Saturday, January 23, 2010

To Do or to Have

I was inspired by Margaret who wrote a very moving post, inspired by another post titled: “Are you a stuff junkie or an experience junkie?” I loved her take on the importance of catching experience in photos.

So I have been thinking all afternoon about my desires for tangibles and intangibles and whether I am a “stuff” or “experience” person at my core.

It is actually a fairly complicated question, not really as far as where I fall, but in general. I love how Margaret describes the “stuff” people as nesters, because I don’t think “stuff” is always about consumerism and greed, which is semi-implied, I think, in the question. I would also add that “experience” is more than traveling. For me “experience” as a counterpoint to “stuff” has included marrying the man I married, completing my Ph.D. and having kids—all decisions that are more about how I want to experience life than they are about stuff.

“Stuff” is also about the experience of beauty. I am not talking about consumer crazes like constantly upgrading cars or phones or purchasing a Gucci bag for your purse collection. I am thinking more along the lines of Pablo Neruda, who had such beautiful collections of things, some as quotidian as bottles and shells, others exotic. I think there is beauty in the experience of some objects that makes us want to be surrounded by them.

I grew up with very little in the “stuff” department, so as an adult, it could have gone either way. (I have at least one sister who tries to fill those childhood voids with stuff now.) When I went away to college, an experience I wanted to have (and for which I am still paying now), I had nothing. I had a picnic blanket I borrowed from my mom to put on my bed in the dorm and 20 bucks. I had to borrow money for books. After I paid that debt off and bought books for the next semester, I took my next unfettered work-study check, and blew it all ($150) on a pair of hiking boots, an unthinkable luxury, which I still have and love, and strangely bring tears to my eyes now as I think about them. So I don’t look down on stuff; stuff can be powerful.

But I think my path was chosen when I studied abroad in Ecuador (or maybe it was chosen long before because of the person I was, who knows). Just as important as where I went, what I saw, and what it meant, the notion that even coming from where I came from, I could find a way to go anywhere… do anything, was so empowering.

Of course, there are tangibles, many of the same ones that Margaret mentions that I don’t want to do without:

A computer, for example, which more than being an object itself, is a portal for experiencing family at a distance and for experiencing an online community which has come to fill a special place in my life.

I love books; I am drawn to them; they are irresistible. I didn’t grow up with a TV, so I was an avid reader as a kid. The past few years I have been immersed in academia, but I am finally getting back into reading for the sheer joy of it again. I have many books and I used to have more. I am limited by space and periodically purge and prune my collection. It is painful, even if it is a book I won’t read again. I would love to have a huge library with those ladders that slide. I also experience other people through books… what I mean is that by looking at what books people have you get a sense about them. If I visit you house, I will look at your books. If you have no books, it will be a little disconcerting.

I love kitchen stuff. I don’t need a lot of stuff and I can make do with whatever I have. I won’t buy a rolling pin because the empty wine bottle I use does just fine, but I adore my $200 Le Creuset dutch oven. I don’t have my dream kitchen yet, but when I do, it will be filled with lots of kitchen stuff, because I like the experience of making and sharing good food with good friends and family in a cozy, well-stocked kitchen.

I love my camera, though it is not always in front of my face—I do a fair bit of observation, but I do love the idea, as Margaret more poignantly expresses, of capturing experiences to relive at a future date.

So you see, even with stuff, it is all about the experience of things.

One might also argue that in order to experience one must have the right stuff, so it may come down to what stuff you are buying or what experiences you are after.


mosey along said...

A nice tryptych of posts to read one after another, and to contemplate.

If I need to take one side or another, I also would label myself an experience person. I'm always trying to purge and purge and purge my house of stuff that clutters my space (literally and figuratively). But I too love my stuff that is part of the experience. Definitely the camera, books and computer (were we separated at birth?).

I don't always remember events that I have photographs of, and the events without photographs can be crystal clear in my mind. But the photographs evoke times and places. And I've been very aware lately of my daughter's memory - always so keen but now that she is six, some of the events so clear in our memories are slipping from hers.

A blog post in itself. Stay tuned, and thanks for food for thought.

Danielle said...

I am a balance of both experiences and stuff. The "stuff" that I have is all mostly meaningless, but fills my house and makes it look pretty. I made some of it and it gives me a sense of accomplishment as a house wife.
Of course stuff is not that important compared to experiences in life that you have with loved ones. They are the most important part of life. From the good and bad ones I learn and grow as a person, and without them, life would be so boring.
However, I do really love my camera, computer, and books too!!! Oh, and my craft supplies. It's fun to find out I have things in common with other women, even if I may never meet them...That's a sad thought.

Antonio e Ellen said...

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Antonio & Ellen

Margaret said...

Annje- how wonderful to be (virtually at least) among like minds! I love your post and feel that you fleshed out much of what I did not say. And you are so right that experience is not just travel. Of course it's not...but it IS about the journey of life.
I also chuckled about checking out the bookshelves-me too! Have you read Alberto Manguel's wonderful book A History of Reading?

Phoenix said...

I really, really am an experience junkie. Anything that gives me an experience that cannot be replicated anytime soon - off I go.

Some stuff gives me an experience of joy or satisfaction, but I am beginning to note how quickly and easily it fades.

I think I'll stick to travel.

Maggie May said...

i love the last line here, so true!