When I was first leaving Bulgaria, I could take only two suitcases with me and that prompted me to made sure that I filled them only with the best clothes I could have, so that space would not be wasted. I made some new clothes with fabric I had, and even a friend helped me with sewing a skirt for me. The next two years were such a luxurious experience that, when I taught a two-month course at the Centro Cultural in Costa Rica, I was able to wear different clothes for every single class session (twice a week). My students never saw the same ones twice.
Over the years, that initial batch of clothes of course dwindled. Some wore off, others were lost in my travels, and there were two dresses that I literally threw away. I never had a wardrobe consisting of just new clothes anymore. But reflecting on that peculiar situation made me aware of our relationship with objects, how they relate to our identity, and the flow of life.
Literally, just as they say that one is what one eats, possessions are a continuation of one’s body. There is no boundary between objects and body – clothes not just touch our skin, but lint from clothes enter our system, tiny molecules of what we use in our daily life definitely end up in our body. And objects we possess are very much like the cells of our bodies. If you think of it, just like with the unusual situation in which I had only new stuff, we are born and have new cells only once in life. After that, some of them wear off and die, new ones come up in a continuous, uneven and gradual flow of life. There was a time in those two years in Central America in which I found myself missing a specific old blouse I had left behind, or needed something unpretentious to wear at home. But no. Everything I had was new and sparkling.
With age, the flow of life of cells means that some will wear off to morbidity, but others will function perfectly. It is a waste of nature, in a way, that one may die due to liver failure, for example, while everything else in one’s body may be in perfect condition. Yes, organs can be donated, but not all of them and that is not really the point. Imagine that failing organs in one’s body are continuously replaced to maintain perfect health, just like an old car is maintained in pristine condition by continuously replacing broken parts. There is a point in which perhaps we need to realize it is better to give up on the car for a better version, just like it is a good idea to not want to live beyond, what, 100?
I am in a reverse situation now that I am contemplating moving back, and contemplating the objects I have accumulated in my life in the US. There are many new objects (and books!) that I will definitely take with me. There are some old ones that are at the brink of demise and that moment will serve to let them go. But there are many “in between”, too old to justify shipping them, yet perfectly functioning, yet not shiny enough to give them to someone else. I don’t think I have a hoarding problem, but I am emotionally so attached to these obsolete, unassuming objects. I am glad that the glass in the picture above broke and can let go of it, and I am so thrilled that the perfume, which was a gift, is almost finished. But now I am wanting to make art out if them. I still am attached to them as they have merged with my body, symbolically, and my identity. That reminds me Naomi Stead’s essay Performing Objecthood.