I woke up in Past Self’s bed, wearing Past Self’s nightgown. I took a shower and used her soap and shampoo and even her razor. I know she won’t mind; she’s Past Self and she won’t be needing it anymore. The trouble with Past Self is that when she moved out, she left all her junk behind. My closet is full of her clothes, my shelves are full of her books, and my fridge is full of her leftovers. What. A. Slob. Past Self, I’m so tired of cleaning up after you all the time.
Past Self isn’t completely selfish, though. In fact, her rationale for most of the clutter she brought home was that she thought I would want it. Apparently she thought a bunch of crumpled receipts were my thing. Judging by my bookshelves, she also had some pretty misguided ideas about what I would want to read. She made all these queues and playlists for me, not just of books but of movies and music and articles and YouTube videos. It’s like, doesn’t she have anything better to do? Why does she have to keep trying to decide what I do in my spare time? At least she finally quit buying me craft supplies, like I was really going to want her to plan my next 10-15 years’ worth of leisure time. You don’t own me, Past Self! What a control freak.
I’m in this limbo period right now. I’ve finally managed to wind down my compulsive media acquisition, so I can work through the backlog, either reading/listening to items or editing them out of the list. I’m trying to develop a sense of how many books, articles, podcasts, etc. I can process in a day and in a week. I want to be current. I want to let go of any attachment to the idea that I will “catch up” with items that may date back to 2007. Similarly, I am working on a vision of how Future Self is going to live, and what her material surroundings will look like.
See, the thing about Future Self is that she is going to wake up in my bed one day. She’ll have to deal with the ramifications of my choices, for good or ill. I can leave her stacks of bills, piles of dirty laundry, and boxes full of clutter. I can also choose to treat her to something nice. I could get her a bouquet for tomorrow. I could send her money. I could surprise her with her dream home one day. All I have to do is to figure out how she would want it decorated.
What kind of stuff will Future Self have? What is she going to want? If we started with a clean slate, how much of my stuff and Past Self’s stuff would she wish she had? Unless she goes to live full-time at a luxury resort, I can assume she’ll want furniture and dishes and laundry detergent and all the dozens of other basic household items. Those are things she can get anywhere. It’s the personalized stuff that’s under scrutiny. How many hard copies of photographs and documents and academic papers will she want? How many ornaments and decorations and bits of bric-a-brac? Is she really going to want to re-read everything I think she will? Is she still going to like the same music as me? Is she going to fit in my hand-me-down clothes, and will they still be in style? I know I’ve had to have these same conversations with Past Self, because she kept buying me clothes that turned out to be four sizes too big. She also left me a lot of boxes of random stuff. It’s not that I’m ungrateful, Past Self, I just wish you’d saved your money and sent me on a Parisian vacation instead.
When I picture Future Self, I like to think of her having more freedom and more options than I do now. I like to think she’ll be able to travel more than I do. I like to think that her house looks intentional, that she has some kind of readily apparent design sensibility on display. I like to think that she’s fit and stylish and that she has better hair than I do. When I think of the technology that will be available to her, I quiver a little. She’ll be reading books my favorite authors haven’t even written yet and listening to music that doesn’t exist. GPS will be better, search engines will be better, and there will be hundreds of incremental improvements and innovations I can’t even imagine, but she’ll be able to take them for granted. If I saw her phone right now, I’d probably cry.
In my lifetime so far, I’ve seen a lot of things become obsolete and fall by the wayside. For example, I used to have a push-button phone that picked up AM radio in the background, but only on my end. It had a three-foot cord. I’ve also spent countless hours in thrift stores that are chock-full of fugly castoffs, like an “Aisle” of Misfit Toys, but for clothes and lamps and plates. It makes me skeptical about material objects. They seem so desirable, until the zeitgeist blows by and they start looking shabby and lame in comparison. When Past Self and Future Self are separated by more than five years, it’s safe to assume that Future Self is not going to feel aesthetic delight in Past Self’s tacky, shopworn choices. Future Self may be traveling the world, living out of a suitcase, and not interested in most physical possessions of any kind.
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I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.