Dave Goes Barbarian – Stuff Wars

Mrs. Dave is enjoying sunsets over wine-dark seas. Dave is ruthlessly culling The Stuff. The Wee Horde rampage. I have two small goals for today. The first is to clear the table of excess stuff, and then shrink it. The fewer flat surfaces there are to collect more Stuff, the less clutter will be to make my eyelid twitch. The second, and arguably more vital to my personals barbaric goals is to clear a lane in the garage so I can lay out the battle rope. I’m nearly there, already. Just have about twelve cubic feet of stuff to shift.

Of course, right now I can’t lift for the Stuff.

I’m Dave, and this is the story of my war with the Stuff.

It started a long time ago. Genuinely, it started before I left home. The Stuff would accumulate. Papers from school, books that needed re-shelving downstairs, clothes to wash. Normal stuff. And then, I left for school. Things had built up, but I trimmed here and there, purged the worst. But there was the tub of college application letters, the knick-knacks from school, the mess of Lego set instruction booklets, and all the detritus of life that washes up in odd corners. And it filled boxes. Not all that many, not at the beginning. Or rather, that middling punctuation point of early life. And added to the clothes, and the big boxes of computer (man, those CRT monitors took up room), the transpo to the university was feeling awfully crowded.

Four years, and an expansion of personal space (not me: I moved into an apartment) later, and there was yet more stuff. There would be after four years. I even had a car! Not that it ran, most of the time. Not that I had money to keep it running. Two years later, I was packing up all my Stuff, late at night, in anticipation of flying out the next morning for boot camp. And I marveled – and railed – at how much Stuff there actually was. Where did it come from? And why?!

A brief, eight week eternity later, and I had a green duffel, a cheap, black garment bag, and the uniform on my back. That was it. Well, except for all the crap stored with my parents back “home.” It was liberating. It was glorious! It was man-portable. And then … and then, I got personal space, again. Just a crappy, MDF wall locker (armoire for you sophisticated city-dwellers) to start with, but enough to store some hastily selected civvies to wear on weekend liberty. And then it was an entire room (and a new computer, with a beautiful FLAT monitor!), and then the townhouse with the guys, then a whole single family.

And then Mrs. Dave got orders to the Isolated Paradise, and we downsized. HAH! Not even close. We crammed all of my Stuff and all of her Stuff into a little, two bedroom apartment, and marveled at how little floor we could see. Now, right then was when we should have ruthlessly culled our Stuff to keep it manageable. But we didn’t. Which is how we ended up buying a trailer three moves and two sets of orders later. Now, we were going to do that, anyway, as the movers wouldn’t touch our more valuable Stuff. For reasons.

At the same time, we – I – have spent so much time stressing over the Stuff that it’s practically a family member. One who doesn’t work, and lays around taunting me with how much space and energy it consumes. It’s practically a teenager, and I’m not freakin’ ready for that. Wee Dave is barely all of five, and just starting to get really interesting.

What’s the point, Dave? And what’s with that title? And … battle rope? Like … tug-of-war? In reverse order, no, yes, relevant, and I’m doing it wrong. Let me take a step back. Self-sufficiency is one of those things Tom is gently nudging us toward with the Barbarian Project. To cherry pick (as one does) a barbarian horde is at home anywhere, as the barbarians bring home with them. You can’t bring home with you if you have to load it into multiple conex boxes every time you up tent stakes.

Now, I’m not arguing you should pare down your Stuff until it’s man-portable (though I have a buddy who for years could fit all his stuff into the trunk of his car), but embracing a certain amount of asceticism – or at least simplicity – can pay dividends in terms of peace of mind. For one, you may end up with enough room to actually use all your training equipment.

I’m also not advocating for getting rid of anything that doesn’t ignite happiness, so to speak  (write when you get work, kid!) as there are any number of things that just … don’t. I’m not thrilled with the bed frame I’ve had for more than a decade (*gulp*) but I’m not tossing it just because I want something better. That’d be silly, and worse: foolish. I’m not getting rid of the Horde’s toys, though I hate many of them in a very active, burning kind of way. Modern life, especially modern American life, requires certain things, and a push toward self-sufficiency requires an entire other set of things. Especially if you’re relationally attached to any other human beings. Human beings who each have their own set of stuff that requires organization and space.

It’s tough. It’s unpleasant. It’s a distinctly First World problem.  And I’m having a hard time managing the Purge, my-own-self. And yet, for me, at least, it’s absolutely necessary for my continued tenuous grasp on sanity. Piles of stuff, when I’m the only one who puts anything away on a regular basis is a quick-march to Crazy Town. Not to mention, practically speaking, it’s an invitation to injury. Injury I can’t afford in my pursuit of sustainable training. It’s too bleeding easy to step on a Lego, twitch the wrong way, fall over something else and sprain a joint or break a bone. And I have goals, remember?

Humans are pack-rats. We gather Stuff – some that reminds us of things, some that we like, some of it because it’s shiny – and the Stuff takes on a life of its own until we’re drowning in stuff. I’m not anti-materialism, by any stretch, but if we’re going to turn into a nation of hoarders, let’s at least be mindful about it. That’s part of what I’m up to with this culling effort: re-learning about all of the Stuff. What it is, where it is, and why we have it. At least this way, I own it, instead of it owning me.

Author: Tom

Tom is a husband, father, novelist, opinion writer, and former Navy Corpsman currently living in Georgia. He's also someone who has lost almost 60 pounds in a safe, sustainable way, so he knows what he's talking about.

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