February 23, 2009

The Things I Carried

Print More

As a senior soon to graduate, I have been reflecting on how much I have grown since matriculating at Cornell. I believe my undergraduate experience can be best summarized with the quotation, “I don’t know if it was heaven or hell, but whatever it was, it was wonderful.” I, like many students, have excelled and failed, found love and lost it, matured, evolved my cognitive processes, better understood myself, and have grown even more handsome (not like many students). Positivity does not sell, though – just look at Ithaca’s own Positive News — it’s free and no one reads it. For that reason, my editor encouraged me to reflect on some of the past four years’ hell.
Well, subsisting in the dorms my freshman year was certainly grievous; I had the luck of living in Donlon, also known as “The Zoo.” I did not hate it because I had to share a room that resembled a prison cell with an absolute stranger, or because vomit spewed onto carpets on Friday would not be cleaned until Monday. I did not hate it because it was incessantly noisy, or because all the girls had their periods during the same two-day window each month. And it was not even the fact that the wintertime indoor temperature averaged 90 degrees when outdoor temperature was -4 that made me hate it. I hated it because it did not have adequate space for my things.
I now know that one cannot live in any sort of style or comfort when boarding in a college dorm, but I sure as hell tried. When packing for college – aka putting everything I owned into a U-Haul — my father disapproved of my materialistic ways and insisted that my things would never fit in my room. He said that when he went to college all he had “was two pairs of pants, two shirts, and a notebook” – and that what I was doing was “preposterous” and that I was a “preposterous young man” (a very severe accusation in his book). Well, I didn’t know the size of my room, so I remained optimistic and brought what I felt was necessary.
The following are a list of items that I, in the end, did not need and should never have brought to my 14’ x 11’ double:
— 1 Armani tuxedo
— 1 antique steamer trunk
— 2 leather suitcases from pre 1930
— 2 Houseplants
— 63 neck ties
— 48 pairs of shoes
-— 31 sweaters
— 12 issues of Architectural Digest, Vogue, and GQ
— 1 mahogany hand carved Indian Elephant
— 3 pureed dead babies in a jar
— 1 Victorian side table
— 3 oversized framed posters
— 1 area rug
— 3 Sargadelos Spanish porcelain figures
— 1 world map pin board of where I’d been
— 2 accent pillows
— 9 blazers
— 14 design books
— 1 Peruvian tapestry
— 1 … just kidding about the dead babies …
— 1 heaping of Catholic guilt
— ∞ unwavering morals
Looking back now, I am genuinely impressed that I was able to fit everything into my half of the room, while also being equally disappointed that I chose to do so. After a few weeks it was all just too much. I could barely navigate my room and I practically needed a ladder to get into my bed, which had been severely lofted to make more room for all the things I never used. I succumbed to the cliché of me not owning my possessions, but having them own me; I was indeed a preposterous, and very stressed young man.
I concede that the tasteless cretins who lived in my hall, with their garish Target furniture and lackluster wardrobes, seemed to have the right idea at least in regards to minimalism. For the fabulous few, it is inevitable that we degrade ourselves with sparse living in order to survive in dormitories; there truly is no way around it.
For those of you whom will be living again in dorms next year, bless your hearts and good luck. Take only what you truly need and remember it is quality over quantity. Being able to live simply really is a virtue and it is often a blessing in disguise.
For those of you living off campus or looking to find a place — get the biggest fucking room that you can. If you are anything like me, you will undoubtedly need all space. After attempted minimalist dormitory living my sophomore year, I relapsed and got the biggest bedroom I could find for the following year: 18’ x 16’ with a full private bath and a 6’ x 18’ glass porch which conveniently doubled as my closet. It was heaven.
The moral of the story: if it is at all possible — do as I say and not as I do and sincerely try to simplify your life, you will not regret it. But if clothing is your crack and the thought of having fewer than eight pairs of jeans makes you uneasy, get out of the dorm system before it is too late. People might think you are preposterous, but at least you will always look fantastic.