As I was packing up my things for my next adventure, I stumbled across an old metal folding chair. I ran my fingers across the frame of the back support. The pads of my fingers vibrated as they slid across the bumpy texture of the black paint. “Shall you stay or shall you go?” I said allowed, referring to the chair. At this point in my travels, I had gotten into the habit of purging any items that were no longer wanted or needed. I had fully embraced the nomadic life. I had been carrying this folding chair with me for years now. Do I need it? Why do I keep this old thing? Why do I bring it every where I go?
I stared at the small flecks of paint splattered on it sporadically. It reminded me of when I stood on the chair to spackle all of the nail holes in my apartment before I embarked on my first travel assignment. I smiled, thinking of the astounded face on my parsimonious landlord when she realized she could not charge me for every hole I had put on the wall. I touched the small white flecks of paint and laughed allowed. So many times I had stood on this plain metal folding chair to reach something or to hang something up. It had been one of the most practical and useful items I owned for years, and it held many memories.
I opened the folding chair and ran my palm over the dented seat letting vivid images fill my mind. I remember using it for all of my crazy workout routines; Insanity, P90X, or even just simple tricep push-ups. For an old beat up chair, it was solid. It had taken a beating and yet stood there defiantly as if saying, “Is that all you’ve got!?” It was so durable; it almost seemed unbreakable. How could an inanimate object inspire me? Taunt me? Push me to do more?
I spun the chair around in a quick “magic mike” motion and straddled it. I pressed my chest against the backrest. I blushed as my mind flooded with erotic memories. Between sensual dances and passion filled moments of ecstasy, the chair had almost become a sexual partner in a way. I sat there with my eyes closed and exhaled as the vivid images raced through my mind like a TV flipping the channels.
(Photo credit: 4.bp.blogspot.com)
I stood up then and turned outward seating myself properly on the chair. I leaned back and relaxed as the old chair creaked and moaned as it supported my weight. I looked out into the distance reminiscing the first time I sat in this black folding chair. I was living in a studio apartment in downtown Seattle. I had nothing, I owned nothing, other than the roof over my head, and I didn’t even own that, I was renting it. I had a small air mattress that had been given to me and a cardboard box that I used as a makeshift coffee table. It was a tough time in my life. I remember feeling like a failure. I felt helpless and vulnerable. I saw all of these people that were the same age as I was with big houses, expensive cars, and more clothes than I could imagine. I let their success turn to envy and self-doubt in my mind. I allowed it to tear me apart. I had no idea that those days were transforming me, hardening me, to face my future to come. I remember opening that black metal folding chair and putting it in front of my only window that faced the back alley of the building. I remember smiling a small, fragile smile thinking, well, I have a chair. I have a chair and a window to look out of as I sit in it. It may not be a couch, but it’s a chair, it’s somewhere to sit.
I looked out of the window, down into the alley and watched as a homeless man sifted through the garbage in the dumpster. My new, self-assured heart broke as I realized that the man didn’t have a chair. He didn’t have an air mattress or even a roof over his head to rent. My heart and mind flooded with emotions. Was I superficial, materialistic, or boastful as I sat up here on my black metal throne looking down at this poor man with nothing? Was I ungrateful? Or was I grateful that I did have what I had, yet heartbroken that I had no way of helping the man below me? Or was I thankful that, though I had gotten very close to this man’s position in life; I had been fortunate enough to have people around me to catch me before falling to that point? How could a simple old metal folding chair evoke so many emotions and memories? It was just a stupid chair! It was a piece of garbage when I found it!
The night I found it, I was walking home from a disastrous date that ended in upper Queen Anne (Seattle, WA). It was 3 a.m. The man refused to get me a cab, so I was wandering down the streets trying to find a taxi. These were the days before Uber and Apps. I was walking down the hill, stumbling in the dark of the night, grumbling about the drunken asshole that would not take me home or let alone call me a cab, when I saw it. The chair. I walked toward the shadowy silhouette of what looked like a chair next to a garbage can. My feet were killing me from walking around all night in high-heeled boots. I decided to use the chair to try and call a cab again as I massaged my throbbing feet. I probably looked hilarious sitting on that chair next to the garbage can, rubbing my feet at that time of night.
When I was unsuccessful getting the cab, I stood up and prepared myself for the steep decline of the Queen Anne hill. As I started to walk away, I turned back and looked at the chair once more. It would be nice to have if my feet start to hurt again I told myself. They did put it out with the garbage? I decided to take it. I slung the metal chair on my arm and began my descent. I made it home to my apartment in Belltown and kicked off my high-heeled boots. I opened the chair, sat down and watched the sunrise. After a disastrous date, a long walk home, and severely sore feet all I could do was smile because it was a new day and I had a chair. It may have been someone else’s garbage, but to me, it was the best thing in the world.
