Jul 02

Take it from a sailor: It’s All Lumber; Throw it Overboard!

Tag: humorous,musingsjonny5waldman @ 3:28 am

[Reposted from my Outside blog]

A couple of days ago, I helped my friend Liz move out of her fancy apartment. She’s lived in San Francisco for five years, and, as landlubbers tend to do, acquired nice furniture, a bunch of art, and a few acres of books, as well as all those little gewgaws that sit atop shelves and coffee tables. I was enlisted to help move the “heavy things” and “very heavy things” down three flights of stairs, so that she could transport them and store them elsewhere, until further notice. My help, unsolicited as it was, began immediately, over the phone. “Sell it all!” I said. “Put it on Craigslist. Put it on the street. Just get rid of it!” I tend to treat unwanted objects like jank.

Liz, who fancies her possessions, likes her lot of things, was not amused. And her initial experience with Craigslist — some scam artist claiming he was hearing-impaired, hence the unusual shipping and payment arrangement — was not encouraging. She rationalized her situation. If she couldn’t sell her unwanted furniture right away, she’d put it in storage, and sell it in a few weeks. This was even worse: this was like being a slave to your possessions. “Just get rid of it!” I said again. “It’s not worth the trouble!” Liz’s uncle, a sailor, who was also there to help, agreed with me. While Liz crammed things into cardboard boxes, I offered to throw some stuff out her 3rd floor window. He said he’s already suggested that. We laughed: a laugh, perhaps, that only sailors can share. Liz didn’t laugh. She ran around packaging things up, making her life difficult, chained, apparently, to her stuff.

I’ve always been a minimalist, but living on a boat makes you an austere minimalist. You don’t fret over things, or lament their loss. When deciding whether or not jettison possessions, the default becomes Get Rid of It. I’m sure the habit will come back to bite me in the ass later in life, but for now, I’m proud of it. I am the Jank Remover, and when the question is “To take or not to take,” I have my answer in 3 milliseconds. Beat that processing speed, Google.

So after I carried Liz’s sofa bed, bookshelf, carpet, coffee table, and huge TV down the stairs, and had a couple of beers, I recalled a certain relevant literary anecdote. It’s a tongue-in-cheek story of three overworked, partied-out, permanently-hungover English lads — George, Harris, and Jerome (and their dog) —  who decide to rejuvenate themselves by taking a week-long boat trip up the Thames River. It’s called, fittingly enough, “Three Men in a Boat,” and it’s hilarious. The story is classic — it’s #33 on the Guardian‘s list of “The 100 Greatest Novels of All Time” and #2 on Esquire‘s list of “50 Funniest Books Ever.” It was written in 1889, and has never been out of print, and is freely available online, courtesy of the Gutenburg Project.

The part that I thought of, and later sent to Liz, is from the planning stage of their voyage. Here’s an extended excerpt:

George said: “You know we are on a wrong track altogether.  We must not think of the things we could do with, but only of the things that we can’t do without.”

George comes out really quite sensible at times.  You’d be surprised.  I call that downright wisdom, not merely as regards the present case, but with reference to our trip up the river of life, generally.  How many people, on that voyage, load up the boat till it is ever in danger of swamping with a store of foolish things which they think essential to the pleasure and comfort of the trip, but which are really only useless lumber.

How they pile the poor little craft mast-high with fine clothes and big houses; with useless servants, and a host of swell friends that do not care twopence for them, and that they do not care three ha’pence for; with expensive entertainments that nobody enjoys, with formalities and fashions, with pretence and ostentation, and with – oh, heaviest, maddest lumber of all! – the dread of what will my neighbour think, with luxuries that only cloy, with pleasures that bore, with empty show that, like the criminal’s iron crown of yore, makes to bleed and swoon the aching head that wears it!

It is lumber, man – all lumber!  Throw it overboard. It makes the boat so heavy to pull, you nearly faint at the oars. It makes it so cumbersome and dangerous to manage, you never know a moment’s freedom from anxiety and care, never gain a moment’s rest for dreamy laziness – no time to watch the windy shadows skimming lightly o’er the shallows, or the glittering sunbeams flitting in and out among the ripples, or the great trees by the margin looking down at their own image, or the woods all green and golden, or the lilies white and yellow, or the sombre-waving rushes, or the sedges, or the orchis, or the blue forget-me-nots.

Throw the lumber over, man!  Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need – a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing.

You will find the boat easier to pull then, and it will not be so liable to upset, and it will not matter so much if it does upset; good, plain merchandise will stand water.  You will have time to think as well as to work. Time to drink in life’s sunshine – time to listen to the Aeolian music that the wind of God draws from the human heart-strings around us – time to… Well, we left the list to George, and he began it.

One Response to “Take it from a sailor: It’s All Lumber; Throw it Overboard!”

  1. suky says:

    Well said. Last fall it took me 3 months to sell, giveaway and throw away my ‘stuff’. I had felt for a long time, that all the things were weighing me down. Thank you for expressing so well the joys of living a minimalist life, but minimalist only in possessions so that one can enjoy the riches of friendship and the bounty of nature.

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