I recently deleted all my music.
Just under ten thousand songs. Some purchased, some carried over from archives that are at least seven years old. Most of it was pirated. But now all of it’s gone, erased. I traded in my iPod (30GB video) for some Gamestop store credit.
The recent events of my life, as well as some free time, have given me the opportunity for reflection. When I was younger I loved making lists, keeping an absolute inventory of everything I owned. Even when I was little I was worldbuilding, on a smaller scale than I am now for novels, but I wanted to know every single item and every single person’s name in the worlds I created.
But another purpose drove that almost compulsive need to inventory: minimalism. The eight-year-old Jared had a communist world: one type of car, one type of TV, one brand for everything. To this day, I keep a very small amount of possessions. Everything else I have is just “stuff” and I wouldn’t hesitate to leave it, or sell it.
My Kindle is a thin slab of plastic which now constitutes my entire library.
My USB drive, 2GB, is attached to my keys and has everything I’ve ever written.
Then there’s my games, my clothes, my photography equipment. And it’s all too much.
Ironically all the music I owned took up space no bigger than the iPod itself, a fat credit card. But now it’s gone, and with it I’ve dismissed my need to know the name of the song that’s playing, and the slight moral struggle of stealing music has come to a satisfying close: I don’t have to.
I still listen to it. All the time I’m rocking out to songs I’ve never heard before. But it’s fleeting, and when it’s gone, chance is the only thing I trust to decide if I’ll ever hear that song again. It sounds a little cheesy, but that’s life. All you have to enjoy is the time you’re given with an object, a person, an experience. Once it’s gone, that’s it. Material things will be here long after we’re gone, but the experiences we had with them, those are only real insofar as we can savor them.
The only way to truly immortalize your life experiences is by sharing them with other people. That’s the other obvious benefit of not being attached to material things.
I feel like the world in which I was raised was one that decided you need to be a consumer to have any worth. You need to be, as my 8th grade teacher used to say, a “Productive Member of Society”. That is still true. Jobs are cool. Money is cool. Being able to live under your own power is a good, good thing. But when I look around I see that our attempts at communication come up short. There’s so much information out there, and so many material things that have taken away so much of our lives. We’re tethered to them like charger cables, like we won’t survive if we’re away from our computers. This is something that genuinely frightens me.
I won’t stand on a soapbox and preach the word of minimalistic immaterialism. Maybe someday, years from now, I’ll write a longer piece. But my music was something that I was struggling to control. I love music, but the thousands of songs and the hours spent hunting them down and lurking in the depths of the Internet allowed me to realize just how much control I had lost. It was the perfect subject for the experiment. Something I can live without, but can experience outside of my own control. Something that won’t go away, but that doesn’t need to be a permanent resident in my life.
Now that it’s gone, I have the opportunity to experience other things, and this wasn’t the first experiment in letting go of what I “own”. I donate my clothes every six months. I sort through old technology and old toys and look for a way to liquidate them. I’m able to experience things that aren’t tied to material objects. I’m able to think and communicate more clearly.
I still have and still love the feel of physical books, a nice new shirt, expensive gaming consoles. But those are things I enjoyed when I grew up a privileged white male. The things I have that I enjoy now will stay with me far longer. I have more time with my friends and family, and my cat. I have more time to chill outside with a good book or try to be more in tune with nature.
And best of all, now I have the chance to write. All my life I’ve been reading, listening, taking, consuming. I’ve been absorbing stories, from my friends and family, from fictional media, from the world in which I live. Now I’m a little older and a little more articulate. Now I have the chance to give something back.
Now, I have a voice.