Prized Possessions

I got to thinking about my most-prized possessions. Which are they really? Which of my stuff would I try to rescue if the house caught fire, or if we had to flee enemy troops and bring along or hide our valuables?

One way to look at it would be to simply enumerate the most expensive stuff I have, the things that would cost the most to replace if they disappeared or would fetch a good price if I sold them. But YuSie and I don’t really have any valuables. No gold or precious stones or artwork or other collectibles worth mentioning, and our home electronics are simple and years old. So’s our car. And we live in a huge tenement building that’s most definitely not our possession. Also, even if I did happen to own something with a big price sticker, say, an inherited vintage watch or a piece of heavy celebrity memorabilia, there’s nothing to say that I’d be very keen to replace it if I lost it.

Another approach would be to rank stuff according to sentimental value. But I am unsentimental about material possessions. Sure, many old things I’ve got trigger fond memories when I handle them, but I never seek them out to get that effect, and I wouldn’t miss them if the option to seek them out were closed to me. Photographs of the kids when they were younger provoke a really strong emotional response in me on the rare occasions when I look at them, but it’s kind of knee-jerk and backwards — of course I don’t wish that my son had quit growing at age two, and I don’t love his current version any less than I did his toddler one. Old photographs of your kids really just invite painful nostalgia.

My most prized possessions must be something that I’d miss and that would be hard or even impossible to regain if I lost it. Thinking about it, I find it’s mainly stuff to do with my work. I’d be really upset if my archaeological finds went up in flames, but they’re not strictly my possessions, I just safekeep them until the Heritage Board’s administrative machinery has churned out a museum allocation for them. I’d be more distraught if my unpublished manuscripts and databases went to the great null device in the sky, which is why I make regular backup copies of the files onto various servers. I’ve got digital diaries and reading lists from the mid-90s onward, but I back them up too.

Picturing myself in the parking lot, watching the house go up in smoke, I can’t really think of a single thing I’d like to charge in and rescue. As long as my family is safely with me there on the asphalt, as long as we all still have our health and wits, I can’t really see that there is anything I can’t afford to lose.

What about you, Dear Reader?

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Comments

  1. #1 paddy
    August 17, 2007

    I thought about just that question many times. All I would actually want are all of my writing projects. And since I back those up regularly online, then there isn’t a problem. Digital photos I would miss, but the past is the past, like you say.

    Since I lost most of my childhood stuff when my parents put them in a damp room, I stopped caring about material stuff. Nowadays I spend more time giving stuff away than I do getting new stuff.

  2. #2 Martin R
    August 17, 2007

    It’s been liberating for me to realise that a book or a CD is just an output device for information you can retrieve elsewhere whenever you like. I too have become a non-hoarder.

  3. #3 Thinker
    August 17, 2007

    I completely agree – the material objects in my home are sort of nice to have around, but largely replaceable. The whole family is moving in the direction of getting rid of things rather than amassing more, and the standard response to the question “What do you want for your birthday?” is now “No things, please – give me a memory.” And so we take each other out to dinner, a show, a concert, a cruise in the archipelago or something like that instead. Much, much better!

  4. #4 ERV
    August 17, 2007

    Just my dog. That is a continual source of worry for me– That Ill come home from work to find my dog was burned alive because some other tenant fell asleep smoking or forgot an iron on.

  5. #5 Hans Persson
    August 17, 2007

    As for stuff (stereo, computer, etc) I’m with you.

    I’m a bit more sentimental about photos, mainly because I have a trunk full of inherited ones (late 1800s) that I’d hate to lose. Our modern photos are digital, and backed up elsewhere. My own childhood photos are not backed up, but I can’t say that I look at them often. But I still like having them. I’ve enjoyed looking at old photos of relatives who died before I was born, so I hope that my children will have the same photos to look at. I’m working on scanning the really old stuff, but it takes time.

    I have close to 200 signed books, most of them dedicated to me by various writers over the years. I’d like to keep those. The rest of my books can be replaced (with some difficulty).

    I have a pretty large genealogical database (for want of a better word) which I mostly created before having a computer fast enough to handle it. This means that it’s almost all on paper and not backed up. It’s in a fire-safe safe (which is unlocked, to discourage thieves from taking stuff from it) in my basement.

    I have about have a shelf meter of manuscripts that my grandfather created. I have typed up some of them, but far from all. I haven’t even read them all. Once I’ve done that, the originals won’t be as important, but until then I’d hate to lose them.

    I want to keep my own writings, but they are all digital and backed up. Not a problem.

    Finally there are a few physical things that I’d like to keep. I have a tuxedo that both my grandfather and I were married in. I have my great grandfather’s pocket watch, and a few more things like that.

  6. #6 Ted H.
    August 17, 2007

    Through the years my wife and I have collected LOTS AND LOTS of stuff. Some of it is kind of valuable, and it would be really distressing to lose any of it, but in an absolute emergency, I can’t think of anything I really would be desperate to save. I know it sounds corny, but it is true: As long as my family is safe, nothing else matters. I do consider our pets part of our family, so if you don’t, they would be the possessions I would save. The only other thing that I would save would probably be the disk drive that has all our digitized photos in it.

