On being ... attached

By Ingrid Sapona

I get attached to things and I have a hard time parting with things I’m attached to. I’m not talking about pack rat things, like magazine clippings or old love letters (as if…), or even things that normally folks are sentimental about, like photos. I’m talking about things I use regularly and that still serve their purpose, but that are not quite as good as new or that might even be described by some (one sister in particular) as worn out.

My couch is a prime example. I love my couch. I inherited it from my parents in 1989. Yes, that’s almost 20 years ago – and, if you must know, the couch was about 15 years old when I got it. It’s long (a grand 90 inches) with three cushions on the bottom and three along the back. One of the things I like best about it is how well it doubles as a bed: just remove the back cushions and tuck a sheet over the bottom cushions – and voila – it’s more comfortable than a pull out couch any day!

Recently, when I was rotating the couch cushions, I noticed a hole developing on the corner of one of them. My heart sank, knowing that was a telltale sign of the inevitable: the need to get a new couch. (Reupholstering it is not in the cards. Four or five years ago I looked into having it done and it was going to cost from $2,000 to $2,500! Friends and family persuaded me a new couch would be a better investment.)

My desk (actually a computer armoire) is another item that has seen better days. I bought it in 1996, when I started my business. Given that my dining room doubled as my office, it was important that I have an armoire, and it took me a long while to find. Though I still love the functionality of it, the veneer is peeling (badly) and now that I have a proper office, the need to hide everything behind armoire doors is less urgent.

So, I’ve started thinking about replacing the armoire. But, the prospect leaves me weak – not just because it’ll be difficult to duplicate all the features I love (there’s space for a printer, shelves for books and supplies, a drawer for pens and such, and a keyboard platform that’s at the perfect height) – but also because it’s seen me through so much, it’s really been like a partner in my business.

My realization that it’s time to replace my couch and desk is forcing me to face the fact that I get inordinately attached to things. I’ve thought a lot about why it is so hard for me to replace things and I don’t think there’s a single explanation. First off, it’s not the money. I wouldn’t even consider replacing these items if I didn’t think I could afford to.

Though it may sound odd, part of my anxiety relates to the fact that I don’t enjoy shopping. I tend to find shopping frustrating because I rarely find a particular item with all the features I’m looking for. So then you have to compromise, trying to visualize how different items might fit, and thinking about whether the differences will matter, etc. If you combine this with the fact that I’m not the type to grow tired of things, you can understand why most times what I’d really like to find is just an unworn version of what I already have!

I also think part of my trepidation comes from feeling a bit self-conscious buying big ticket items. Replacing something that’s old and worn out may not qualify as conspicuous consumption (at least not by North American standards), but the fact that many others make do with much less does cross my mind. So does the old adage: waste not, want not.

Of course, over the years I’ve come up with coping mechanisms that have helped me let go of stuff. For example, there are the tried-and-true bromides, like the idea that these items don’t owe me anything. They’ve served me long and well, so replacing them isn’t wasteful or frivolous. I should note, however, that not all such platitudes work for me. One of my sisters often blithely justifies her getting rid of things that still seem perfectly useful to me by saying she’s simply “setting them free”. Despite my attachment to inanimate objects – given that we’re not talking about Elsa, the lion cub – I find the idea of “setting things free” simply ludicrous.

If the item isn’t embarrassingly worn, another way I cope is by trying to find it a new home, for example, by donating it. Of course, there’s always the issue of, “if it’s not good enough for me, why would anyone else want it?” Well, beside the fact that you never know who else might want, or need, it – there’s always the fact that charities can sometimes sell things for scrap, making a bit of money on it even if it isn’t put to its original use. (Clothing is a prime example: it’s often sold by the pound and it can end up as stuffing in futons, etc.)

I suppose you may be thinking the real way I come to grips with things like overcoming attachments is by writing about them. But that’s not the case. The truth is, by the time something ends up in On being …, I’ve pretty much worked through it. Proof of this is the fact that last month I took the plunge and ordered a new couch – it should be here a few weeks. Mind you, I’ve cleared space in my office for the old couch. But, there’s method to my madness. You see, I’m sure that, before long, the clutter in my office will get to me, which will accelerate my desire to find a new desk and redesign the office and, no doubt, a huge (old) couch won’t fit in with the new look.

All the same… did I mention it’s a great couch???

© 2008 Ingrid Sapona


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