Out of Spite: Fifty Ways to Leave Your Clutter
Toss Out the Couch, Grouch
If you ever want to get rid of a lot of stuff in a hurry, just tick off the right person, who will do it for you just out of spite. All joking aside, there’s a vast difference between choosing to get rid of your stuff and having the choice to do so taken from you, even if the end result is similar. Only the coldest-hearted soul would not feel awful for anyone who has lost their belongings to theft, fire, and natural disasters. Losing stuff as a result of someone else’s spite, however, belongs in a category all its own. And when it’s you that’s so fed up you’ve thrown out their stuff, why that’s simply the other side of the coin.
I got to thinking about this as a a result of something that happened to me recently, which I can’t go into here because if I detail it, I would be doing so out of spite, you see? So while I have to back away from the telling of that particular tale, I can indeed tell you about some of the other incidents I’ve known of, and I’m sure you all could add to the list, because this is a very common and all too human failing. To the perpetrator, the violence done to our personal belongings makes a fine substitute for directly violating our actual selves, which I think demonstrates the intense symbolic relationship between ourselves and our stuff.
Spite probably makes its first appearance when an angry or jealous child willfully breaks or steals another’s toy. Bobby cutting off the heads of his little sister’s Barbie dolls out of sheer devilment doesn’t count, as he will likely feel great remorse when punished. The truly spiteful child, however, actually wants to hurt the other child and punishment is likely to increase the resentment and likelihood of spiteful behavior.
School-age spitefulness is a mixed bag, and is not always synonymous with bullying. Girls are particularly notorious for perpetrating spiteful actions and cattiness just because they can. But the kind of spite I’m talking about here is not bullying, but where the victim’s possessions are removed or destroyed as a symbol of removing the victim herself, the ultimate We Don’t Want You Here message. This is a level of thinking that is more likely to appear in older children than in younger ones.
Post-high school and college is a great time for high-drama spiteful decluttering. One of my classmates, a usually serene creature, told me about an incident between herself and her dormitory roommate, whom she suspected of stealing her food. It seems the roomie had a sugar daddy whom she entertained regularly, frequently, and without warning, which was bad enough. Then my classmate caught her in the act of stealing her food. The roomie’s excuse: she was hungry after all that “entertaining.” After they argued and the roomie stomped off, my classmate opened up the windows of their third-story room and dumped every bit of her roomie’s personal possessions onto the quad and would have set fire to them if some friends hadn’t dragged her away.
Then there’s academic spite. When a group of English majors graduated, a couple of them threw a big party for fellow majors and profs at their apartment. A few hours and kegs later, one of the guests spotted an entire collection of Cliff’s Notes, covering every book that was assigned over four years, plus some for other classes. Her fury knew no bounds, because she truly felt using them was cheating. She scooped them up by the armful and in full view of the guests took them out to the balcony and dumped them into the retaining pond below, where they floated black and yellow against the dark water.
Creative spite is a touchy one. Sometimes an artist, in his frustration, will gather up his work and destroy it, feeling it is worthless and an abomination. Sometimes this is a form of self-mutilation, because an artist’s works are more a part of himself than his shirt or cell phone. At its worst it destroys good work and leads to irrevocable regret. At its best it is catharsis, enabling the artist to find a better way to create, to start fresh, to leave the unsatisfactory past behind. The very worst is when someone else destroys an artist’s work, which hurts more than if they physically hurt the artist, almost as much as if a child is hurt to spite its parent. There’s many an artist who has lost work thanks to relationships gone bad, illicit affairs, or frustrated parents who considered them freeloaders and wanted them to get a “real” job.
Parental spite is particularly awful because the parent is supposed to be the wiser party. I know of one mother who burned all her preteen daughter’s dolls as a form of spiteful punishment. Parents who play The Will Game are fairly common, leaving everything to a favorite child, or cutting someone out simply because the parent did not like the child’s choice of career or spouse. There are parents who treat a child spitefully because they are the spitting image of the spouse they divorced, and the unlucky kid gets less food, fewer clothes and toys, less encouragement, fewer privileges, and more punishment. Some kids have come home to find their parent has dumped, sold or given away their possessions in a fit of pique. A really big fit.
Spiteful decluttering is probably most common and most understandable during the throes of divorce, regardless of the reasons for the breakup. Bank accounts get cleared, family heirlooms get trashed or sold off, dishes get broken, cars set on fire, and of course furniture gets thrown to the curb, along with clothes, trophies, books, sports equipment, etc. The message is the same as it would be in grade school: I Don’t Want You Here. At All. Some of the worst acts can stem not only from infidelity, but from using children and pets as pawns to hurt and deprive–especially if the spiteful parent, when being totally honest, would have to admit he or she was not in the best position to care for them.
Spite can appear in nearly anyone, if the right buttons are pressed. Most of us have committed some form of spitefulness as a young teen, if not as an adult. Some cultures don’t bat an eyelash at spiteful behavior, and others think it is tantamount to murder. It doesn’t seem confined to socioeconomic strata, as I’ve seen it in play in the rich and poor alike, in the schooled and the uneducated, in the naive and the sophisticated, and in any number of ethnicities. It seems to be more common among women than men, but I’ve known men to commit some jaw-dropping acts of spite that stopped just short of revenge.
Go ahead, share your stories. After all, there’s gotta be fifty ways to leave your clutter….