You Can’t Take It With You

I never quite understood the rationale of that as a reason for not having things. I can’t take anything physical with me (as far as I know) when I ‘go’, but is that a reason not to experience the things I want to before I do? Nobody ever says that when I buy a new book, a lamp to read it by or a shelf to put it on. It’s almost a sentence fragment, for that matter, the unspoken other half carrying with it an implication that whatever it is the person is referring to, is ultimately a pointless pursuit because one day you’ll die and the things that were yours will suddenly become no one’s. The sharper end of the suggestion is often that in lieu of ‘getting a life’, collectors are people who gather a mountain of “useless” things that will then become the testement to said life they didn’t have. What a load of rubbish. (In this context, I’ll let you interpret that sentence any way you like).

This issue was brought to mind for a few reasons. One, because I turned the television on the other day and happened to catch a few snippets of the show Hoarders. It was a stark reminder of why I only turn the TV on once every couple of days – I am prepared to be horrified by fellow man on an infrequent basis. Another is because I recently tipped 500 in my private music collection (physical format only), and the ol’ you can’t take it with you has been uttered on more than one occasion in my general direction. I’m going to leave aside the fact that I think 500 CDs isn’t all that many, at least it’s not in comparison to how many I could have if I had the financial means to purchase everything I ever wanted.

One thing I am often asked by a person I know, when I happen to mention a new CD I’ve bought, is  ‘what do you need another CD for?’ I don’t understand this question. I would if I had bought the same CD 500 times, but since each one is different¹ and I know that I don’t need any CDs, I fail to comprehend the logic of it. (Never mind that this person never wears the same pair of socks twice, and has an almost climbable mountain of them next to where they take their shoes off every day after work, awaiting the occasional clean-out. When the question is reversed, the answer is merely ‘it’s easier’. Apparently, automatic washing machines are not a far enough advancement from the days we’d have to traverse down to the river bank and beat our clothing against rocks).

I know what I'd rather have cluttering up the empty spaces in my home

What’s interesting about the two scenarios is that socks can be considered a necessity, yet they’ve become a disposable commodity. Of similar interest is their use of the word need. I think most reasonable people would never truly say that they need a new CD, or whatever it is that they collect. Collections aren’t so much about practicalities or need as they are an indulgence in passion. While it’s true for some that the lines between addiction, obsession and passion sometimes get a little blurry, I often find myself having to answer to accusations of excessive, unnecessary indulgence, materialism and the suggestion that these things are a substitute for other things I ‘must’ be missing.

Well guess what? Every now and then, they are.

Sometimes I miss people that are no longer in my life and I play one of their favourite songs or albums. Sometimes I miss the bus and sing Mercedes Benz to myself while I wait for the next one.

But most often they’re not substitutes at all. Music can do so much more than fill empty space. The physical components are superfluous for many these days – a pile of CD cases looking much like a pile of discarded shells once the contents have been sucked out and stored on a hard drive or iPod. Not to me. To me it’s like having hundreds of works of art at my fingertips; hundreds of bookmarks that each hold the place to a moment in time that has inspired or challenged thought. Music can create and expand space.

Hoarders such as those seen on the TV show are, of course, extreme examples of the basic human tendency to gather and collect things – things which are not of immediate use and need, or in some cases things no one should want let alone find a use for (the show I happened to catch featured Jill, a hoarder of food, most of which no longer resembled food). That sort of behaviour is quite a few steps beyond maintaining an interest and collection, where bringing something into your life is not a source of enjoyment, and instead seriously impedes or endangers a person’s quality of life.

I doubt any one would say the same about a music collection, but it does seem to be one of those things that, if someone else doesn’t understand your enthusiasm, they also reason that because they find it unfathomable, it must mean it’s ultimately pointless. The statement is then: You can’t take it with you when you die, so I don’t understand why you want it now. Whether or not I will have a hereafter, or simply cease to exist, is a topic for elsewhere, but who really knows if what I find enriches my life here and now won’t actually carry over to the afterlife?

The simplified version of my theory is that the energy you create in this life, affects everything around you, now and ever, ergo the things you bring into your life contribute to your energy and have a residual effect. I might not be taking my CDs with me, or any of the other collections I’ve amassed over the years (toys, CCGs², films, piano ornaments, comics…) but if the experience of them has enriched my life in some way, I venture to say that I will be taking that with me no matter where I go. If I get to take my memories, then those are memories I want to have – soundtrack included.



1. This isn’t strictly true – I do have a couple of different versions of some releases, but they have slightly different content. This distinction is important!

2. CCG = Collectible Card Game, of which I have collected/played three: Yu-Gi-Oh (please don’t ask), then discovered Shadowfist (an awesome game based on kung fu/action/sci-fi/horror movies. Issuing major smackdown with Wong Fei Hung and a No Shadow Kick equipped is a certain thrill only a few will  understand), and – of course – Magic: The Gathering. At the peak of my interest, I probably had about 10 fully functioning M:TG decks. They all had names.


About Satellite for Entropy

My thoughts are fish, all swimming about and prone to scattering swiftly. Some of them are pretty but not all of them are gold. Some have teeth; some travel in gangs and with a single school of thought; some are haphazard loners, darting about the place randomly and to no obvious purpose. But they're all slippery little suckers. Sometimes, I get lucky and find myself with a good grasp on one, long enough to remember what it looks like before releasing it back into the wild. View all posts by Satellite for Entropy

2 responses to “You Can’t Take It With You

  • dangerousmeredith


    I have never had any problems with people amassing goodies that make them happy. Just so long as they don’t hurt others while doing so.

  • Satellite for Entropy

    Agreed, I think it’s a matter of balancing practicalities and priorities; I mean, a person may indeed find great spiritual enjoyment from collecting something, but it’s not going to do them or perhaps their families much good if they neglect something like feed them healthily in favour of having something else.

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