Destructive Objectivity


Over the weekend I had the opportunity to do some volunteer work at this lady’s house. We were there to help paint parts of her house, build a fence, clean out her crawlspace and such.

There was moment of the afternoon when she was looking out from her porch into the street where we had filled an industrial sized dumpster full of her old belongings.

“I’m exhausted,” she sighed, though she didn’t really do anything.

It was the army of strangers (though well intentioned) that stormed into her home and gutted the thing of all her memories. We were particularly destructive with our objectivity as we tried to figure out what was worth keeping and what was trash. I was guilty too. The happiest moment of the day for me was when I smashed an old dresser into pieces with a baseball bat.

At the end of the day she was relieved, probably coming to terms with the idea that “the things you own will eventually own you.” She probably feels like she can start fresh again.

But I think there’s something in how the things we own not only carry sentimental value, but they become something like memory markers. A lot of the things we own aren’t that particularly special – movie tickets, books, toys, clothes, etc. – but they become affirmations of memories that were interesting but not interesting enough for you to remember forever. Fleeting things I guess.

As we were enthusiastically chucking her things into the dumpster, we were throwing away all her little memory markers. When she tried to save something, we pushed back:

“You don’t need this.”

“It doesn’t even work anymore.”

I can see how that’s exhausting, but I can also see how she couldn’t have done it herself. Sometimes volunteers aren’t there solely for the manpower.


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