Possessions are anchors

Ottawa has never been my favourite city. While I have certainly met some people here who I like a great deal, and while there are certainly interesting kinds of work to be done here, I miss the beauty and familiarity of Vancouver. I also miss the options and excitement associated with larger places like Montreal and Vancouver, as well as the unique intellectual atmosphere of Oxford.

Lately, I have also felt as though it would be a good idea to spend a big chunk of time seeing more of the world than I have so far (though there are ethical issues that surround emissions from voluntary travel).

One thing that interferes with all of these plans is my rented apartment and the few thousand dollars worth of low-cost IKEA furniture and miscellaneous materials it contains. Finding it took quite a lot of effort, as good places in Ottawa seem to get snapped up almost instantly. That and sheer force of momentum make me hesitant to give it up, especially since that would mean finding a place to store my miscellaneous possessions, as well as a mechanism for moving them to the storage location.

It is odd how incapacitating it can be to own more things than you can carry yourself. The situation certainly suggests to me that it is wise to continue renting. My present situation already renders me immobile to an extent I find somewhat regrettable. A mortgage, property taxes, repair obligations, and the additional stuff that would inevitably accompany any kind of home ownership would be even more stifling.

I am not as badly off as I could have been. I am still using the same cheap IKEA furniture I bought straight after moving to Ottawa, even though an increasing proportion of it is held together with gaffer tape and screws I installed myself. Most of the surplus income that has accompanied full time work has likewise gone into paying off student debts, building up a cushion of savings, and buying photo gear. Photo gear may be the least anchor-like kind of possession, for me at least. For one thing, it packs a lot of dollar value into a small amount of space and weight. For another, every time I use it I want to go somewhere scenic or novel or important, so as to be able to put it to better use.

Photographing and re-photographing the same few neighbourhoods is not the more enriching experience.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

30 thoughts on “Possessions are anchors”

  1. Very wise of you to realize this before weighing yourself down with even more stuff. This is one of the main reasons I have never had a desire to own a home or a car or a lot of expensive stuff to put in the home I do have. I could walk away from all of it tomorrow without a second thought and whenever I move to a new city, I usually do leave most of my stuff behind. I’ve only been in Ottawa 3 years and totally agree with your assessment of it. Another year and I think I’ll be moving on.

  2. The only bulky thing I would feel sad leaving behind are my books – especially since I take notes in them and make my own index as I go along.

    I would also miss having a big monitor. Going though my New York photos yesterday on my 24″ iMac was so much nicer than looking at them on the smaller screen of Kai’s MacBook.

  3. One lesson from the New York trip is that it is probably worth investing in the Canon 50mm f/1.2L lens. That is both because of the somewhat better light gathering power than the f/1.8 and because of the better autofocus performance, especially in low light.

    At $3.12 per gram, it is also the sort of posession that doesn’t anchor you much.

  4. Oleh and I consider our 100 plus photo albums among our most valuable material possessions. they seem t make people so happy when they look back on childhood memories, special celebrations and events. As a selected memory, they usually capture good things and hence they do not cause anguish.

    I favor a minimalist approach to material things and favor good quality items that stay with you throughout the life journey. At your age, I think that experiences are much more special than belongings. Whether it’s close or far, try to see as much as you can while you are free to move.

  5. “a big chunk of time seeing more of the world than I have so far”

    How big?

  6. I like the 50mm focal length, more than 35mm or 28mm I think. It is certainly more versatile.

    Indeed, I think the 24-70, 70-200, and a 50 prime make a pretty solid travel photo kit. Something like a 100 prime would sometimes be useful, but probably isn’t worth the space and weight in the camera bag.

  7. Great post – I love reading anything about not owning a home and not having a bunch of possessions.

    In twenty years, you’ll be able to buy a nice home in Canada for a couple thousand dollars – See the world now before the food and water run out and everyone starts shooting (or ‘shooting more’, in some parts of the world).

  8. I think the extent to which you find possessions anchors really depends on how much money you have. There are people who have homes in different locations and feel no qualms about picking up the next day and going to another one. Or going on holiday there when they have the time.

    Also, I don’t think that anchors are necessarily and things. They only seem like it when you are experiencing wanderlust.

  9. How much of an anchor your stuff is depends on your attitude – you could just sell the furniture & leave, or put your things into storage, but you’re choosing not to. I moved to Canada with 2 large bags and 2 bikes so I undoubtedly have more stuff now, but I won’t be taking all that much more back to the UK nearly a decade later – some extra books & files, a few more clothes, and the lithograph hanging on my wall. Ultimately most possessions are replaceable, so I think it’s the non-replaceable possessions you love (like my lithograph) that are more worth worrying about.

