You might remember George Carlin’s famous routine about houses, and stuff: “That’s the meaning of life, isn’t it? Trying to find a place for your stuff. … If you didn’t have so much goddamn stuff, you wouldn’t need a house. You could just walk around all the time!” It’s pretty clear that we no longer merely keep our stuff in our houses while we go out looking for more stuff, per Carlin. Now some of us also photographically document selections of our stuff, and put that evidence online. I’ve written earlier about online projects, such as A Collection A Day, and Things Organized Neatly (and so has Alexandra Lange), but I’m thinking about this because of a couple of Tumblrs I’ve been eyeing lately: The Burning House and Everyday Carry.
At first glance these share the same orderly aesthetic as those earlier examples, but each deploys it in very specific, individual, contexts. What’s on view here is meant to be profoundly personal stuff.
Possibly, as Carlin put it, a houseful of stuff prevents us from just walking around all the time. But everybody just walks around some of the time, and Everyday Carry is devoted to stuff hauled along even then. While reminiscent of the longstanding What’s In Your Bag? Flickr pool, Everyday Carry has a much more distinct flavor. The site explains:
Everyday Carry, or EDC, generally refers to small items or gadgets worn, carried, or made available in pockets, holsters, or bags on a daily basis to manage common tasks or for use in unexpected situations or emergencies. In a broader sense, it is a lifestyle, discipline, or philosophy of preparedness.
The site consists of pictures and lists submitted by readers, and it’s weirdly addictive. As that mini-manifesto suggests, “everyday carry” is not quite the same thing as mere batch of objects that any random person might happen to carry on a daily basis. Rather, a proper Everyday Carry reflects a mindset that frankly tilts toward the survivalist. So there are no frivolous jumbles of Altoids tins and rubber toys here. Instead submissions feature lots of tools, gear, devices, and a disconcerting number of weapons.
And let’s get the terminology straight. Nothing pictured is a “collection.” It’s a “carry,” or a “loadout.” Knives (quite popular) tend to be identified by specific make, assuming an audience highly conversant in this particular product category. Sometimes there’s a gun, too. Sometimes there’s a more esoteric tool — something to pick locks with, say. Often there’s a smartphone. And a great pen.
The result is an elevated notion of “stuff”: Here are things meant to be used; necessary things; things to deploy smartly as one leaps into action. The arrangements and photography are often slick and careful, and at times vaguely dramatic. As this post on BoingBoing observed, looking at these pictures makes you want to “gear up,” like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Commando. But what I really enjoy is the almost-always-upbeat assessment of the gear submissions by the site’s editor, sometimes including a tip or suggestion. “Nice, here’s a more tactical loadout without being too cumbersome.” “I can tell you put some thought into the carry while minding a budget too.” “Clean loadout, except maybe I’d try to slim down the wallet so you can more easily carry the credit card-sized lock pick set.”
And so on. It’s quite charming.
Dan Opalacz, from The Burning House
The premise of The Burning House, meanwhile, is that the place where you keep all your stuff is now on fire; what will you save? “It's a conflict between what's practical, valuable and sentimental,” the site asserts. “What you would take reflects your interests, background and priorities.”
That premise is one that I like, and that I’ve used as a rhetorical gimmick myself when trying to make a point about the way people really value objects: When push comes to shove (the hurricane on the way; the burning house) nobody stands around considering which of their possessions enjoyed the most robust branding campaign, or won the highest praise from the design press.
Or so I’ve tended to argue. But some of the entries on The Burning House make me wonder. Someone, for instance, includes “Grenson x Albam city brogues (you never know when you’ll want to look sharp, house or no house).” Someone else includes a “Polo suede-elbowed shirt.” The very first post on the site includes multiple conspicuous brand references: “Ralph Lauren Alligator Belt,” “Vintage Woolrich Horse skin hunting gloves,” “Rolex Submariner Date with Zulu Ballistic Nylon Band,” “Oakley Razor Blades.” What the site offers very little of, with its quick-list format, are personal reasons for saving this or that object — stories, in other words. I’m prepared to believe someone finds a suede-elbowed polo personally meaningful, but why? Ultimately a lot of the stuff pictured these little displays is perfectly tasteful, but the result doesn’t seem like self-portraits. Instead — and this is true of Everyday Carry, as well — they seem like performances. Entertaining as they may be, I’m not sure I believe any them.
In fact, I find it hard to resist thinking of these sites as offering up prompts for outright fiction. I imagine a character from The Burning House darting away from the flames with armload of designer clothing and vintage collectibles, and bumping smack into a geared-up denizen of Everyday Carry. “There goes most of my stuff,” the former would mutter, dazed before the heat and crackle of the blaze. The latter just nods, and surveys the scene evenly, hand in pocket, fingering a really gorgeous knife, before asking: "So, that's your loadout?"
Josh Morris, from Everday Carry
Thanks to Calvin Ku of RISD for putting that Carlin routine back in my mind.