started. Imagine you're an old Roman family and decide to shift to a new villa. Maybe the aqueduct in the old villa leaks, maybe after 150 years of noble generations living there, the sewage tank is overflowing. In any case, you go down to the basement to plan the move, and realize you've got way too much stuff down there and are going to need more slaves than you can afford. Now the smart thing to do at this point would be to throw away all your used amphoras, your decorative shields, your marble busts with one arm missing, and just make a fresh start. But, of course, you never do this [3]. Instead, you figure you'll just invade a neighboring city and conscript the entire male population into helping you shift. At this point you're not thinking Summer campaign or anything - at this point you're thinking a quick day trip to the nearest non-Roman province and the sacking of a small township or two.

The catch in the plan, of course, is that the campaigns don't just get you slaves, they also get you loot, i.e. more junk to carry around with you when you move. In fact, since it seems a shame to have the newly acquired slaves march back to your place without loading them down with as much plunder as they can carry, you get extra junk exactly proportional to the number of extra slaves you get - more if some of the slaves die on the way and you don't want to leave your spoils behind. Of course, this means that you now need more slaves to carry the extra stuff you've acquired. What you've got yourself here (as the wizened old mechanic said to Rasmussen) is a vicious cycle. Before you know it you've moved from enslaving a few people to enslaving a few Peoples. You've subdued Carthage and Libya and brought the Goths and the Gauls under your control, but you still haven't got enough slaves to move that settee in the living room. Then you meet Cleopatra, realize that the chair she sits in like a burnished throne would be just the thing for your parlor, and before you can say 'veni vidi subscribi' (I came, I saw, I signed the lease) it's Edward Gibbon time and you've turned into a decadent and tyrannical race and people are making inane faux-epics about you starring (of all pieces of exquisite furniture) Aishwarya Rai.

So the next time you're moving and have to decide whether to throw away your precious collection of old magazines or take it with you, remember you could be setting off the next imperialist wave if you make the wrong choice. That should put those nice pictures in the National Geographic that (let's face it) you haven't looked at in the last 10 years in perspective.


[1] Which explains why I've been absent from the blogosphere for the last 48 hours. Not that any of you will have noticed. Hrrrmph!

[2] It says a lot about my priorities that my CDs travel in a suitcase, carefully padded with styrofoam (this despite the fact that the bulk of them are in CD albums anyway) while my clothes get shoved into a couple of large trash bags.

[3] To be fair, the whole idea behind all those orgies the Romans had was to help them get rid of some of their junk. Tiberius' whole plan was that if you threw enough parties, sooner or later all the stuff in your house would get broken or stolen, and then you'd be able to move in peace. It was a good plan while it lasted, but then Claudius got sentimental and decreed that even broken things would be kept and Caligula introduced the custom of guests bringing presents, so that in the end the whole orgy thing ended up making the accumulation worse.


Anonymous said...

oh we noticed alrite and have to admit 6 towels and a falstaff sounds like an enticing idea, lol happy moving.

Anonymous said...

You talking about moving house! That happens to me when I have clean my closet!

Hm, slaves and imperialistic conquests, did you say? Now, why didn't I think of that before..?


Tabula Rasa said...

you should layer your cds with clothes. better for the environment.

and count yourself lucky you're not an experimenter type, forced to wheel twenty cartons of stimuli out from his cubicle.

Gammafunction said...

What you've got yourself here (as the wizened old mechanic said to Rasmussen) is a vicious cycle.ROTFL.In fact I moved out of my hostel and have managed to collect articles like empty Rayban cases, unusable razor cartridges,unused notebooks,pen refills ,pens-without-refills and empty deodorant cans(which say:do not dispose in trash).

in fact my mom's solution to dispose of things is simple:
1.hold object in hand
2.if cannot think of use within 2 seconds-throw it in the trash
3.else argue about its un-usability and still throw in trash.

the black mamba said...

A towel (or 6 as the case maybe) is of prime importance.

...a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitch hiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have "lost". What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with.
More on this here.

But, eight empty storage containers, that is a bit much.

km said...

aren't you glad you are not living in the Vinyl age? Imagine two suitcases filled with those things.

Falstaff said...

anon: Be careful what you wish for. Seriously.

N: Ah, but my room is effectively an extra-large closet (and please, no jokes about coming out of the closet)

TR: True. Though I still hate to think of when I need to move out of my cubicle - just given the sheer volume of papers and books in there. Ah, well, hopefully that won't come up for at least another two years.

gammafunction: Ah, yes, yes, I've done the empty deo cans bit too (how the hell are you supposed to dispose of those things?) and still carry around a collection of pens that I keep on my desk which contain about 40% of pens that actually write. It's like one of those probability questions in high school - If you pull two pens from set A and one pen from set B what is the probability that you will end up with a pen that writes?

BM: :-). Ah, the Hitchhiker connection. Good stuff. Though, of course, you still need just one towel. i somehow doubt that any alien races will take you too seriously if you show up with half a dozen towels in two. Though now that I come to think of it, I could combine the dance of the six towels with some of my poetry and get a job as a go-go dancer on a Vogon space ship.

km: Yes, thank god. Frankly, even tapes would have been painful.

Preeti said...

Re footnote 2, I don't see why that's surprising, if you're protecting CDs that cost about $20 each vs. clothes that cost $6.99.

Anonymous said...

Nice try, Falsie, close but no cigar and all that. A nice, literary, longwinded, romantic, tedious explanation for what you really are - a rabid, materially striving, yuppiefied, truly firstworldian, dareievensayitAmerican, gas-guzzling, gigantic-environmental-footprint-leaving shameless consumerist. My jeans, your CDs, Imelda's shoes, quelle difference? Oh, Falseness, to find your Achilles heel. How have the mighty fallen indeed. (yes a wealth of cliches pours forth from me today).

Ah! Thoreau! A plague upon Thoreau!!! He is singlehandedly responsible for my throwing out important receipts, a bill to claim money on, some perfectly serviceable clothes and vast quantities of underwear. My very own Walden is summarized succintly: Never throw out underwear. Ever. It is the key to happiness and the meaning of life. Especially on a Sunday night when you are forced to do laundry.


Anonymous said...

It hadn't even crossed my mind! By now that you've mentioned it, I can't seem to get it out of my head. :-D


Falstaff said...

preeti: a) the CDs aren't worth $ 20 each because most of them were bought in clearance sales / second hand stores / special bargains / box sets - I'd estimate cost to be more like $8-$10 each. b) I don't see how this contradicts the point about priorities - if anything, the fact that I'm not one of those airheads who buy $100 jeans in the vain hope of looking sexy, but am willing to spend good money to own three alternate versions of Bach's Cello Suites only emphasizes the point more, no?

n!: My dear child, the whole point of civilization (which you sad, underwear-loving Americans are yet to discover) is to make the most blatant exploitation seem "nice, literary and romantic". I am not a yuppified whatchamaycallit consumerist because I undertake my material pursuits with charm, self-deprecating humor and a studied indifference that shades into embarrassment. This makes me practically a Frenchman.

Gee said...

Also, you can suck at the corner of the towel if you are hungry alone somewhere in the galaxy.

rs said...

yes we had noticed...
but the return more than compensated for the absence.
but how did YOU move all that junk?