I have a confession to make about my family. You might be able to make the same confession about yours; it’s a common problem. We’re packrats. I mean, none of us are going to appear on that t.v. show Hoarders, and thus far small children are not at risk of becoming lost in the junk jungle of someone’s home. Unless you count garages and shops, in which case ours might be dangerously close. But really, our packrattery is within socially-acceptable limits.
I’ve been thinking about this tendency our culture has toward the accumulation and stockpiling of useless (or at least unused) stuff because, yesterday, I demolished my entire horse-magazine collection in one fell swoop. That may not sound impressive to you, so let me tell you about me and these magazines.
I can still remember my first horse magazine, an issue of Horse & Rider that I purchased to take on a car trip the same year I started riding. That was where I learned that there were such things as professional horse trainers, which became my secret (and later not-so-secret) ambition. I pored over every article, every photo, and I was immediately addicted. So it started with subscription to H&R, but in years to come, as my allowance got bigger, I added on Horse Illustrated, Performance Horse, The Quarter Horse Journal, America’s Horse, Equus, Reiner, and even a brief foray into Dressage Today. Not all at the same time, of course, but it wasn’t unusual for me to have three or four subscriptions concurrently.
The problem was that I kept them as if it were sacrilege to throw out a single issue. At first, I just stacked them in my closet, but eventually I realized that I didn’t have the space for that. So I did the next best thing; I enacted a policy of culling each issue for the articles that I thought might be useful to me at some point and saved those in page protectors and binders, carefully organized for easy access. (I did this as a teenager. I realize that some of you may be embarrassed to know me right now, and I’m okay with that.) Clearly, I took my magazine reading very seriously. With them, I studied my way into knowledgeable horsemanship, and the hours that I spend reading and learning from them comprised a significant part of my childhood. I think that part of the reason I saved them for so long was because of that–a sentimental attachment to items left behind by the girl I was.
But I saved them for another reason, too. I kept articles on every topic you can imagine all based on a single criterion: how the information imparted might be useful to me in the future. Particularly the part of my future that included being a professional horse trainer. I reasoned that in that future, I might benefit from having access to an article about the best way to apply hoof polish or the pros and cons of feeding supplements. I’ve mentioned before how deeply invested I was in that future. I spent my waking hours whispering to myself the story of my future life, of the horses I would train and the places I would go to show. The magazines I read fed and illustrated that story and made it easier for me to believe in it. I think that’s really why I hung onto them for so long, despite their utter lack of use (I can only remember rereading a saved article once in all the years I’ve kept them); these glossy pages are relics of an imagined future that never will be.
That’s why my recycling matters–it was much more than an act of environmental responsibility. It was a small and quiet declaration of freedom from that future, evidence that I have finally, fully let go of that story. And that is something worth celebrating. On Sunday, Randy Harris preached a sermon (you should listen to it. seriously. it’s one of my favorite sermons ever.) in which he said that life is not a story with plot and predictable events. Life, says Randy and Alan Watts, is not a story but a musical thing, and the point is not to get to the end but to dance. And in order to do that, we have to give up the stories we invent about our future and have the faith to simply let our lives happen.
This has also been on my mind as I’ve been thinking about packrattery. Because I’m wondering if other people, like me, have a closets piled high with things that are really just relics of a story they’ve told themselves about the future. Maybe the too-fancy clothes we keep just in case we need them someday, or the pants that might fit again eventually are saved not so much for practical reasons as a refusal to give up that story. I have a sneaking suspicion that in a spiritual sense, we are dragging these items around on chains, a burden that hinders us from dancing and makes a noise that drowns out the music of today. I’m relieved to have gotten rid of at least some of my burden this week, and I’m ready for more. I had no idea that closet cleaning could also be spiritual cleansing.