Everyone fears something. The intensity of this fear and the thing at which the fear is directed may vary from person to person, but basically, fear is a part of everyone’s life. What makes phobias interesting (where fears are not) is that for a fear to be a phobia, it has to be a) persistent b) irrational and c) disproportional to the actual danger posed. Now, I can’t be as sure in saying that everyone has a phobia, but I’m certain most of us have things we’re afraid of that other people find amusing, irrational and/or ridiculous.
My irrational fear is a fear of stuff. Wait, no. That sounds silly. I’m not scared of stuff. I’m scared of too much stuff. You know that behaviour they call “hoarding”? Where people collect things obsessively until one day their house becomes Crazy Central because useless stuff takes up more space than they do? That’s a phobia. It’s the phobia of throwing things away or letting go of stuff. I’m basically the extreme opposite of that, whatever it’s called. I have a phobia of hoarding. (Is this a perfect example of a first world problem or what?)
Normally, people who fear hoarding fall under the same category as people who hate clutter. It makes sense. If you hate having too many things around you, it is reasonable that it’s because you find it all too messy or disorganised. Not me. I’m not saying I love clutter (who does?), but if I really did hate it, I would think it would be almost impossible for me to work in that kind of environment. I know those kinds of people, the ones who can’t start work until they’ve cleaned up the area around them. They’re the only people who have even remotely valid reasons for procrastinating. I’m not one of those people. I’m not a super messy person, but I do tend to work in cluttered environments quite often, and I manage decently enough, so I can’t really classify myself as a “neat freak”. This fear of “too much stuff” has less to do with organisation than sheer, mind-boggling volume.
Yesterday, I was cleaning up my study table at home, after months of not being able to see it due to the mountain of things that had piled up on it, and less than 10 minutes in, I started freaking out. Why was there so much stuff? What was I supposed to do with all the little things that didn’t really have any particular use? Why had I bought so many versions of the same thing and not fully used up any of it? What was I going to do with all the birthday cards, Teachers’ Day greetings and hand-written letters that I was unlikely to read ever again? Why was there so much rubbish, things I hadn’t felt the need for in ages? Would this thing ever come in use in the future? Was I supposed to hold on to it in the vague hope that one random day I would need it, and more importantly, remember that I had it? Would it help to catalogue all the stuff I owned? UGH, why did I own SO MUCH STUFF? And so, as is always the case when I go into freak-out mode, I started dumping things into the rubbish bin with a fervour that might have scared some people and caused others to call me a “heartless bitch”. In went greeting cards, toys, accessories, gifts… anything I hadn’t seen/made use of in at least 6 months. And then I started freaking out about what the people collecting my rubbish would do with it. Where would it go, how would it be disposed, would the earth eventually run out of things… you know, crazy stuff. “Cuckoo bananas” is the scientific term, I believe.
This ritual happens at least twice every year. At least twice a year, I get scared of owning too many things and start getting rid of them indiscriminately. I don’t think I had this problem when I was younger, but I’m sure the fact that I never stayed in one house for more than a few years at a time contributed to it. I always hated packing up, because I hated discovering things I hadn’t seen in ages, getting too sentimental to throw them away and stowing them away in some corner of the new house, only to repeat the whole process a few years later. Having to pack your life into a finite number of boxes every few years really screws with your head.
I don’t know if this problem will go away if/when I find a place to live that I know I won’t have to leave at some point in the future. A place where I could keep things in specific places for years and years and never be forced to deal with their existence. A time when I would never have to think about whether a particular item would be easily portable before buying it. Maybe it will. But then, that leaves me with the nagging question: what happens to all my stuff when I die? Morbid, yes, but these are the things one thinks of when they’re plagued by thoughts of drowning in their possessions. We come into the word empty-handed; we leave the same way. In that short span of a few decades in between, we manage to accumulate so many things, so many of which have no purpose beyond sentimentality. Isn’t it interesting that we human beings are the only materialistic creatures in the world? We’re the only ones who feel the need to surround ourselves with tangible objects in order to feel intangible emotions. If we get rid of everything we own, does that make us less alive? Or does it just remove all the things that cloud our vision and help us see the true purpose of our lives, whatever that might be?
Wow, who knew that spring cleaning could lead to an existential crisis, huh? I’ve probably labelled myself as a first class loony with this post, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way. One day I will find a kindred soul, someone who understands the pressure of “TOO MUCH STUFF”, someone who will buy things and then hate themselves for adding something useless to their mounting collection of useless things, someone who will have nightmares of being suffocated to death by random objects, someone who will heartlessly throw away birthday cards and beautifully penned letters and sigh in relief when it’s all over. Until then, I’ll be at my lonely corner, slowly and systematically dumping my life into the rubbish bin.