I meditated on the memory of that night for a bit. I touched the chair once more as I smiled and placed it into the keep pile. I patted the top of the chair as if it was an old friend. I may let it go one day, and maybe it will bring someone else the same feeling of completion and contentment that it did me, but not just yet. The chair had held me together in one of the hardest times of my life. It had become more than a possession; it had become a symbol to me. It reminded me of where I started and how far I have come since then. It told me of all the joys and hardships along the way on my journey of transformation. It always brought back a feeling of simplicity and gratitude when I looked at it. The chair was no longer a possession it was now a talisman. I now sit on that talisman as I write these words to you.
Do you have an item in your life that keeps you grounded, keeps you grateful, reminds you of who you used to be? Does it inspire you? If you do have an item like that keep it close to you. I hope it always reminds you of what matters in this world and how some possessions though expensive and flashy can be worthless, yet some items that may be cheap even insignificant can be priceless.
This thought brings me to why I wrote this entry. I had recently watched a documentary called “Minimalism: A documentary about the important things.” I was so inspired by these two men that believed so strongly in their ideals of minimalistic living that they wrote a book, created a documentary, and traveled the country to speak to others about their method. I had never been a wealthy person or lavish in any way, but after watching this documentary, I had realized that how I thought about “things” and the value I allowed them to put on my life was very damaging.
It also made me think of another documentary I had watched called “Story of stuff” years back. Both are very blunt and powerful in showing the viewer how our society has become utterly obsessed with “stuff.”
In the “Story of Stuff” documentary they even explain to the viewer how depression and overall happiness has severely declined in the last 50 years. Products and materials in the last 50 years have increasingly lost durability and sustainability while their value and cost have risen to epic proportions. We as a society have also fallen under a spell that we are of no value if we do not buy or possess certain items. I once watched a young boy at a dinner party cry uncontrollably because he saw another boy with a handheld video game that he did not have. It wasn’t a whimper or a short cry. It was an I hate my life and everyone around me cry. All because he didn’t have that game. I have seen groups of people outcast someone because they didn’t have fancy, brand name clothing. Some people get further in their career because they have a flashy car. One season certain looks and fashions are “in” and acceptable, the next season they are “out” and you are now expected to go bankrupt buying the latest fashions trying to fit in. If you do not, you could be shunned for being outdated.
I glanced down at my nephew one day as I thought about this concept and wondered how we as a society even got to this point. He coos and gurgles as he is fixed and fascinated by the colors and pictures of a children’s book. He has all kinds of ornate infant toys of the newest design strewn all about him, yet he is oblivious to them or their value. He only sees the picture book in front of him, simple and inexpensive. As babies, we have not yet been exposed to the constant advertising and outside influence to believe that “I want this so I need this” “I am cool if I have this” or “This one thing will make you happy and a better person.”
Babies minds are pure, unprogrammed and have not been brainwashed yet. I stare down at my Nephew wondering if it could be stopped. Could I change the world somehow before the brainwashing could get to him? Could he possibly grow up being content playing with mud and not the latest video games? Could he have a favorite tee-shirt and wear it until it falls apart rather than need the newest and latest brand name fashions to fit in? Could he look at a flower or a strange bug the way some kids look at the latest toy? I sincerely wish I could, but I know that in today’s day and age the mighty dollar is more powerful than, well, anything. I feel that nothing will stop our consumer-driven society from continuing to sell, sell, and SELL some more.
As this realization saddens me, I remember the minimalism documentary and how after watching it I started to see “things” differently. I started ignoring the voices of “You want this so you need it” or “ You will be accepted if you get this.” Instead, I started listening to the questions, “Why do you want this?” “Why do you need this?” “What does it do for you?” “How often will you use it?” ”How does it make you feel?” and “Does it bring purpose to your life?”. I also started paying more attention to durability. “How long will it last?” “Can it be recycled or refurbished one day?” These questions have changed the way that I look at “things” and are how I decide if I should keep them in my life when I purge things that I own. In the last year or so that I have been trying to live this way I have saved more money and felt more free and content than I ever have before.
So, no, I cannot change the world or what others do even for my Nephew or myself, but I can improve what I do in my life and help others to see past the brainwashing. We as a society have allowed ourselves to become addicted, like any other drug out there, to a vicious cycle, to an infuriating, neverending labyrinth of need and desire, to utter emptiness. The good news is we can stop. We can ignore the advertisements, the jeers from people, and even the voices in our own minds if we do one little thing with every item we own or want to buy: ASK THE QUESTION WHY. Do not keep it or buy it unless you can convince yourself why it is or could be essential to you in your life.
Over time, I hope that you may find a feeling of freedom. I hope that your life will begin to feel light and filled with purpose. I hope that you have a “chair” in your life to remind you where you came from, how much joy insignificant things can bring, and how fortunate we are to simply have a place to sit down and watch a sunrise.
Sending you all love and light,
(Photo credit: Getty images, Mathias Clamer)
(All other photos used without photo credit are images found on Google)
Minimalism: A documentary about the important things-
Story of Stuff –