Today I did something I haven't done in a long time: I bought new socks. Presently, there is an entire portion of my underwear drawer (the entirety of which is a wasteland I've lost any semblance of control over and is a topic unto itself) dedicated to single socks which have lost their counterpart and are essentially useless. There's maybe...ten, fifteen of these solo socks? These are socks I've carried with me from apartment, to house, to house, to house. They complicate my morning, quite literally, every day, as they obscure my view of functional pairs of socks, and prolong what ought to be an easy and mechanical process. Why? That I've held onto these socks is but one expression of an aspect of my personality I'm beginning to understand more clearly. I attach symbolic significance to objects in my life. Maybe that makes me a hoarder? It's almost certainly fertile psychological ground for hoarder-like behavior.
I also have a collection of obsolete and broken electronic devices I plan to someday mount in a shadow box and hang on a wall. Thought: the samsung flip phone I used throughout high-school and my freshman year of college was as much a part of my life as the journals I wrote in. Why keep one and discard the other just because the phone gets replaced and refreshed in a defined cycle and the journal never will? The socks are the same. Some of these socks were gifts. I have a particular grey sock with pink stripes that I love; I remember precisely where and in what mood I was when I purchased those socks. I now just have the one. Their utility erased, is there not something left in them worth holding onto? My girlfriend says maybe we can make rags out of those single socks, thus extending their lives, wringing the last drops of usefulness from them. Maybe they could be sewn into a sweater and warm me again as they used to? Probably not.
Why all the fuss? I'm being honest here: I have real anxiety about these socks and socks in general, the chaos of it all. I'm exhausted by the Sisyphean task of maintaining order in the underwear drawer, and weary of placing my faith in new socks only to be disappointed by a stray thread or a weird stitch.
I'm in awe of people who maintain ruthless control over these aspects of their lives. I daydream about what Jony Ive's closet must look like: black t-shirts, sensible trousers. When one t-shirt gets a bit tattered, it's discarded and replaced with an identical one. Remove the distractions, streamline the activity of getting to the point.
I've been told, many times, that I'd feel better if I de-cluttered my life. If I were to rid myself of the many useless objects I'm stubbornly attached to, maybe I'd feel better, calmer, and happier in my home. Maybe I'd be more productive? Who knows? If the only thing standing between me and a clean, brushed aluminum life were laziness, I'm confident I'd have overcome that laziness by now. There is something deeper, and perhaps more worrisome at play here. To some degree, I've wrapped bits of myself in these objects - like Voldemort and his Horcruxes - only instead of life essence, I've preserved in these objects tiny access points to memories and feelings. These objects form a sort of messy constellation around me, and by studying that constellation I'm able to locate my past, present, and future. These things keep the ship pointed due north.
They're just socks you say, it's only a flip phone. Listen, you're right. You're right! I'm growing here. I bought the new socks. I'm throwing out the old ones, or making them into rags, whatever makes more sense. These new socks are great, very comfortable, and I got them for a great price. I folded them into piles and stacked them in the underwear drawer. They immediately fell over. A bead of sweat formed on my brow. The cycle continues.