Friday 3 January 2003

Poor little rich boy

Don't get attached to anything you can't walk out on in 30 seconds if you feel the heat around the corner.

Neil McCauley (Robert de Niro), Heat

The Sunday Times Magazine once published a feature (which I can't find online) on those who suddenly acquire wealth through lottery wins, unexpected inheritances etc., to determine if those tabloid stories of "Lottery Win Ruined My Life" had basis in fact. The conclusion was that too much money could spoil things and that five million pounds was the right amount to win, enough to ensure you could lead a comfortable life, but not so much that you could acquire stressful belongings. The downside of wealth was high maintenance possessions - the beach house in Malibu and collection of Ferrari's - that required time and effort to look after.

I'm a long way shy of five million quid, but my small, unkempt bedroom is heavy with belongings; CDs stack from floor to light switch, MiniDiscs engulf the toiletries, bag straps spill from the top of the wardrobe, shoe laces trail from the bottom. And books, my God the books, few are on display in the room's confines, but their heft weighs down the boxes that fill the corner, presses from the choked attic crawlspace and distantly tugs from the cases in my parents' home.

With no house or partner to maintain, I translate my pay into an ever-growing pile of things - a slowly expanding camping kit drawer, shelves of music and books, a creaking wardrobe, mountains of electronics. And while I love my slinky MiniDisc player and lightweight titanium camping cookware, each possession drags heavily and brings a weight of maintenance responsibility; the cordless phone has stopped connecting to the phone line, the car tyres are nearly bald, the MiniDisc player loses charge within fifteen minutes.

I daydream of Iain M Banks' Culture, a utopian world where automated production has so outstripped demand that every person can have anything they want, leaving them free to own nothing and be responsible only for themselves and their actions. One of my major joys now is to drive towards that ideal by jettisoning those items I no longer want, I grasp a large bag and a solid resolve and sternly yank out the unworn clothes from the wardrobe and the books I'll never read again to make the trip to the charity shop. The completion of each cathartic episode leaves me lighter, cleaner, stronger.

Peer pressure pushes me in the opposite, acquisitive direction; buy a house, fill it with a settee, a cooker, duvets, toilet roll holders, coat hooks, limited edition prints, throws, rugs, pasta jars, DVDs, but the sheer gravity of such a black-hole of objects would drag me over the event horizon into an adult world I'm quietly trying to reject.

Perhaps I should fill a rucksack and walk off into the sunset, leaving behind a disordered pile of unneeded things. First I'd need to buy a new rucksack...

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