  7. #7 Martin R
    August 17, 2007

    I agree, a pet is more your ward than your possession. Protegé, skyddsling.

  8. #8 Rikard
    August 17, 2007

    I’d just take my laptop and run… Oh, and the harddrive with the music. After moving to another country twice in the last five years me and my significant other realized that the less stuff you have, the better. Most of our stuff is in our parents’ basements and garages back home and I don’t miss it. (Except the CDs and vinyls that I did not rip…)

  9. #9 Martin R
    August 17, 2007

    A good thing about moving every now and then is you start to recognise the boxes that simply move from store room to store room without ever getting unpacked. Sooner or later you move them to the garbage instead. The next time I move, someone will find a complete late 80s and early 90s suite of White Dwarf Magazine in the trash.

    Reminds me that I should put up my mint-condition Skeleton Horde model kit on eBay soon.

  10. #10 sharon
    August 17, 2007

    My computer, my mobile phone and my diary/address book. Oh, and that hard drive full of research data, photos, etc.

    These few things contain my life, work and relationships for the last several years. Everything else is just stuff.

    (I don’t have a pet. That would be different.)

  11. #11 Christina
    August 17, 2007

    Martin;
    “I’d be more distraught if my unpublished manuscripts and databases went to the great null device in the sky,”
    You mean there’s more? That I haven’t read??!! Oooooh! Gimme, gimme, gimme! Pretty please with a cherry on top, hurry up and finish those, there are people (me) waiting to read them and translate into Englsih so all my friends can read them too…
    Wanna hear something stupid? Someone recently stole some stuff of ours. The thing that crushed me wasn’t my expensive stuff or whatever, but it was my work pants, the ones from Sweden, with the built in knee-pads. Can’t get those here, not in ladies size 4, anyhow. I almost died. How dumb is that? But the thing is, that I wore them for my fist ever dig. The only other thing that woud make me that upset would be if I lost all the CD’s that my brother and his band have recorded over the years, and also the Mjöllnir pendant that he gave me. The cd:s can be replaced, and I suppose the pendant can be, too, but they would not be cd:s that HE gave me, and it’d not be THE pendant. My mom has artwork that my kids made, if the ones I’ve saved were to go up in flames, and there are copies of all the old photos of all the great great great grandparents and my cousins and whatnot, but nobody in the family can duplicate the relationhip I have with my brothers. Those two things, both of which have little meaning to anyone but us, are things I use every day. I feel “him” on my skin when the pendant rests on my chest, and I can hear his voice and his words on the cd:s. That’s worth something when one of you is on one side of the world, and the other is on the other. Other than that, I don’t give a toss about most of my worldly possesions!
    I value knowledge more than anything. In that respect, you’ve been a ceasless source, not just because you write exquisite things and because you are meticulous in your work and not afraid to say what you mean, but also becasue you’ve recently sent JG my way. I am more concerned with relationships that I am with things, and that relationship has become very precious to me.-T

  12. #12 Martin R
    August 18, 2007

    Sharon: Like me, it’s irreplaceable data you care about, not physical possessions.

    Christina: Aaaw, sweetie, you’re making me blush! Help everybody, I’m being love bombed here!

    The unpublished manuscript that’s really irking me is a short-book-length study of Vendel Period tortoise brooches. I travelled to about ten museums all around Scandinavia (including Tromsoe!) to look at hundreds of the little fuckers and completed the manuscript in April ’05. But the editor of the publication series it was accepted into had cancer and teaching duties and admin duties and the manuscript just molders. I should put it on-line, maybe at PLoS.

    Then of course there’s my on-going work with the late 1st Millennium aristocrats of Östergötland. It’s gonna be a book too, and I hope to have the manuscript done in 2009. Right now I need to learn ArcView for the distribution maps.

  13. #13 Hans Persson
    August 18, 2007

    I’d definitely like to read about your Östergötland aristocrats. Keep writing!

  14. #14 Martin R
    August 18, 2007

    Hey Hans, I didn’t know you had a blog in English as well!

  15. #15 mary
    August 18, 2007

    The keys to my truck! When I come in at night, my knife, keys and wallet go in my hat, on my desk, so I guess i would grab them as I went out the door.
    Funny how redundant the replies are, and how we all think we can rely on off-site servers for our manuscripts, ancestral photos, favorite books and music. I would love to get rid of about 3/4 of my possessions. From 16 to 35 I lived out of a duffelbag and a pickup and never staid anywhere more than a year. It is amazing how much JUNK you accumulate when you are sedentary.

  16. #16 Martin R
    August 18, 2007

    Wow, Mary, I checked out your web site and you are one heavy dude!

  17. #17 Hans Persson
    August 20, 2007

    Martin: I do have an English blog, but I haven’t been publicizing it much.

    Actually I have one in (very bad) Japanese as well, but since my studies in said language have been on ice for a while I couldn’t really make sense of the comment I got there the other day. :-/

  18. #18 Martin R
    August 20, 2007

    Never mind the comment, that was probably just my wife cursing in Chinese.

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