  10. I agree that less is more & am always trying to get rid of stuff.

    Most of the furniture in my house was found on the street. Toronto at the end of summer/spring months is a good time to pick up furniture of the streets, – both the “semi disposable” Ikea kind, and higher quality stuff. It’s very satisfying to recycle furniture. It also makes getting rid of stuff easier.

  11. Could you not also consider sub letting the apartment as furnished? Wouldn’t this solve the “finding a place” problem and the “storing furniture” problem?

  12. I doubt my landlord would be too keen on that. It would put him in an ambiguous legal situation if he knew about it, and it probably couldn’t be done informally for much of a span of time.

  13. Enough lots of time can allow for more ethical travel. If you want to escape your continent during your lifetime, you might well want to look into furthering sailing skills for the longer term as some people work their passage on yachts etc – you can look to primarily sail-powered vessels.

    The kind of world travel that builds to isn’t encompassed in just months though.

  14. Enough ‘lots of time’ can allow for more ethical travel. If you want to escape your continent during your lifetime, you might well want to look into furthering sailing skills for the longer term as some people work their passage on yachts etc – you can look to primarily sail-powered vessels.

    The kind of world travel that builds to isn’t encompassed in just months though.

    Re the flat. Hiring man with van and storage unit isn’t impossible. Holding onto the flat is only vital if you want a plan where you return to Ottowa at the end. Over the next few years as your experience and value to employers changes you may find work arrangements (and so locations) which allow you to pursue your aims less limited.

  15. Hopefully, sustainable travel options will emerge in our lifetimes.

    For instance, an airline could exclusively use sustainably sourced biofuels. By being carbon neutral overall, they could attract ethically concerned travelers who would pay more.

  16. Cult of less: Living out of a hard drive
    By Matthew Danzico
    BBC News, Washington

    Meet Kelly Sutton, a spiky-haired 22-year-old software engineer with thick-rimmed glasses and an empty apartment in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighbourhood – a hotbed for New York’s young, early adopters of new technology.

    Mr Sutton is the founder of CultofLess.com, a website which has helped him sell or give away his possessions – apart from his laptop, an iPad, an Amazon Kindle, two external hard drives, a “few” articles of clothing and bed sheets for a mattress that was left in his newly rented apartment.

    This 21st-Century minimalist says he got rid of much of his clutter because he felt the ever-increasing number of available digital goods have provided adequate replacements for his former physical possessions.

    “I think cutting down on physical commodities in general might be a trend of my generation – cutting down on physical commodities that can be replaced by digital counterparts will be a fact,” said Mr Sutton.

    The tech-savvy Los Angeles “transplant” credits his external hard drives and online services like iTunes, Hulu, Flickr, Facebook, Skype and Google Maps for allowing him to lead a minimalist life.

    “I think the shift to all digital formats in all methods and forms of media consumption is inevitable and coming very quickly,” said Mr Sutton.

    And Mr Sutton may be right.

  17. Ownership also have feelings of attachment. Sometimes we buy an item for occasional use – the snowblower, the kayak , the cottage etc.

    In our society we seem to undervalue the value of co-operatives.

    I have long considered wanting access to a place where I can go to about every 3 months to recharge for a weekend. I like the idea of people part of a co-operative owning it. Yesterday I saw a mountain property with a lovely small home where I would like to go every 2 or 3 months for a few days.

    Now I wonder if I will be able to find about a dozen others to share that vision and cost.

  18. “It’s happening all over, in all sorts of families, not just young people moving back home but also young people taking longer to reach adulthood overall. It’s a development that predates the current economic doldrums, and no one knows yet what the impact will be — on the prospects of the young men and women; on the parents on whom so many of them depend; on society, built on the expectation of an orderly progression in which kids finish school, grow up, start careers, make a family and eventually retire to live on pensions supported by the next crop of kids who finish school, grow up, start careers, make a family and on and on. The traditional cycle seems to have gone off course, as young people remain un­tethered to romantic partners or to permanent homes, going back to school for lack of better options, traveling, avoiding commitments, competing ferociously for unpaid internships or temporary (and often grueling) Teach for America jobs, forestalling the beginning of adult life.

  19. “One question we seem to be orbiting is whether the “changing timetable for adulthood” is really much of a change. I found myself slightly unclear—maybe you can set me straight—on how the various pieces of the Times article fit together: We’re given evidence on the one hand it’s a developmental stage and should be recognized as such (i.e., that it’s not unique to this moment) and on the other hand we’re told that something is different (and not just for economic reasons) among this current crop of twentysomethings.

    Is this a new problem? Is it a problem at all? As I read that Times thesis paragraph I quoted earlier, I couldn’t help but hear echoes of Didion’s opening to “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” sounding the siren nearly half a century ago: “Adolescents drifted from city to torn city, sloughing off both past and the future as snakes shed their skins, children who were never taught and would never now learn the games that had held the society together.”

