The Third Third

Too Much Stuff

I have long harbored the suspicion that we have too much stuff. While I am an inveterate thrower-outer, my husband is an equally stubborn archivist of everything he has ever touched or considered. We have his grade school report cards, the campaign materials from the student council president election he lost, piles of the daily diaries of his legal practice, and his tennis shoes, including the ones he wears to play tennis, the ones he wears to walk, the old ones he wears on rainy days, and the older old ones he might need sometime. Our puppy has cut into some of his highly disorganized stash – literally chewed it – but still he cannot bear to part with anything. Nor can our children. As a result, one of our otherwise emptied upstairs bedrooms is half filled with boxes of their stuff. Not stuff that’s important enough to move to where they live now, mind you, but stuff they insist is too important to throw or give away, despite multiple ultimata that unless they get it out of there in the next three months, I will. None of this stuff, however, had truly impinged on my lifestyle until last Friday. That day, I drove around town the entire day burning $4.19 a gallon gasoline just taking care of stuff, most of it my stuff, and I began to feel consumed by it. I resented the waste of time and the total absence of productivity. Taking care of my “stuff” gave new meaning to the term “trappings” and despite my refusal to let anything material ever define me, my complaints made me sound, even to myself (!), like a poor little rich girl. These were the errands: get a manicure; take the fur coat to storage; return the jewelry to the safe deposit box; stop at the car dealer to get the Blue Tooth reconnected; pick up fluorescent light bulbs for the special fixtures in the kitchen; buy a daughter’s birthday present; find a post office with Flat Rate Priority Mail Boxes (two tries) and send it to her; stock up at Sam’s on the shower soap we like and send some of it (Flat Rate Priority also) to Idaho; pick up the only dog food the dog will eat at the vet’s; return the fancy lettuce to Whole Foods for a refund because it was rotten; and fill up the car with gas. I should have had the car washed, too, but I ran out of time. There’s nothing wrong with all of this, except it seemed so, I don’t know, vacuous and, truly unnecessary. It raised the question in my mind of the value of things – many different things. I found myself at the bottom of a slippery slope of competitive consumerism, and it sure felt like it might be time to consider some serious de-accessioning. It’s time anyway, as my husband gives voice to a desire to retire and all the experts advise reducing our expenses and possibly down-sizing. I think, however, the process is just that – a process – and not a simple decision that leaves you with, say, a more organized closet, an empty safe deposit box, and lower property taxes. If every acquisition was in fact as intentional as we tried to make it *(Do we really need this? Can we afford it? Is this the right time? How could anyone possibly deserve it?)*, each dispossession, it seems to me, needs to be equally intentional. Of all that which we own, what is it that is owning us and making things seem so out of whack? And what benefit is derived from selling or giving away this thing or that, one thing or another? What is the goal here? Where is the value? That’s what I’m chewing on now, (as the dog attacks another pile of papers behind my husband’s desk). I sense an opportunity – not simply to avoid another day of mindless errand-running – but to live more honestly into the values that truly matter to me. After all, in addition to all this stuff, I have acquired a bit of wisdom along the way. I’ll keep you posted.
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