Categories
Design Life

This is my backpack

Part of the This Is My series.

Thanks to the magic of email, I know that in March 2009 my mom asked if I wanted anything from REI. She had a coupon that was about to expire but didn’t need anything for herself.

REI is one of those stores I love in principle but don’t actually buy from, mostly due to the prices. So I jumped at that opportunity to get something I normally wouldn’t. I considered what I could use and landed on the CamelBak Blowfish Hydration backpack, pictured here over 10 years later in its usual hangout spot by the door:

(You might recognize the jacket next to it.)

It’s slim yet expandable, with just enough compartments, and padding in the back to make it breathable. In the picture it’s stuffed with library books, CDs, and my notebooks, with assorted pens, my sunglasses, and earbuds in the front pouch. It’s not super convenient for transporting my laptop, which I have to wedge in between the tapered zipper design, but it’s gotten the job done for a long time.

And in that time, it has accompanied me on every flight, hike, and trip I’ve taken, to every college and grad school class I attended, and darn near every workday I’ve logged. Somewhere along the way I stopped using the water pouch because it made everything in the main compartment a little damp and took up too much space.

It’s not available at REI anymore, so once the end of its useful life arrives I’ll have to find something else like it. I’ve tried satchels and messenger bags, but nothing beats the two-strapping reliability of a quality backpack.

Categories
Life

This is my wallet

Part of the This Is My series.

Usually I’m a bifold wallet guy. I don’t like how trifolds make two bends in paper money. But once I realized I could just fold whatever bills I have in half and stick them in the middle section of the bill area, my wallet options opened up.

Which brings me to Bogota, Colombia, circa November 2010. I was roaming a street market with some friends from the church I was working at during my post-college Colombian adventure. We came upon a spread of handcrafted goods on a tattered blanket along the sidewalk, presided over by a dirty, dreaded hippie around my age. One of his wallets for sale caught my eye:

It was a trifold with black leather on the outside, yellow on the inside, red string trim, and two metal corner fasteners. I liked that it was slender, homemade, cheap, unique, and would double as a useful souvenir of my time in Colombia.

His price was reasonable, so I agreed to it. He asked if I understood Spanish, which, like now, I did enough without being fluent. He then gave a sort of New Age benediction, exhorting me to be a worthy steward of this wallet and honor the spirit of the universe and so on.

In the nine years since, it has unraveled in parts and gotten slack from use, but I love it. I love how the leather has formed to the shape of the cards inside, and how it takes up just enough space when in my pocket.

One of these days the trim will unravel completely or the leather will break down and I’ll be forced to upgrade. My wife, who’s not a fan of this gloriously decrepit wallet, would rather that day come soon. But if there’s anything we’ve learned from the This Is My series, it’s that I don’t carelessly discard things that do their job well.

And she ought to be careful what she wishes for, because I have another wallet waiting in the wings for when the Colombian dies. And it’s the subject of a future This Is My post.

Categories
Family Life

This is my pocketknife

Part of the This Is My series.

When my grandpa died in 2007, I informally inherited several of his possessions. Nothing from an official will, mind you—just my grandma saying “You should take this” as we were clearing out his stuff. That’s how I got, among other things, his wallet, a few shirts, an old cufflinks case, and this pocketknife:

It’s very small. It’s grimy. It’s probably older than I am. But because I almost always have my keys with me, I’ve used this small, grimy, old pocketknife far more often than my bigger Swiss Army knife and fancy Gerber multi-tool. The file and bottle opener I could go without, but the knife reminds me of its utility over and over again.

It’s also fortunate. Several times I forgot to remove it from my key ring before flights, but it must have blended in with the keys enough to evade TSA’s detection. I wasn’t so lucky with another bigger multi-tool several years ago; I completely forgot it was still in my carry-on backpack until it got flagged at security and confiscated.

One day I’ll clean and sharpen the knife at least. Even if I don’t, it’ll probably outlive me in usefulness.

Categories
Design Etc. Life

This is my jacket

Part of the This Is My series.

If you have met me in the last 15 years, there’s a decent chance you have seen me in this orange jacket:

I acquired it in 2004 on a trip from Madison to Kansas City with a few people from my youth group to attend a conference. We stopped at a Salvation Army somewhere along the way, which is where I spotted it. Don’t remember how much it cost, but since I’ve worn it for darn near half the year every year since, I’d say it was a sound investment regardless.

It had the same appeal then as it does now: a bold orange color, accessible pockets, and the perfect thickness for use as a spring and autumn jacket—not too thick and not too thin.

Sometimes I wonder if it’s time to find another light jacket. It’s starting to fray now, having served me and previous owners well for who knows how long. Something more waterproof or muted might be a better look and practical move.

But by Jove, I’m sticking with it, because I stick with useful things to their bitter end. It’s my only play against planned obsolescence and conspicuous consumerism. Until I accidentally lose it or it disintegrates beyond repair, it’s staying on my coat rack. That’s the only way to honor such a reliable companion.

Categories
Etc. Family

This was my couch

Part of the This Is My series, documenting meaningful objects in my life.

huhta-couch.jpg

This pullout couch was in my grandparents’ lakeshore cabin for decades before I was born. Then it was in my parents’ basement for another two decades or so. Then it was in my apartment for a few years. And now it’s gone to couch heaven, after we finally bade it farewell to make better use of the space in our two-bedroom apartment.

It was scratchy, kinda ugly, and an absolute beast to move up three flights of stairs. The mattress was thin, requiring us to add several layers of sleeping bags and mattress pads to make it hospitable enough to the human back.

But it was a free and sturdy couch, with family history, in surprisingly good condition for its age. The cushions are still plump and the pullout bed mechanism as reliable as ever. Having a pullout allowed us to host many guests over the years, which saved them the expense of a hotel room and provided us with lots of invaluable memories.

Odds are likely we’ll get another pullout couch one day, though I doubt whatever we get will last as long as this one. My dad said it best: “Goodbye iconic, hospitable, historic and faithful couch. (Notice I didn’t say comfortable.)”

Categories
Etc. Life

This is my alarm clock

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This is my alarm clock. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

As I was adjusting it last night for daylight saving time, it dawned on me that I’ve been using it for at least fifteen years. Most people probably use their smartphone alarm, but I don’t unless I’m away from home. I don’t even keep it in my room.

This alarm clock is one of many objects I’ve had for a long time and have kept using despite the availability of more modern options. There’s also my orange jacket, acquired at a Salvation Army in Missouri about fifteen years ago as well, which if you’ve seen me in the fall or winter you have most likely seen.

These objects started as mere tools, but they are good and simple enough to go on dependably doing their jobs, so they gradually became the architecture of my life. They are nearly invisible to me, assumed and expected, until a dead battery or a frayed stitch alert me anew to their existence and need for care.

Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up asks us to thank our stuff before we dispose of it. I don’t want to wait until my alarm clock dies or my jacket disintegrates or gets lost to appreciate their small but abiding roles in what is now half of my life.

So thanks, jacket. Thanks, alarm clock. There are many like you, but you two are mine.