My father has never loved me, and I'm okay with that. What he loves is his stuff. Unlike me, who is a constant source of disappointment to him, stuff is always there to comfort him. Stuff does not have its own opinions—it's the perfect companion silently agreeing with everything being said.
Stuff does not mind being moved around or altered. It does not oppose being adjusted to satisfy the wildest of expectations. Yes, things are easier to deal with than people, and handling them leaves a sweet aftertaste of total control in your mouth.
Being born in an economically impaired Eastern European country, you learn to cherish stuff from the very beginning. Everything is precious, waste is a cardinal sin. Saving better things for special occasions like weddings or funerals is a must. Everyday life is not worthy of using good china or wearing your nice dress. You ought to save empty glass jars and plastic containers. Boxes too, and not only for your cats' pleasure. Those were the rules I was taught during my childhood spent in homes stuffed with things like my grandmother's piegori were stuffed with meat and cabbage.
On top of that classic Slavic cult of stuff on my mother's side of the family, there were strong hoarding tendencies on my father's side. His mother loved buying everything she could get her hands on, even shoes that were not really her size. Having stuff for the very sake of having it was her favorite flavor of jam. And there I was in the middle of all this—a little girl loving her toys just as much adults around me were loving theirs.
I did not know any other way to be. As I grew older, I have started to suspect that maybe there is more to life than just working and then spending all your money on things that you don't really need. That maybe we were not meant to serve our things, constantly tending to their needs, trapped in a vicious cycle of cleaning and repairing them. That possibly it is supposed be the other way around. But I've ignored that nagging feeling, trusting the judgement of my stuff-worshiping family. Surely, if I only accumulate the right amount of proper things to surround myself with and to care for, it will make me happy and safe.
So I continued to go down that road until I was about 25 and I realized that owning an apartment overflowing with carefully curated collection of clutter did nothing for my well-being. I was crafting my own private kingdom of stuff and was painfully unaware of it. As the walls surrounding my fortress built with all kinds of things grew taller and taller, separating me from the rest of the world, I finally realized I was turning into my father. That thought scared me, and I promised myself that my life was not going to be like that.
At first I felt relieved that I had figured out what was wrong with me, and then guilty about all the money I've carelessly spent on giant plastic icons, fake flamingos, and generic Hollywood memorabilia. That's how the phase of "I'm going to sell and give away my way to happiness" started. After that, I caught a bad case of chronic dissatisfaction with the amount of my possessions. For the next couple of years, I was hopelessly going back and forth between cluttering and decluttering my space.
Right about then I discovered what seemed like a medicine for my material malady in minimalism. At that time, I did not understand the very principle of it, the only part that spoke to me was the shallow prescriptive version. And for a moment superficial prescriptions of how many things I should allow in my life worked. I was curing myself by counting my things. I was self-medicating by making detailed lists of what I had already decluttered and what I still needed to let go of. It gave me purpose, provided a delicious distraction from my real problems. Yes, it worked nicely right up until it stopped. I grew tired of my daily life being governed by stuff and finally learn to acknowledge it for what it really was—just stuff. It was me who was unnecessarily giving it so much power. I'm not defined by what I own or do not own. It took me a decade in material limbo to understand that.
Don't get me wrong, coming from a long line of hoarders, I still like things. I enjoy looking at them, using them, occasionally even buying something new. At 35, I've finally come to a point where I don't feel the need to own every single thing within my reach that I find nice or even beautiful. I can appreciate them and let them go without arming them with false meaning. I'm not my stuff; I'm not my father. And most of all, when it comes to stuff, I have nothing to prove. Not to anyone, not to myself.