In a thousand years, when we’ve all been dead long enough for our children’s children’s…children’s children to completely forget about us; when most of the texts and visual documentation is lost; when oral accounts have been altered beyond recognition from telling and retelling and most have stopped being told at all, what will the archaeologists of the remaining civilization learn about us when they dig up our possessions?
My brother got me thinking about this. He’s been discouraging me from getting rid of too many things. Maybe when we throw out the things that have significance, our descendants will not get a full picture of who we were and what we were doing. Maybe we shouldn’t get rid of so many books (we’re still keeping quite a few). Maybe we should keep those high school awards that sit in a box in the basement, because they tell our story. Maybe the extra, unconnected washer and dryers we have in the basement give a more complete view of who we are.
Maybe that’s not how we want history to remember us. Maybe the story all those things tell is how great we are at collecting stuff we don’t really need or use.
This is really two different ideas. My brother and I were talking about the things we were getting rid of. That’s the step Sunny and I are currently on: purging. But once we’ve throw out everything that’s just been sitting around, we’ll have less stuff, we’ll buy less stuff, and our house will be less full. Once we’ve gotten rid of all the frivolous sundries, the discussion will change. It won’t be about throwing away objects that tell a story. The question will become how will our story be told if we don’t have enough things to tell it for us?
My brother asked me if, when we have fewer items in our lives, those things hold greater significance, or if significance itself is tied to things. I guess the question is: Do more things equate to greater personal value? The answer, which seems quite obvious to me, is no. Quantity and value are inversely proportional. If you own ten rain hats, and you need to go out into the rain, it doesn’t matter which hat you walk out of the house with. In fact, you may misplace half of them and it would have no effect on you because you still have five more to choose from. But you have just one hat, and it’s pouring, you’d better know where that hat is.
When my brother and I talked about this on the phone the other day, I couldn’t answer the archaeological question. I didn’t really even have a fully formed question. It seems so obvious to me now. Just as I place greater value on the items I have now that I have fewer of them, I believe they will hold a greater significance to the archaeologists of the future. When today’s archaeologists find old pottery or tools or pots, they hold loads of significance. They get pieced back together and put into Plexiglas cases in museums with notes about what our ancestors used them for. How will our things be viewed? How will we be judged for the ways we used our Earth’s resources? For how much we threw into landfills, for how much we turned into trinkets and trifles that sat around gathering dust?
When it comes time to be judged by our descendants, I hope they say we lived intentionally, that we didn’t waste time, money and resources on things that didn’t matter, and that they learn from our good example. I hope our descendants are smarter than us, but I also hope that when they study us, they discover that we were pretty smart too.