Too many things/too few thoughts

Travel doesn’t change you if you are over the age of about five. You just pick up your same boring old life and drag it with you to a different locale and pay more to do in a strange town than you would pay to do the same thing at home.

Vegas, for example. It’s just a more expensive bar/shopping/gluttony excursion with a bit of gambling on the side, and maybe some sex depending on your budget. There’s nothing you can get in Vegas that you can’t get at the mall.

Same for my travel routines. They are frightfully the same. Cheap, idiosyncratic, appealing to an audience of one, repetitive, and usually close to good coffee, good bread, and some form of bicycle.

Also, my trips involve reading, which is exactly what my spare time at home involves. I got off the plane and picked up a copy of Falter, a local Vienna newspaper that has actual journalism, hard words, book reviews, and analysis of complex issues.

I skipped all that stuff and went straight to the back page, where there was an ad for a museum exhibit called “Where Things Live.”

It was about the phenomenon of mini-storage. Oh, yeahhhhh!

On the way to the exhibit, I saw this cool statue.

Pay up!

I got to the Wien Museum MUSA and walked in. “Seven euros, please,” the man said.

“Here.” I handed him a fifty.

He and a colleague began trying to get the cash register to work. A third man joined. If you think that because Austrians speak German that they are somehow a model of German efficiency, you are confusing the two countries. Austrians are a model of Austrian inefficiency.

Some time passed. No one got angry, least of all me. Finally the guy threw up his hands and pushed my fifty back over the counter. “We cannot open the register. Go on in.”

The exhibit was crazy cool. It consisted of five mini-storage stations, each one filled with items from a mini-storage renter who was interviewed about his space and why he had it; the interview was played on a screen inside the unit on continuous loop.

Basically, everyone had the storage unit in order to store their worthless treasures. One really sorry lady had all of her family documents from a hundred years or more and “hoped the next generation would keep them.”

I can guarantee you that the next generation is going to be sending that stuff off to the dumpster, even the daughter’s doll dresses from kindergarten.

Another guy had his collection of junk from the DDR. And his toy train set. And a collection of books from when he was a student. In other words, trash.

The best was a composer who only had a couple of boxes. He didn’t even have an apartment, he just lived wherever he could. I think we call that “homeless.” But he had a great line: “Possessing things is outdated.”

Of course he possessed a few of his original recordings and notes, but he seemed to know that the minute he died his junk would be tossed.

To downsize you gotta upsize

People have lots and lots of things because to make up for the emptiness inside. The things take the place of mental engagement. People fill their homes with stuff because there is sometimes not much inside their heads. It is so much easier to acquire a thing than, say, to memorize a poem.

#socmed is kind of the same. You can fill up your hours/days/life with a constant stream of external things–images, quotes, memes–that are gone from consciousness the moment you look at the next thing in the feed. It’s digital clutter, but like all clutter it’s an ersatz for something that you have had to work hard to understand, remember, and file away in long-term memory, where it’s accessible whenever you want it.

I got back to my flat and googled “declutter” and “downsizing.” I found what I expected, a bunch of web sites with things you could buy to help you have fewer things. Even the guy who lives in a tiny apartment in Tokyo with nothing but a futon requires you to acquire a book and therefore have yet another thing in order to learn how to not have things.

The problem isn’t having too many things and too little physical space. The problem is that the space you really need is mental, and it’s the real estate that’s hardest to come by. The storage unit you need for ideas and perspectives on life isn’t the hard drive on your computer, it’s the hard drive between your ears.

Boot it up.

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