Recently at a party I revealed I had started a blog. I explained that it was about shopaholism, hoarding, and my relationship to physical possessions.
I was surprised at what then happened. The host reached into his bookcases, overstuffed to overflowing, and began to bring out his most treasured books, ardently describing unusual printings, first editions, autographs.
The tone of his voice made it sound as though I were trying to take away his most precious possessions.
“But you should keep the things you want!” I exclaimed. His wife, a neatnik, nodded vigorously. I continued, “Put a random batch of things in a box. Take out the few things you most value. Whatever is left, no matter how much you now feel like keeping it, you get rid of.” I had learned this little trick when beginning to get a handle on my hoarding. My friend’s wife beamed.
It didn’t convince him. He continued explicating what made his books special and valuable, as well as the good deals he got on some of them, a quarter for a special edition here, a rare nineteenth-century book lying on the curb for the taking there, and more.
He wasn’t boasting. His enthusiasm took on a desperate edge, the tone of a salesman with a foot in the door who is trying to make that sale before the door slams shut.
I felt a great deal of sympathy. Among my books, I, too, have a few special ones.
But his pleading dramatized something that I have said before on this blog: When you hoard things, or when you approach potential possessions with shopaholism, the things don’t make you happy, and admittedly, the things may not be the goal of your existence – but getting rid of them, or not buying them, causes you anxiety.
And so I will continue to write on this blog about how I am turning down item after item that I want, because I have to work on desensitizing myself to this anxiety.
Asceticism in one sense is not denial of the self; from this perspective, asceticism is really a denial of the false, pretend self that feels anxiety at the prospective loss of material goods.
As with rosebushes, asceticism involves pruning down the deadwood to what may look like a pathetic stub of the former bush, but which is actually the vital, living part, the only part that is capable of growing and blooming.