    Let’s talk about those games. One of the things I thought the Henig piece was a little slippery on was whether twentysomethings hadn’t yet learned the games (an adolescent development issue) or whether they knew the games all too well but are having difficulty playing them (the drive to get to a stable place that Ann and Leon are pointing to). That’s partly what I was thinking, too, when I said I found a strain of cultural conservatism in my contemporaries: There seems to be an emphasis on playing the games we’ve inherited—or else kind of hanging around town, biding time till we have an opportunity to—rather than creating new games, which has been more the emphasis among young people at various points in the past. For all the inevitable comparisons to the ’60s generation, in fact, this strikes me as a very different sensibility than what Didion, or for that matter Keniston, was describing. (Keniston, we should say by way of context, cast himself as perhaps the leading therapist figure for campus unrest in the late ’60s and early ’70s; he wrote prolifically on the subject for the mainstream press during those years and was one of a handful of campus academics who theorized the student movements as they were going on.)

    Do people have other thoughts on this comparison to the state of youth circa 1970, which everyone, including David Brooks, seems to want to make? That Batman line you quoted, Sam, is great—and also interesting because the idea of being overshadowed by one’s parents, and their expectations, is a recurring motif of the ’60s counterculture. Has it indeed all been done before—and, if so, done for the same reasons?”

  20. If you look at the people on the left who have painted the darkest picture of what the economic downturn means, they’re a generation ahead: Matt Taibbi, for one, or Ken Layne, the publisher of Wonkette, whose ironized blog prose mixes strangely with his incredibly bleak reading of the economy and culture. (Layne told me, in an e-mail of ambiguous sincerity, that the main advice he would give a recent graduate was to own only what would fit in a backpack and keep a current passport always on hand.) They are unabashedly, feverishly upset. Their words practically sweat clammily. Our generation tends to prefer our dystopian news ­delivered with the impish smile of a Jon Stewart. (I turn the channel when it’s time for scowling, ranting Lewis Black.) Reared to sponge up positive reinforcement that requires only a positive attitude as a buy-in, we are just not that into anger.

  21. There’s a lot of truth to the idea that possessions are anchors, and the bulkier and more immobile they are the more they fix you in place.

    Since moving to Ottawa, I have acquired things in three broad categories: functional objects including furniture and kitchen equipment (some of it of excellent and some of it of poor quality), personal archives including paper files and hard drives, and art.

    The federal government actually paid for my Ottawa to Toronto move (since I got transferred to the regional office in Downsview), so there was no impediment to bringing everything that wasn’t Ottawa-specific, like skates for the canal.

    If I end up leaving Toronto in the next six months, I will bring a lot less. I would shed books that I don’t particularly care about, paper files that don’t plausibly support future projects, and all my furniture. The one case where that stings a bit is the beautiful custom bookshelf which I commissioned for my room. It’s designed to be the largest possible bookshelf to fit in this space, given the many peculiarities of this circa-1892 house, but it’s not likely any future tenant would value that as I do or pay anything close to the original cost.

    A healthy life involves shedding things and moving on.

    From now on, I will avoid buying large and heavy things (respecting uncertainty about where I will be in not too long a time). I am, however, considering buying a really nice small umbrella. I had a nice full-size Harry Rosen umbrella which I bought during my days of fantastic wealth in Ottawa, but forgot on the dismal daily train ride to Downsview (north of Toronto) and was never able to recover.

    Regardless of whether I find a way to finish my PhD at U of T, choose to do other work in Toronto, relocate to Canada’s Pacific coast, or become a crew member on an ocean-crossing cargo ship, a durable and compact umbrella like a Davek Solo or Blunt XS would help me avoid hypothermia and headphone damage.

  22. et me tell you a bit about myself. I’m 35 years old, male, single, never been married. I work as an editor at a publishing company. I recently moved from the Nakameguro neighbourhood in Tokyo, where I lived for a decade, to a neighbourhood called Fudomae in a different part of town. The rent is cheaper, but the move pretty much wiped out my savings.

    Some of you may think that I’m a loser: an unmarried adult with not much money. The old me would have been way too embarrassed to admit all this. I was filled with useless pride. But I honestly don’t care about things like that any more. The reason is very simple: I’m perfectly happy just as I am.

    The reason? I got rid of most of my material possessions.

    Minimalism is a lifestyle in which you reduce your possessions to the least possible. Living with only the bare essentials has not only provided superficial benefits such as the pleasure of a tidy room or the simple ease of cleaning, it has also led to a more fundamental shift. It’s given me a chance to think about what it really means to be happy.

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