Unhoarding

Lisa Waugh

I made a New Year’s resolution in 2008 that I’ve actually stuck with since. That was the year that I became a minimalist. I don’t mean that I became an artist that portrays simplistic concepts that may or may not convey a bigger significance. No, my art has remained a cross between a flaky Basquiat and my 8thgrade self.

Purchased at Graceland in 1991

What I resolved to do was own less, way less. I became an unhoarder.

Okay, I was never a hoarder. I was the average oddball who collected miniature Buddhas, depictions of the Last Supper (I had nearly 20 of these in my bathroom at one point), velvet art (Elvis with the tear and a bullfighter, clown, etc), a sailfish, and concrete statues such as a cactus, more Buddhas and a 4-foot tall cowgirl. When you are young, hip in your mind and it’s the 90s, you collect all kinds of useless arty crap.

The mistake is hanging onto it when you move across country. As my life and sort of career progressed, these funny white elephant piles of random weirdness moved with me from Alabama to Georgia to Chicago to Washington, D.C. and finally here to Los Angeles. I calculated that I spent nearly $6,000 over the years in storage fees.

My journey to un-hoarding began a little before 2008. Around 2006, I rented a car and headed to Bethesda, Maryland from my Mom’s place in a small town in Alabama (are there any other kind?) to check out the remnants of my former life stuffed in a small storage unit with zero climate control.

It was on this hot as balls trip that I began to realize just how stupid it was to own stuff. Maybe it was time, growing older, or the ridiculousness of hauling around a full mannequin after nearly a decade that began to make me realize… what the fuck is up with owning this shit? As I listened to David Sedaris’ Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim in my rented PT Cruiser driving back toward my Southern hometown, my mind wandered to that famous George Carlin routine about “my stuff and your shit.”

One is cool. Twenty two of them lining the hallway is awesome.

Even after Carlin’s wisdom, I hauled back a bunch of boxes of stuff to my Mom’s place, whittled that down, tucked some of it in a friend’s storage place in Huntsville and then brought some of the crap back to LA.

I was touring with Jimmy Buffett at the time. We had a show nearby and our trucking guy helped me out by stowing the rest of this crap on one of our Upstaging trucks. It landed in Valencia and sat there for a few years until I finally emptied the storage unit and began to face what all of these dusty boxes mean. I remember having a near breakdown while I sat there in another storage unit pulsating with heat and thinking, “Why am I so emotional about this stack of calendars or a rusted toy?”

Yes, there are things that can hold a certain meaning and I don’t believe in giving everything to Out of the Closet in such a cavalier way (wedding dress) but after a cathartic event, my attitude towards stuff was forever altered.

My Mom was diagnosed officially with Alzheimer’s in 2008. When I realized that all of those things she had collected were going to be sold or donated and that she wouldn’t be there in mind or in person to have a say in that decision… stuff stopped meaning much of anything.

I no longer want to possess a talisman or keepsake from certain moments in time. I don’t want to spend money on things. I am more than happy to buy a meal, drinks or a ticket for an adventure but collecting souvenirs… nope.

Spinach is sacred

It actually kind of screwed me up for a while. My thoughts were scrambled from the grief of losing the woman I knew as my Mom and the home base that will never be there again. I realize now that I lost my true North and that my compass was kind of pointless.

Sure, now I will hold on to a few little keepsakes from a certain event but for the most part I try to hang onto the memory as best I can and let the physical artifact go. I think about who will care about my clarinet or the tub of pictures or my Christmas ornaments. I don’t have children and even if I did, I know that I wouldn’t burden them with having to carry around my memories. This is not an accusation against people who do. Not at all.

For many people, passing down mementos is held in a sacred way. Items transport people to a time and place and are handed down as a living tribute. But I don’t think anyone is going to cherish my raggedy stuff. I think mostly people will paw through what is left behind and will find maybe a few treasures like my Rolling Stones Steel Wheels Tour t-shirt. Or not.

Through my various lines of work over the years, I have had access to people’s lives and their homes. I’d say about 65% of people live at the mercy of the shit they have surrounded themselves with. Again, this is not a judgment or accusation. I see the stress that things can cause. George Carlin kind of nailed it.

That wall could use a Flaming Carrot poster

They worry over lost items, they long for the latest things, and they build storage shelves to contain things. They fill up rooms with stuff that might be valuable one day but usually aren’t.

They fight mold and dust and their own apathy in conquering this stuff that takes up the space in their homes. Then the next thing comes out and the old things pile up. Or people simply lose the capacity to hang onto to so many memories. Yard sales happen. Sad things go to new happy homes. Thus is the circle of life of our stuff.

Then again, I will look at the empty room of a minimalist living space and then think, “That place needs a plastic dragon head or a few nick nacks.”

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