This column was published as part of the Commencement Issue for the Class of 2015.
Lately, I have been trying to sell everything that I own. My creaky Ikea bed for $60. The patterned mahogany rug, on which I served Earl Grey from a makeshift tea set, for $20. Copies of The Canterbury Tales, Paradise Lost, The Norton Shakespeare, all regrettably in “perfect condition” — $5 each.
“Prices negotiable,” my online sales pitches proclaim, and it’s true: I’m pretty committed to getting rid of it all. Strangers message me to whittle down the cost of my already-meager assets, and I happily oblige, still pleasantly surprised that someone is willing to pay for the wooden dresser with a middle drawer that won’t close. I think that I won’t need these things wherever I’m going next, and even if I do, I’ll just find their better cousins and make those mine instead. Each sale gives me a small thrill; I’ve never considered myself a businesswoman, but apparently all it takes is membership in the “Free & For Sale” Facebook group and a working cell phone camera.
I only start to grow alarmed when my customers come to pick up their purchases. It all happens too quickly: the brief once-over, the exchange of cash, the fumbling transport down the stairs. It dawns on me that my room is being dismantled item by marketable item, and I’m not happy about it anymore. Now, I can feel on the soles of my feet the tiny rocks and bits of dust that had collected underneath the rug for two years. The books that sat on my once-shelf are strewn all over the floor, Mary Wollstonecraft lying uncomfortably next to David Foster Wallace.
College offers us life in miniature, a test run without real consequences. We can try out everything we might encounter in the real world: success and failure, love lost and found, intellectualism and debauchery. At Yale, they tell us these are the Shortest, Gladdest Years, so no one can claim to be caught unawares by the inevitable end. As college students, we know that the worlds we build around ourselves will have to be broken down and left behind sooner or later. Somehow, we build them still.
I thought about this as I removed the jewelry case, photo frame and piggy bank from my top shelf. Someone recently called me a hoarder. I wanted to deny it, but it was impossible, considering the detritus that has easily eclipsed me as the room’s most notable presence. Maybe it has something to do with wanting to be a journalist: I keep my tattered reporting notebooks on the off chance that I’ll rifle through them some day and find a new story idea, and I enter my sources’ contact information into my phone even if I’ve only interviewed them once, because who knows when I’ll next need to talk to someone about backpack prices in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania? I write things down, commit them not to my unreliable memory but to a faint promise of permanence, in the hopes that a part of me will last after I’ve long been forgotten.
Try telling this to a testy landlord. The demand that I remove everything from my room or risk having my security deposit withheld left me both buoyant and terrified. I have to let go of my attachments; I have no choice! The idea makes me frantic as my room is gradually emptied, because what I’m really afraid of is that the same ultimatum is true for people. Maybe my best friends must also go. Maybe they were tethered to Yale entities — the News, my residential college — and not to me. It’s so easy to grow close to one another when we’re all racing along the same track, but what happens next? Now that I’ve sold the most concrete evidence of my adventure, I can’t be sure of anything.
The last item I’ve relinquished is the wooden dresser with the middle drawer that won’t close. This deficiency wasn’t evident in the photo I posted online, and I worried that the person buying it would change her mind once she saw it in front of her. So for the first time in two years, I attempted to fix the drawer. I’ve never considered myself a handywoman, but apparently all it takes is a screwdriver. Each turn gave me a small thrill; there was something calming about tightening the screw for a stranger.
I guess selling your stuff is not the same as throwing it away. Another human being will put her books on my once-shelf, write papers on my once-desk. I’m eager to make conversation with these people when they come for their purchases. I try to tease out from our small talk a glimpse of who they are, and in turn where my stuff is going. Their lives are different because I owned something of theirs once. As students, we are each so insignificant, but the campus is different because we have been here. And if we’re lucky, somewhere, soon, we’ll build again.
Yanan Wang is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. She was a WEEKEND editor on the Managing Board of 2015.