It's early September. The weather is getting colder. School is back in session. New clothes, backpacks, and pencils have been purchased. And, for the freshmen who just started (or will be starting; hello, quarter-system kids!) it's that scary time when everything is new and different and who you are, fundamentally, becomes defined by a laundry hamper and a twin XL comforter. Or, at least, that was my experience.
My younger brother starts Cal Poly San Luis Obispo this week. Because I have graduated and am oh-so-glamourously living at home, I have gotten to watch as he and my mom go through the ritual of amassing all of the things he needs for dorm living. Compared to what I required four years ago around this time, he needs very little.
We pride ourselves, in our family, for not conforming to gender stereotypes. I'm the oldest and a girl, but that didn't mean I couldn't play sports or take woodshop as my elective junior year of high school to learn to play with power tools. I was the kid who played a varsity sport in college. I was the kid who liked math more. My younger brother, similarly, appears pretty comfortable with his masculinity: He's a kid who has never in his life felt pressure to do or say anything other than what he wishes to. It's an amazing quality, and one that will serve him well in college.
But, even in this family who likes to think of themselves as progressive beyond belief, as Nick leaves for school, it's unbelievable how many fewer things he "needs" compared to what I did. And I think I've figured out that it's because Nick's a guy.
When I left for college in Boston, pitched battles were waged on the floors of Bed, Bath & Beyond over bedspreads (I knew we couldn't afford the really, really cute quilts from Anthropologie, but did we have to get the cheapest, plainest one at BB&B, too?), laundry hampers (I hate those collapsible ones), towels, a mirror (yes, I did need one), and myriad other things. And, compared to my friends, I consider myself incredibly low-maintenance. I don't have that many clothes. I don't use hair products on a daily basis.
As an 18-year-old about to adorn the blank canvas of a dorm — and, I suppose, a blank canvas of a human to everyone whom I was about to meet — the stuff that I was bringing with me to college represented so much more than just stuff. My duvet cover was a direct link, in my mind, to the person I wanted to be in college. If it was ugly or too plain or too girly then I would be the girl with bad taste or no taste or taste that wasn't my own. Ditto the laundry hamper; I couldn't be caught dead with something so utilitarian. Every single decision I made as I amassed my dorm room necessities was fraught, because everything I brought with me was, in my head, a direct representation of who — and subsquently how cool — I was.
Watching Nick, however, is the exact opposite. He clearly views all of his stuff as just that: stuff. I trailed behind my parents and watched them as they bought his duvet cover, sheets, pillow cases, and towels in a matched, plain, gray and navy set. The only things Nick felt strongly that needed were a clock-radio with a USB output cord to charge his phone and a desk lamp (it was my mom who got picky about the lamp: the ones at Bed, Bath & Beyond and Target were apparently "hideous beyond belief."). He has a collapsible laundry hamper — and didn't make one iota of noise about it.
Of course, there are other reasons why Nick's process of getting to college is slightly lower-maintenance. For one, we're driving there; the trip will take about three hours in the car instead of flying across the country. Second, he has friends in his graduating class who will be going there, as well. And last, he's the second child: My parents have already done this once.
However, at the end of the day I don't think it's sexist to say that the reason that his "getting ready for college" process has been so much more painless than mine was is due, in no small part, to him simply not caring all that much about the stuff he brings — the same stuff that I thought was going to define me. He is, honestly, just such a guy.
Image: mattbuck007 on flickr