One of the first books I read in 2023 was The Year of Less by Cait Flanders, which chronicles a year in which she put a moratorium on buying new stuff and, in the process, reduced the amount of stuff she owns by 70 percent. It got me to thinking about all my things.
I’ve collected books and music and movies and old TV shows by the thousand and built what I always considered an archive of entertainment and enlightenment that I can explore in my retirement, if no time else. I’d be hard-pressed to think of something I would like to have owned that is not now somewhere in this house, waiting to be enjoyed. Could it be time to let go of it all, or at least catalog it so I know what I have? There’s something appealing about Flanders’ journey, but there’s also an appeal to the stuff.
The process of transferring stuff to my new/old wall of bookcases showed me just how much stuff I have — even though they are huge pieces of furniture, I have bins of books that did not fit on the new shelves. Meanwhile, I realized that in the last three weeks since Christmas, I bought four more books anyway. Enough is enough, you would think.
I declared a Cait Flanders-style moratorium on buying new stuff for myself, which was fortuitous because the next day I discovered that Bruce Springsteen is selling CDs and downloads of hundreds of his live concerts. I sampled samples from 1984, the year I saw him in concert, as well as more recent years, and I would have been sorely tempted to grab one or two if not for my newly minted moratorium.
I even toyed with the idea of selling off some of my “archives.” Would I really regret not having such-and-such a book or record on my 90th birthday? On the other hand, would I pass on to the next world regretting that I never sold off enough stuff to take Red on a trip to such-and-such a place?
“Whoever dies with the most toys” most definitely does not win any kind of race, but there may come a day when I want to pull down that Nathaniel Hawthorne book again, or play those century-old 12-inch platters by Sir Harry Lauder. (Funny that those examples were the first that came to mind.)
In any case, some cataloguing is certainly in order. What treasures have I accumulated without remembering? What words and music are in my possession waiting to touch my soul again or for the first time? That’s a big reason for pausing before I buy anything more: As I’ve been vacuuming up possessions I have reached the point where I’m not entirely sure what I own. I haven’t had, or taken, the time to review all the piles and make sure I can find what I’m looking for when I look for it.
For example, I know I have at least three copies of “Music! Music! Music!” by Teresa Brewer on 78, once because I forgot I had one, and another time because it was in a lot of records that I purchased to obtain several other tunes. Put another nickel in, and I bet I have more than a few other things that I bought not realizing that I already had one.
These musings sent me down to the attic (Fun Fact: My podcast “Uncle Warren’s Attic” was filled with recordings that I pulled from the storage room in our basement) to do a little exploring and maybe begin that catalog.
I came upstairs with an album of 78 rpm records that I’d picked up at an online estate auction and listened to such gems as Kitty Kallen’s No. 1 1954 hit “Little Things Mean A Lot” and a delicious swing version of “All of Me” by Louis Jordan with fellow vocalist Valli Ford. When I bought my beloved Audio-Technica turntable a few years back, I invested in a separate headshell specially designed to play 78s, and I was again impressed by how crisp and clear a 70-year-old record can sound if the owner took good care of it and it’s played on the right equipment.
Yes, I could downsize significantly and rely on digital versions of the same recordings (see below), and I know the day is coming when that’s not only more practical but necessary. In the meantime, though, there’s a special joy in holding the real thing and watching the stylus float through the grooves as the sounds of a long time ago burst forth like old times.